Childhood Obesity: Beyond the Pounds
You have probably seen the media ramp up coverage of childhood obesity as of late. From the Let’s Move Campaign to Georgia’s anti-obesity ad campaign, a seeming war on the weight of children is front and center. However, because childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, remedying this issue is far bigger than losing pounds.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports about 10% of annual healthcare costs in the US are attributed to obesity. The reason obesity in children and adults is worth all the attention it’s getting is because its associated health problems, such as coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension, are life-threatening conditions that are preventable. The problem with much of the media coverage is that it demonizes the choices, body image, and sociability of overweight and obese people. Science has proven this approach may not work. A Yale University study found overweight participants who were exposed to a stigmatizing video ate three times more than those who watched one with a neutral message. Bottom line, hating on weight does not work.
Where Does My Food Come From
Separate episodes of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution tested elementary and high school students about where certain foods come from. While many high school students failed to choose a correct answer from multiple choice questions about where butter, cheese, and corn come from. One issue at the base of childhood obesity is the fact that many children do not know how food is produced. The fruits, vegetables, and whole grains the USDA urges us to eat are a mystery to too many youngsters. Not only have many never grown anything, but many have never gone to a farm, or stepped foot into a food manufacturing plant. Nutrition education is tantamount to improving the obesity epidemic at all levels. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that preschool children who were almost always served homegrown produce were more than twice as likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day—and to like them more—than kids who rarely or never ate homegrown produce. With technology to grow herbs and tomatoes indoors, and an increasing interest in urban gardening, now is the time to show kids what goes into the food that ends up on their plate.
The Parent Trap
With almost 70% of adults over 20 overweight or obese, even with proper education as a child, improving obesity statistics is an uphill battle. Because parents who are obese are much more likely to have obese children, their habits and authority may make it hard for children to maintain healthy habits. Without the support of their parents, nutrition education for children may fall on deaf ears once kids transfer the message to their moms and dads. The other often-ignored issue of preschool children is childcare. About 60 percent of infants and children up to age 5 spend an average of 29 hours per week in some form of childcare setting away from home. Childcare therefore is an important place in a child's food experience that may have little, if no parent intervention. Because food preferences are built from birth to age 5, nutrition in childcare is also an important component in creating healthy eating habits.
The 5-2-1-Almost None Rule
Whether at home, school or childcare, there needs to be an easy to understand guideline for parents, schools, childcare providers, and after-school programs that promotes healthy eating habits. The 5-2-1-Almost None rule is an easy way to remember the following nutrition and physical activity guidelines for children:
- Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- No more than two hours per day in front of a screen (TV, video games, and recreational computer time).
- One hour of physical activity per day
- Almost none sugary beverages - that is no more than two servings per week of sugar-sweetened beverages.
What misperceptions about food from your childhood have contributed to your current eating habits?