Disease and Conditions
Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity – Problems / Solutions

By Dr. L. Lee Coyne

Overweight and obesity have become common health conditions and their prevalence is increasing globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally 1.2 billion people are overweight, about the same number as those whose living conditions and access to food cause them to be underweight.

Many serious health problems are associate with excess weight. Some of the major correlations with obesity, as reported by Aviva et all in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October 1999, include:

  • high blood pressure – 3 times more prevalent,
  • type II diabetes - 13 to 18 more common among the heaviest individuals,
  • gall-bladder disease – 21 times more common,
  • heart disease -  3 to 5 times more prevalent, and
  • osteo arthritis - 30 times more common.

My personal editorial comment is that “obesity” per se causes nothing other than fatigue from carrying dead weight around all day. Obesity is just one of the obvious symptoms of a larger picture of physical inactivity and poor eating habits. These life-style issues contribute to the development of the various disease conditions and obesity is usually the result of the same cause.

A very disturbing trend in obesity statistics is the high incidence among children.

The Nov. 27/2000 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows the rate of obesity among Canadian boys, aged 7 to 13 years, tripled between 1981 and 1996. Girls of the same age group have twice the prevalence over the same time period. Current (2000/2001) estimates show up to 30% of Canadian children overweight and 12-14% are obese. When you consider the correlations with other health disorders, it should become apparent that our children need help to prevent future health-care disasters.

I have always taken the position that if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. My effort to continue educating about this problem is my attempt to be part of the solution. Parents, teachers, coaches, and all community leaders have a responsibility to contribute to the solutions. Just as physical fitness, personal grooming and spiritual practices are supported by your lifestyle, so is overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity are supported by and a reflection of lifestyle. To change, one must change lifestyle – simple as that, but often not so simple.

In the case of children, their lifestyle is set-up and controlled by the parents. Therefore, parents concerned about overweight issues among their children must seriously evaluate the family lifestyle. Family lifestyle not only affects the child today, but establishes the norm for teenage and adult years. Although correlations between “fat kids becoming fat adults” is not strong in the younger years, it becomes very strong if the child is still obese at age 13 and higher according to Charlotte Wright from the University of New Castle in England.

Excess body fat is a direct arithmetic equation. When you consume more Calories than you burn in physical activity, you will gain weight. There is evidence that children are exercising less and developing some very poor eating habits. Both of these detractors are family lifestyle issues. Dr. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States has said “Except for smoking, obesity is now the number one preventable cause of death in this country”. Preventable is the operative  word here.

When you consider exercise, realize that the simple act of traveling one mile, walking, running or crawling, will burn 75 to 125 Calories depending on your body size. Simply adding one mile per day to current lifestyle activities (approximately 20 minutes walk) can help to control weight by 10 pounds per year. Therefore 3 miles per day (approximately a one hour  walk) can control weight by 30 pounds per year, definitely enough to make a difference.

If you consider some very simple dietary adjustments, the total weight control issue becomes even more manageable. Dr. David Ludwig from Boston Children’s Hospital, in a recent study published in Lancet, concluded that “an extra soft drink a day gives a child a 60 per cent greater chance of becoming obese.” Instead of drinking milk or water, children tend to drink, or are allowed to drink, sweetened beverages ranging from soft drinks to flavored water to fruit flavored crystals to chocolate milk. Ludwig also says “The average teenager is getting 15 - 20 teaspoons per day of added sugar from soft drinks alone. Consumption rates among children have doubled in the last decade.” These choices, often call “liquid candy”, place the child in “double jeopardy”. First, they lack nutrients – they are “empty Calories”.  Second, sugar drinks and foods raise the blood sugar level rapidly and that leads to elevated blood insulin. Insulin is the “storage” hormone and while insulin is elevated you cannot burn fat. Even in a moderate Calories eating plan, chronically elevated insulin prevents fat mobilization for energy and encourages fat storage.

When you realize that all tastes are basically acquired you can begin to take steps to introduce better food choices that will become preferred choices. My suggestion is to introduce the changes in progressively small steps.

The most significant guideline for this change will be to understand the need for protein foods in every meal and every snack; NO EXCEPTIONS. If on has a craving for sweets, their diet is likely low in protein. Choose milk, yogurt (natural – flavored yogurts usually have 2-3 time more sugar - sugar free usually contain aspartame and that has other problems including stimulating hunger) soy milk, cheese meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, protein supplements as milk shakes, even protein bars (not all bars are created equal - there are several good home recipes for protein bars).

Protein in every meal and snack is designed to control that storage hormone insulin. You can control it even more by eating some of the protein foods first. This slows down the rate of sugar absorption.  Also try to chose low Glycemic Index carbohydrates – whole grain or sprouted grain breads over white flour, apples and berries over bananas and pineapple, colourful vegetables over starchy root vegetables and never eat anything puffed or popped without some protein support. An added benefit of exercise, in addition to the Calorie burning feature is that exercise reduces blood insulin levels and therefore encourages fat burning.

To make these changes real, it should become a family project. Do not expect success if the parents indulge in soda pop, french fries, potato chips and heavy deserts but expect the overweight child to follow different rules. It will not succeed if it is perceived as a “diet”. Diets fail and set up the Yoyo syndrome of weight loss followed by weight gain. This is a “Lifestyle” issue and a serious one. However, if approached with a rational – small step at a time - attitude, nobody will ever feel it is a “deprivation” experience. In fact, it should become a joyful experience because everybody will begin to feel better and have more energy.

Make exercise fun and eating and adventure. Here is on eating adventure worth trying as an example:

Power Pancakes  1 large egg, 1/3 cup large flake rolled oats, 1/4 cup 2% Cottage cheese, 2-3 Tbsp Soy Protein Powder, 1 tsp oil and 1/2 tsp baking powder. Mix well and cook like a pancake. For topping instead of heavy sugar syrup try 1/3 cup of plain yogurt blended with 1/2 cup of berries.

About the Author:

Lee Coyne, Ph.D. is a nutritional consultant, lecturer and author of several weight loss books, including Fat Won't Make You Fat. Dr. Coyne is also the creator of the "Lean Seekers Nutritional Coaching Program" that trains individuals on a "Better Balanced Diet" as a way of eating for better health and weight management. He may be reached at 1-800-668-4042 or by e-mail dr.coyne@leanseekers.com

Copyright Lee Coyne, Ph.D., reprinted with permission.

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