Healthy People is a nationwide government program, started in 1979, designed to promote health and disease prevention. Given the alarming increase in obesity rates in America over the past 20 years, Healthy People 2010 had a goal to decrease the overall childhood obesity rate to 5%. Given that one in six children between the ages of 2 and 19 are technically obese (now year 2012), with the overall childhood obesity rate at 17% and climbing, looks like Healthy People 2010 seriously missed the mark! Why?
Well, let’s start with another alarming statistic which may shed a little light on where children are learning about food choices! In 1980, 15% of the American popoulation was obese. According to the latest CDC statistics, we’ve hit an all-time high of almost 36% – over 1/3 of our entire population. Keep in mind that this data is specific to those who are obese, defined by a BMI equal to or great than 30 and doesn’t account for those who are nonetheless overweight, but by 30 pounds or less.
A clear trend is beginning to emerge. Obese children often have obese parents. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolscent Psychiatry, if one parent is obese, there is a 50% chance that their children will also be obese. However, when both parents are obese, their children have an 80% chance of being obese. According to a separate study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, 41% of eight-year-old daughters of obese mothers were obese, as compared to 4% of girls whose mothers were normal weight. Many will examine these statistics and point to newer science which indicates that there is in fact genetic predisposition to weight gain. In response to the study, Dr. Blandine Laferrere of the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital states that the environment has a primary effect on kids with a genetic susceptibility toward obesity.
“If you look at the last 20 years, you see that obesity has increased tremendously,” she says. “Yet there has been no change in the genetic pool in those 20 years. Intervention early on, in childhood, can prevent obesity.”
These are key factors in regard to the “nature versus nurture” arguement. Yes, there may be some genetic predisposition, but a focus on nutrition from the onset of life remains yet the number one way to deter obesity and related disease.
So what does all of this mean? How can we prevent childhood obesity from continuing to blossom out of control and to further, how can we decrease the prevalence all together? I have a couple of ideas. The Healthy People program attempted to decrease obesity rates by fundamentally promoting the idea of fewer calories and higher activity levels. While in a nutshell, this sounds logical and viable, the reality is that we cannot continue to vilify the ol’ might calorie! Why? The answer is 2-fold:
For starters, there are a number of nutritionally-dense, high-calorie whole foods that offer an amazing array of health benefits that simply cannot go ignored; nuts such as almonds and walnuts, healthy oils like olive oil and coconut oil and good fats like avacados. I fear that if we promote “low-caloric intake” that the focus will be on eating less of the bad stuff versus more of the good stuff. Secondly, you can reduce your calories as much as you like but if the foods you’re eating are still filled with sugars, toxic additives, fillers, flavor enhancers, fake sweeteners, sugars, GMO’s, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), and sugars (did I mention “sugars”?) you will not achieve health. If you consume less, but still eat a diet consisting primarily of processed, quick-fuel food products, you will only continue to starve your body of necessary nutrients, further perputating obesity and obesity-related illnesses like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, auto-immune diseases, etc.
Ultimately, this brings us back around to a discussion on sugar. I don’t think there is anything coincidental when we examine the positive correlation between the increase in obesity and the increase in sugar consumption over the past 20 years. Sugar, in one form or another, is found in just about every processed food item out there…sugar is even added to certain meats and meat products such as SPAM. The average Amercan child consumes a daily diet that is made up of at least 17% sugar, and this is in addition to all of the refined carbs (like cereals, white breads, crackers, pastas, etc.). Where are the green vegetables, colorful fruits and healthy fats?
If you are a parent at all concerned with the staggeringly shocking rates of childhood obesity, I strongly suggest you take a hard look at what your family is eating. Are your cupboards filled with soda, chips, crackers, cereal, white bread, processed foods like macaroni and cheese, granola bars, conventional peanut butter, etc.? Do you eat out or do take out several times a week? How often do you hit the fast food drive through? It’s time to clean house, prepare more meals at home and introduce your family to the anti-inflammatory diet.
Minimally, I suggest the following:
- Eliminate all soda, including diet and sugar-free.
- Replace all refined white flour products with 100% whole wheat and overall, attempt to consume grains in their whole form (brown rice versus white, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.)
- Crowd out the junk (chips, crackers, cookies, candy, etc.) with fresh vegetables and fruits
- Serve green at both lunch and dinner (green salad, green beans, avocado, spinach, etc.)
- Eat breakfast everyday and make sure you are consuming protein like Greek yogurt and a slow-releasing carb like steel cut oatmeal
- Drink 3 liters of water a day
- Make sure your dairy is organic and opt for cage-free, organic eggs
- Cut down on animal proteins and if within your budget, go for organic grass-finished beef and cage-free chicken
- Eat fatty fish 2-3 times a week and incorporate healthy oils into your meal planning, such as olive oil and coconut oil
- Supplement with a good Omega-3 and Multi-Vitamin
- Childhood Overweight and Obesity (education.com)
- Childhood Obesity May Raise Odds of Adult Liver Cancer (news.health.com)
- Think carrots, not candy as school snack, group suggests (dawn.com)
- Provide Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for School Lunches (forcechange.com)