It has been suggested that the United States has a weight problem. While many walk around sporting a spare tire, unable to fit into their fall clothes, the biggest concern must lie with children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and food service companies around the country are trying to educate students to make better choices.
“We help students identify healthful meal choices through signage and activities … that take place in the cafeteria,” said Brian Reynolds, Chartwells foodservice director at Wilton Public Schools. “School meals are well balanced, convenient and remain a great value for busy families. Our programs are based on strong nutritional guidelines, principles and cooking techniques using fresh, local and seasonal fruits and vegetables that are appealing to children.”
Currently, Wilton High School is featuring local produce during its farm-to-chef week, which puts ingredients from both student-grown gardens and those in the community into recipes.
Experts, parents split over schools’ role in weight screening
If their kids are frequently tardy, truant or failing to turn in homework, parents of U.S. schoolchildren expect to be notified. And in some districts, they might be contacted about yet another chronic problem:obesity.
The “fat letter” is the latest weapon in the war on childhood obesity, and it is raising hackles in some regions, and winning followers in others.
“Obesity is an epidemic in our country, and one that is compromising the health and life expectancy of our children. We must embrace any way possible to raise awareness of these concerns and to bring down the stigmas associated with obesity so that our children may grow to lead healthy adult lives,” said Michael Flaherty, a pediatric resident physician in the department of pediatrics at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.
About 17 percent of U.S. teens and children are obese — three times the number in 1980, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And one in three is considered overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese puts kids at risk of developing serious health problems, such as heart disease. Too much weight can also affect joints, breathing, sleep, mood and energy levels, doctors say.
Every day, Dr. Isabel Cristina Lau encounters children who are obese and living with its related problems.
The Ogden pediatrician said childhood obesity is common and serious and is leading children to be diagnosed with problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, acid reflux and stretch marks at earlier ages than ever before.
Lau and Ogden Regional Medical Center registered outpatient dietitian Jennifer James spoke about the issue recently during the Ogden Medical Surgical Society Conference. Although both said progress is being made with some changes, childhood obesity continues to increase.
“There are numerous diseases that I recognize when the patient is obese,” Lau said. “Every organ gets affected. One of the organs first affected is the skin. Patients at a young age start to have stretch marks on their abdomen.”
In addition, they can develop acanthosis nigricans, which is a dark coloration of the skin around the neck, underarm and groin, she said.
Breast-feeding is widely encouraged for its many positive health effects, but the claim that it reduces the risk for childhood obesity may be going too far. A randomized trial has found that even long-term exclusive breast feeding has no effect on obesity or stature in childhood.
Researchers studied more than 13,000 breast-feeding mother-infant pairs in 31 maternity hospitals in Belarus in 1996 and 1997. About half the mothers followed a breast-feeding promotion program developed by the World Health Organization, while the rest received usual care.
At three months, 43 percent of the women in the W.H.O. program were still exclusively breast-feeding, compared with 6 percent in the control group; by six months, the figures were 7.8 percent for those in the program and 0.6 percent for the controls.
A new study has found an association between childhood obesity and the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) in children and teenagers. Though still rare, pediatric MS is more common now than it was 30 years ago.
Experts have theorized that obesity, because it causes a low-level state of inflammation, may contribute to MS. Two previous studies in adults have examined this link, both suggesting that moderate obesity at age 20 but not at other times in life doubles the risk of MS. Yet, these studies are small and have other flaws.
In this study, published in the online issue of the journal Neurology, researchers identified 75 children and adolescents diagnosed with pediatric MS between the ages of 2 and 18. Body mass index (BMI) from before symptoms appeared was obtained. The children with MS were compared to 913,097 children without MS. The researchers grouped the children by weight—normal weight, overweight, moderate obesity and extreme obesity.
The study found that 50.7 percent of the children with MS were overweight or obese, compared to 36.6 percent of the children who did not have MS. The association between weight and MS was only seen in girls, and was greater in Hispanic girls in particular. It was not seen in boys.
Despite recent data showing that childhood obesity in the U.S. has begun to drop, overweight and obese kids and teens remain a personal and public health hazard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese—that’s roughly 12.5 million kids and teens.
"The data indicate that children with obesity just don’t have as good a quality of life," said Ric Steele, professor of psychology and applied behavioral science at the University of Kansas. "Risk for type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing. The CDC predicts that within 20 years half of America will have type 2 diabetes. We can think about societal costs represented in this figure—that’s a monumental investment in an essentially preventable illness."
Steele says that there are individual costs as well: "At the individual level, children and adolescents with obesity may not feel as well. They may not sleep as well. And they may actually experience some psychosocial problems like teasing, victimization, depressive symptoms — and just generally don’t feel as good as they could feel if they were in a healthier condition."
Health writers love to panic about obesity. More than writing about organic food, fad diets, or new recipes, they love to pen news stories about the dangers of obesity and the costs it creates for society. But during the holiday season, the circus that is health reporting in this country grows even more ridiculous as stories about the worst holiday foods and how to eat healthy on Thanksgiving begin to pop up in the news.
I’ll never get used to people complaining about what other people eat, because it’s beyond irritating. But what’s most bothersome about the warnings not to overeat on Thanksgiving is that they’re entirely pointless. Obesity isn’t caused, not even in part, by our holiday fare. And in fact, indulging our appetites for one day is not only harmless fun, it’s actually an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
You may think I’m crazy after reading the previous sentence, but it’s entirely accurate, because all we’re really talking about is moderation. Yes, eating a mound of mashed potatoes and chasing it down with a slice of pie seems unwise at first glance. But at the same time, enjoying things that aren’t necessarily healthy, even if only occasionally, is a part of being human. That’s why holidays like Thanksgiving are ideal times to eat the food we wisely avoid (or should avoid) the rest of the year. These holidays only come once a year, and they only last for a day. So as long as we can keep our dessert-laden celebrations to one day, there’s really nothing to worry about.
Halloween is all about sweets! So it’s no surprise that Halloween can trip up even the most conscientious dieter. With Halloween and the end-of-year holidays looming, it’s important to determine a strategy for dealing with the temptation of sweets: what to eat, what to bring into the home and what to serve others.
My philosophy is that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation. But there are special challenges posed by some foods, particularly sweets. Understanding the science behind sweet cravings and overeating can help us eat in a more moderate and healthy way:
People have an inborn attraction to sweets. We’ve been eating naturally sweet foods such as breast milk and fruit for hundreds of thousands of years, because they contain life-sustaining nutrients. A love for those foods helped keep us alive.
A few years ago, Mercedes Carnethon, a diabetes researcher at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, found herself pondering a conundrum. Obesity is the primary risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, yet sizable numbers of normal-weight people also develop the disease. Why?
In research conducted to answer that question, Dr. Carnethon discovered something even more puzzling: Diabetes patients of normal weight are twice as likely to die as those who are overweight or obese. That finding makes diabetes the latest example of a medical phenomenon that mystifies scientists. They call it the obesity paradox.
In study after study, overweight and moderately obese patients with certain chronic diseases often live longer and fare better than normal-weight patients with the same ailments. The accumulation of evidence is inspiring some experts to re-examine long-held assumptions about the association between body fat and disease.