Monday, November 22, 2010

Childhood Obesity and the American Family

The incidence of childhood obesity is rapidly rising throughout the world. The obesity epidemic is especially evident in industrialized nations where many people live sedentary lives and eat more convenience foods, which are typically high in calories and low in nutritional value. In just two decades, the prevalence of overweight doubled for U.S. children ages 6 to 11 — and tripled for American teenagers. The annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about one-third of U.S. children are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. In total, about 25 million U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or nearly overweight. (Mayo Clinic 2006)

The obesity epidemic arrived with astonishing speed. After tens of thousands of generations of human evolution, flab has become widespread only in the past 50 years, and waistlines have ballooned exponentially in the last two decades. In 1980, 46 percent of U.S. adults were overweight; by 2000, the figure was 64.5 percent: nearly a 1 percent annual increase in the ranks of the fat. At this rate, by 2040, 100 percent of American adults will be overweight and "it may happen more quickly," says John Foreyt of Baylor College of Medicine, who spoke at a conference organized by Gifford's Oldways group in 2003. Foreyt noted that, 20 years ago, he rarely saw 300-pound patients; now they are common. Childhood obesity, also once rare, has mushroomed: 15 percent of children between ages six and 19 are now over weight, and even 10 percent of those between the ages of two and five. "This may be the first generation of children who will die before their parents". Foreyt says. (Harvard Magazine 2004)

Research has shown that almost one-third of the U.S. diet consists of sugar-filled cans of soda and bags of potato chips. Even with the rising number of people joining the low-carb craze, a study of 4,700 adults revealed that sodas and sweets, which contain what are known as "empty calories" because of their low nutritional value, were at the top of the list of most calories consumed. Statistics showed that these "empty calories" accounted for almost 25 percent of all the calories eaten by Americans. Salty snacks and fruit juices made up an additional 5 percent. Some experts have placed the blame for the obesity epidemic on these shocking revelations. A survey consisted of the collection of interview responses of 4,760 adults. The survey took place over the years 1999 and 2000 and involved questioning the participants on all the foods they had eaten over the past 24 hours. Results of the study revealed that sweets were the number one calorie consumed followed by hamburgers, pizza and potato chips. The other highly consumed calorie was soda, which made up for 7.1 percent of all the calories consumed. On the other hand, nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables accounted for 10 percent of the total calories consumed by Americans. Experts stressed that a significant portion of American diets were severely lacking essential vitamins and minerals and recommended that people focus on the kind of food they ate, not necessarily on eating smaller portions. (Yahoo News 2004)

As a parent of three and regular grocery consumer, I travel through the aisles of the grocery store in awe of the various prepared items of choice that parents are faced with.  If I have additional time while doing my own shopping, I make it a habit to browse for recommendations for you as well as read the labels of popular items promoted by my clients or in general on a variety of message boards.  Currently, parents are faced with 40+ hour work weeks not including transit time, multiple children with multiple extra curricular activities and hours of homework. The temptation for convenience is brewed above. Frequently, I speak to various people from various socio-economic back grounds about nutrition. The first item of interest that always arises in conversation is fat. My passion for nutrition and a maintained weight loss of 85 pounds has driven my need for research to maintain my success, but I must admit I am truly surprised that few people are aware of the clear and present danger of trans-saturated fats.

The second part of my conversation leads to high fructose corn syrup. Those I have spoken with are also oblivious to this dangerous additive that is difficult to eliminate if you are purchasing the standard American Faire. As an experiment, I strolled the grocery aisles of a conventional grocery store and peered into the carts of unsuspecting Parents with begging children. I wonder to myself “are they so oblivious to the stripping of nutrients and dangerous additives of these so called food items”? I have often heard of these foods referred to as a “chemical soup”. I have a need to share with these parents my knowledge I have obtained and the future danger they and their children will be faced with. They are exhausted, the children are misbehaving, I decide it’s not a good time to educate them rather I shall decide how to advocate in the near future....(hence my website)

Eating too many carbohydrates, particularly simple sugars, can be harmful to blood sugar control, especially if you are insulin resistant, experience reactive hypoglycemia, or are diabetic. Carbohydrate excess, especially consuming too many refined carbohydrates, is also associated with increased risk for obesity, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Currently, more than half of the carbohydrates being consumed in the United States are in the form of simple sugars being added to foods as sweetening agents. The large increase in the use of corn sweetener, or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the past 30 years is directly related to the overall increase in sugar consumption in the United States. Many different products are using HFCS as an ingredient. These include beverages, cereals and baked goods, dairy products candy and many other processed foods. The consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has played the largest role in the increase of added sweeteners in the American diet. (Murray 2006)

As I mentioned above, these products that are being purchased so mindlessly also contain that dangerous ever increasing in product and waistline hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. This is the most dangerous of fats. A diet that is composed of mostly trans-fatty acids in the form of hydrogenated vegetable oils results in cell membranes that are much less fluid in nature than the cell membranes found in a person who consumes optimal levels of unsaturated fatty acids. According to modern pathology, or the study of disease processes, an alteration in cell membrane function is the central factor in the development of virtually every disease. As it relates to diabetes, abnormal cell membrane structure due to eating the wrong types of fats leads to an impairment in the action of insulin,
resulting in diabetes. (Murray 2006)

Often, I say to my adult children “I wish I knew then what I know now”. Our lives would be very different. I would advise that parents involve their children in the healthy choices. A meal always tastes better when the child is involved in the preparation. Make sure the fruit bowl is always full. Take control as a parent over the media hype. Do not give in. I would also advice parents to start with the elimination of “hydrogenated oils” and “high fructose corn syrup” from any products they purchase. Make sure your child starts their day with a nutritious breakfast that would exclude modern breakfast cereals. We drink green smoothies daily and every child loves a smoothie. Cabbage and spinach are the easiest veggies to mask and this can sustain a child with clearer thinking and brain function. In sharing with your child the importance of healthy choices and the affect on their bodies, we can reverse this preventive epidemic we call obesity. With the ability to operate and maintain the electronic equipment children have access to, we are lacking in the training and care of one very important device, the human body. Don’t forget to play. We all need the exercise and relief.

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