Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Are Our Kids Fat?

Doctors' efforts to fight childhood obesity not working

Fri, Sep 4, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers are recommending that officials in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia rethink their efforts to combat obesity in children because the current strategies -- emphasizing healthy diets and exercise -- aren't working.

In a study released online Sept. 4 in BMJ, Australian researchers followed more than 250 overweight and mildly obese Australian children who visited their general practitioners between 2005 and 2006. A total of 139 were given counseling over three months about changing their eating habits and increasing exercise; the other 119 did not get such counseling.

Parents said the kids who received counseling drank fewer soft drinks, but they didn't eat more fruit or vegetables or less fat, and they didn't lose significant amounts of weight.

The researchers reported that brief, physician-led intervention produced no long-term improvement in body mass index, physical activity or nutrition habits.

The counseling isn't harmful, the study authors noted, but it doesn't seem to work and is expensive.

"Resources may be better divided between primary prevention at the community and population levels, and enhancement of clinical treatment options for children with established obesity," the researchers concluded.

-- Randy Dotinga

What you can do:
  • Find out how much exercise your child needs. (links)
  • Check out five fun ways to get your child moving. (links)
  • Learn about the nutrients your child needs and how to make sure he or she gets them. (links)
  • Find out how you can encourage your child to eat healthier foods

I get that obesity is a public health epidemic and we must address it on all fronts. BUT. I really do think that the primary and ongoing responsibility falls to the parents. What behavior is modeled for the children? What food is offered to the children? What food is available to them? We need to model healthy, active lifestyles when they are small. And after that, too.

But many of us tend to offer our children food as rewards, give our children snacks to keep them quiet (in the car, in the stroller, in the grocery cart), and go to the gym while they're at school or asleep. We might even feed our children different foods from what we're eating ourselves.

What are we teaching children about the role food plays in their lives? What sorts of healthy behaviors are we modeling?

I'm not the parent of two extremely energetic salad-eating children. Ada is lean and active (and still loves broccoli and fruit). But she also loves hot dogs and we need to monitor the junk to food ratio we serve around here. Ellie is a different story. When she ate only healthy food as a toddler, she loved it! But, gradually, she met things like pizza and quesadillas and cheesy pretzels. Granted, these aren't the worst things in the world. But we know what she likes and tend to make "child-pleasing" meals for her. Who doesn't want to make their child happy?

She seems to lack the "I'm full!" body/brain notification system that her sister has but many fat adults (like me!) have battered into submission. And she fights exercise so hard. Unless we're at the swimming pool or gymnastics, Ellie is miserable when we do any sort of family exercise like going for a walk or bike ride. We work really hard to make physical activity fun for her - choosing new and interesting places to walk, rewarding walks with pushes on a swing, listening to books on tape during stretches in the trailer while mommy and daddy ride bikes. This weekend we started soccer.

It's hard work. But it's our job. And her health depends on us doing it well!

(Sidenote: I was shocked to see what the elementary school cafeteria is feeding kids these days. At Ellie's school, they have pizza day once a week. They also eat sloppy joes, hamburgers, and hot dogs. I remember some of that from when I was a kid, but not every day! We thought those lunch days were special treats.)


albe said...

Great post. Before I had kids I was so judgmental about all of that, thinking why are these parents feeding their kids chicken nuggets? Just offer the healthy foods you as adults eat, and the kids will learn to eat those foods.

I still sort of believe that in theory, but then I had two kids, one who will not eat ANYTHING. She is consistently under the weight charts (and has never gotten on it since she was born). And of course, I have indeed found myself offering all kinds of foods I think are terrible and rotten in the blind hope that she'll eat something, anything. In fact I'd be thrilled at this point if she ate a chicken nugget!

So I see how some families can fall into this trap as a way to survive the toddler picky years, which of course turn into the childhood picky years. Schools that offer pizza and hot dogs all the time don't help either. I agree that parents need to do a good job introducing their kids to healthy habits. I also understand that many parents are struggling without the social supports they so desperately need and are just surviving day to day, which complicates the obesity issue.

(p.s. Love your blog and as a fellow Wash-U graduate I love hearing about St. Louis stuff! I miss St. Louis!)

S. said...

I totally agree that it's the responsibility of parents to protect the health of their children to the extent possible, but I believe that the government also has a responsibility to create an environment in which we and our vulnerable children can more easily make healthy choices - make our streets walkable, subsidize vegetables instead of corn syrup, provide decent school lunches, etc. We can't do it all ourselves when our environment makes it much easier and cheaper to make unhealthy choices!

-Fat Mother of Two Daughters (who loves your blog!)

datri said...

I think economics is a HUGE part of the obesity epidemic. Bag of 12 apples to send to school for my daughter's snack = $5. Box of 12 Little Debbie brownies = $1. Loaf of whole grain bread = $5. Loaf of white bread = $1. And so on. It's frustrating.

Sarahlynn said...

Albe, me, too! Before I had kids - and evenmoreso when I had a baby - I was so judgemental of the choices other parents made. MY toddler never ate at McDonald's! MY toddler loved broccoli! But . . . well, life happened. And sleeplessness happened. (Thank you, and I'm glad you found me!)

S., I agree with you! Just today I spent lunchtime charging up and down Grant's Trail telling stories and singing songs to occupy Ada in the jogging stroller. All the while, I was thinking, how great is this?! How lucky am I to live where municipalities and others spent a FORTUNE to make this amazing, paved, green and naturey, COOL rails to trails path? With steps leading down to the library here and a playground right over there? Too cool.

Datri, true true true. Now that I'm paying close attention to such matters, it's extremely clear to me that my most expensive groceries are fresh fruits, dairy, and lean meats.

Lunchable for Ellie's lunchbox? $1 on sale. (10 for $10, no less, complete with environmentally unfriendly packaging, calories, fat, and preservatives.) Sandwich, milk, and snap pea crisps (which she loves and hopefully have nutritional value)? Much more than $1. So she gets a lot of leftovers for lunch.

Amanda said...

I actually ended up writing too much and made my own blog post on the subject. But the one thing I wanted to add is going outside. We spent our childhood outside playing. Unless you wanted to watch the Price is Right, you found something else to do. I try to remember that as my children watch the same SpongeBob for the upteenth million time and I kick them outside. Of course, it didn't get as hot where I grew up.

Sarahlynn said...

Yes! I let my girls go outside alone - just in our yard - and I feel like a bit of a renegade for it.

At their ages, I had the run of a square block or two.