Halloween Preparedness Starts Now

Day 148

What? We’re talking about Halloween and it’s only October 1st? Exactly! The manufacturers and retailers are ready, no doubt about that, with those industrial-size packages of candy already on display. Parents need to be ready too.

Here is an interesting research topic for an ambitious student: How many grownups stock up early on trick-or-treat candy, then eat it all, and have to replace it as the scary day approaches? Of course, self-reporting makes unreliable research results. If only there were a way to discover the truth about that esoteric question!

Speaking of truth, do we even know what’s in the little calorie bombs? Sheryl Ryan for the Green Mom Guide looked up some candy ingredients and found that the goodies we and our kids eat for fun often contain trace amounts of such carcinogens as mercury, lead, and arsenic. Junk food is replete with artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, and colors, many of which have been linked not only to cancer, but to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, eczema, asthma, and allergies.

High fructose corn syrup has raised suspicions in connection with kidney and liver disease. Anyone whose alarm bells are set off by the initials GMO should know that about half of the white sugar in the United States originates from genetically modified sugar beets. If a label says “soy lecithin,” that probably comes from genetically modified plants, too. What if the package boasts of contents that are “all natural”? Ryan says:

‘Natural flavors’ can also include animal secretions, crushed insects, and other natural ingredients that many consumers — especially vegetarians and vegans — would not want to eat on their own.

Just a doggone minute! Crushed insects? Yes, says Mike Adams of Natural News:

Carmine is sourced from a mash made by grinding up beetles grown in Peru and the Canary Islands. The mash is strained out to obtain a red liquid. That liquid, made from insects, is then shipped to the United States to food companies…. That’s what’s in your yogurt (and a lot of candy and children’s foods as well). Some people have a dangerous allergic reaction to this ingredient. They can go into anaphylactic shock….

Other additives come from coal tar and petrochemicals. What is coal tar, one might ask? But a complete answer would not be forthcoming, because only about half of its components have been identified. Yellow #2 food dye has been linked with “nervous system malfunctions that ultimately are misdiagnosed as ADHD, learning disabilities, or violent behavior.” Feed a child some of that, along with a ration of sugar, and the inmates take over the asylum.

Are humans so stupid? Absolutely not. We don’t lack brains, but often our intelligent thought processes are overruled by instincts our species has possessed for millennia. Back in the days of the hunter-gatherers, bright color was usually the tipoff that a growing thing held nutritional value. Bright color was nature’s way of signifying usable energy.

One more discouraging word. Rather than buy candy, a parent might think to make cupcakes instead — something with the calories not so concentrated, but spread out and distributed among the larger bulk. But commercial frosting, it turns out, generally contains hydrogenated soybean oil, which appears to be a nerve toxin. We won’t go into it today, but many nutritionists are against soybeans in any form, including oil, whether hydrogenated, partially so, or not at all.

Stay tuned for more Halloween lore and helpful hints.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Don’t Let Halloween Candy Scare You,” GreenMomGuide.com, undated
Source: “How food companies fool consumers with food coloring ingredients made from petrochemicals,” NaturalNews.com, 03/21/08
Image by Matthew Frederickson

Far-Flung Globesity

Mother and child in Mongolia

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom’s Overseas Development Institute determined that
“The number of overweight and obese adults in the developing world has almost quadrupled to around one billion since 1980.” According to the Future Diets report, obesity in both China and Mexico almost doubled during that time, with South Africa and the Middle East not far behind. The most shocking increase came in Southeast Asia, where the percentage of obese people tripled, from 7% at the beginning of the accounting period to 22% at its finish.

Among Latin American countries, 3.8 million children younger than 5 are obese. Mexico is the heftiest, with an overall obesity rate of 32.8%. Venezuela is pretty bad with 30.8%, and although Argentina has succeeded in wiping out hunger, it now has a 29.4% obesity rate. The report speaks disparagingly of “American-sized portions” and notes that impoverished people work too hard to be attracted by the idea of doing extra exercise. Unable to afford good-quality food, they buy the filling, low-nutrition kind instead. Journalist Nicole Akoukou Thompson says:

Latin American countries have raced up the list, standing shapely hip-to-hip with America, a nation of excess — always thought to be painfully gluttonous.

As usual, obesity coexists with malnutrition (which is not the same as hunger), and “south of the border” the social costs of both are a matter of very great concern. The report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study warns:

The costs of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are estimated at 2-3 percent of global GDP, equivalent to US$1.4-2.1 trillion per year.

The FAO report includes several recommendations, including clean water, sanitation, and health care in general. The agricultural base has been weakened due to urbanization. Unemployment and underemployment prevent people from obtaining food that is nutrient-dense, rather than just calorie-stuffed.

On the other side of the globe, Vietnam has managed to greatly reduce malnutrition among children. But in Ho Chi Minh City, obesity in the under-5 age group has tripled inside of 10 years. The experts there blame an excess of fat and protein, in an unbalanced diet that lacks sufficient vitamins and minerals. As in many other urban environments, the kids don’t have enough space or opportunity for sufficient exercise.

Last year in the emirate of Dubai, the Health Authority initiated a “healthy lunch box” campaign that affected 5,000 children in 80 government and private schools. This year, regular exercise is a focus, with school kids required to attend PE classes unless they have a medical excuse. There is also official encouragement for families to exercise together.

In India, just like everywhere else, overweight kids are subject to bullying at school. Consciousness is growing of the emotional trauma caused by obesity. Researchers there name the factors of environment, insufficient exercise, heredity, family influence, habit, and income. It is a culture where a chubby child is seen as irresistibly cute, and the ability to keep a child fat reflects well on the ability of parents to provide the necessities of life.

The uncredited writer also offers a charmingly eclectic list of culprits:

…that glass of milk shake with the extra dollop of vanilla ice-cream to gulp down butter smeared paranthas (Indian flatbread) for breakfast, pre-lunch snack of crunchy French fries, chicken butter masala and malai kofta for lunch, pizzas with cheese stuffed crust for evening snack.


Source: “Obesity quadruples to nearly a billion in developing world,” gulf-daily-news.com, 01/04/14
Source: “Mexico Becomes Fatter Than the U.S. After Adopting “American-sized” Portions,”
LatinPost.com, 12/15/13
Source: “Childhood obesity in HCM City on sharp rise,” VietNamNet.vn, 06/08/14
Source: “Stricter rules for Dubai school meals to cut obesity,” TheNational.ae, 09/04/14
Source: “If You Are a Child, Fat Does Not Mean Cute,” NewIndianExpress.com, 09/13/14
Image by European Commission DG ECHO

Enabling, Activism, and Child Obesity

USAG- Humphreys

Last time, Childhood Obesity News explored the idea of passive enabling, which can mean many things, such as letting obesogenic conditions continue without interference. Parents are called upon to be agents of change, but if they are not even aware of an encroaching problem, how can they feel motivated to take action? Awareness is crucial, which is why the impending end of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is meaningless. Yes, meaningless, because every month should be equally jam-packed with awareness.

Speaking of constructive parent participation, here is one example. Many children belong to sports teams, mainly soccer, and the idea that parents should take turns providing high-calorie post-practice treats is widely accepted. We mentioned the distress expressed by pediatric nutritionist Melanie R. Silverman when she hears from clients and readers who are unhappy with this ritual. She writes:

By far the most disheartening stories I hear are from those parents trying desperately to encourage their overweight or obese child to become more active. Soccer is a terrific sport for many of these kids. The pace is fast and fun and the calorie burn can be significant. But the calories burned are rendered irrelevant by the post-game snack.

According to Silverman and anyone else with a grain of sense, what generous coaches and parents ought to provide instead are food items from a very short list: “bananas, grapes, watermelon, kiwi, oranges, apples or other fresh fruit.” And water, plain water. Period. In the past, parents could blithely feed high-calorie treats to other people’s kids, but those days are over, or should be.

In a way it is sad, and some people can’t help looking back with nostalgia on the old-fashioned custom of freely dispensing cookies. Similarly, some people gaze fondly backward to the days when there were opium dens, but the nostalgia vote can’t carry that notion very far. Eventually, an equally rational attitude toward gratuitous sugar-bombs will prevail. Parents whose children currently participate in sports can be the bold proponents of a better idea.

Silverman is careful to note that she allows sweet treats for her own children on special occasions like birthdays, or when she bakes them herself at home. But that is a private decision. In the public arena, things need to be different:

Soccer leagues must take the initiative to set snack rules at the beginning of the season and enforce them with coaches and parents. An approved snack list should be provided to all parents that shows what they can bring to the field; make the list.

Clinical nutritionist Loretta Lanphier wrote a piece that is very much on point, titled “Childhood Obesity: Are You an Enabler?” in which she recommends thinking of future generations and how they will benefit from “creating a family legacy of wellness.” She casts the usual aspersions on such societal drawbacks as the existence of fast food chains and ubiquitous advertising. A particular ominous sentence is, “Some professional sports franchises have admitted that it is difficult for them to turn a profit without robust sales of food and beverages during games.” Lanphier makes a positive declaration and then asks an all-important question:

What happens in the home and the family is the strongest influence upon our children’s nutritional choices. Are you an enabler for the health of your kids, or do you model and teach a lifestyle which results in obesity?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soccer Snack Insanity,” HuffingtonPost.com, 11/06/2013
Source: “Childhood Obesity: Are You an Enabler?” oasisadvancedwellness.com, 06/01/10
Image by USAG-Humphreys

Passive Enabling and Child Obesity

2007-04-28

In the previous post, Childhood Obesity News considered the difference between active and passive enabling. During Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, it becomes clear that for a parent to be unaware is a kind of passive enabling. The goal is to bring public consciousness to the point where it is simply impossible for parents to remain oblivious to the reality of their own situation and their children’s.

One very large problem is that overweight and obesity have pretty much become the “new normal.” Perception is always influenced by the environment. When parents see their kids among classmates and friends of the same age, a lot of extra pounds become invisible because, next to a child who is 100 pounds overweight, a child who is a mere 25 pounds overweight doesn’t look so bad.

Looking into the matter

Studies of parental awareness have been done before, as Karen Kaplan explains, with mixed results. (Some parents have resisted warnings that their children are overweight because they believe the standard should not be the same across races and ethnic groups.) Researchers from three universities teamed up to look back at the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They wanted to see if parents have always been so blind to their children’s obesity.

They compared the records of two different batches of kids — some tracked from 1988 to 1994, and a comparable group tracked from 2005 to 2010. All these kids had participated in studies where their parents (usually the mothers) were asked to assess the child’s weight as “too high, too low or just about right.” All the numbers are in Kaplan’s article, and here is the gist:

A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that American parents are significantly less likely to make an accurate assessment of their children’s weight compared with parents from an earlier generation. If moms and dads don’t see the problem, they aren’t likely to be part of the solution, the researchers say.

Here is pediatric dietitian Melanie R. Silverman on the problem of post-soccer practice snacks:

To have cupcakes, candy, brownies, chips and sugary drinks brought by parents and handed weekly to our kids on the soccer fields after their games sends the wrong nutritional message…. [W]eek after week, parents complain to me from all over the country about the types of soccer snacks served in their towns. They are outraged and fed up. And they should be.

Especially disturbing are the times when athletic practice runs from, say, 11 a.m. until noon. Nobody should be having any post-practice snacks at lunchtime, or any drinks except water. Remember the old saying, “Hunger is the best sauce.” A child who has just worked up an appetite through athletic practice is a child in a position to appreciate a heaping plateful of steamed veggies or a nice salad. This might even be the opportunity to introduce some new, untried food. How sad to have it thwarted by the child being full from ingesting two doughnuts and a bottle of soda.

When parents allow a situation like this to persist, it is a kind of passive enabling that doesn’t have to continue.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “New culprit in childhood obesity,” examiner-enterprise.com, 08/27/14
Source: “Soccer Snack Insanity,” HuffingtonPost.com, 11/06/2013
Image by Warren Long

9 Ways to Avoid Enabling

charity jumble sale

We are almost to the end of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, but don’t be fooled — we need to keep that awareness level high during the other 11 months, too.

A parent might think, “What’s the beef? I never tied my kid down, stuck a funnel in his mouth, and poured in milkshakes fortified with extra calories.” And indeed, most parents never have performed such an unthinkable violation. But like aggression, enabling comes in more than one format. There’s active enabling and there’s passive enabling, or what in theology would be called sins of commission versus sins of omission.

The main thing to know about enabling is, we want to avoid it in any guise. Here, two previous posts describing “Parents as Enablers and Saboteurs” are distilled into simple “dont’s.”

● Don’t use food as a bribe to elicit good behavior.
● Don’t use food as a reward for good behavior.
● Don’t use food to win more love than the other parent gets.
● Don’t bring home junk food if your child has specifically asked you not to.
● Don’t overreact to a notification that your child is overweight.
● Don’t serve processed meals from packages.

● Don’t dismiss the idea of cooking from scratch.
● Don’t ignore a notification that your child is overweight.
● Don’t deny your own issues or addictions.

Those last three are separated because they are examples of passive enabling. About the cooking — a grownup who serves processed, packaged, and pseudo foods is actively promoting obesity, but a certain amount of passive enabling is going on at the same time. When a parent abdicates responsibility for a truly vibrant diet, overweight and obesity are passively enabled.

Just because life is already too busy with pressing demands, that doesn’t mean a parent can blow off the idea of ever learning to cook healthful meals with fresh ingredients, fewer calories, and zero harmful additives. Could it be a family project, to plan the perfect healthful Sunday brunch and shop for the ingredients? And then to go ahead and make that meal from scratch? It wouldn’t hurt to try something different, once.

As we know, Dr. Pretlow is working on the W8Loss2Go smartphone application. At one point he observed:

When I talked with the parents of the kids in our current app study, they readily acknowledged that parents enable this problem in their kids. One mother said her 10-year-old, who’s in our study, became panicky at a recent church festival because of all the food available. ‘How can I keep from eating this?’ he agonized to his mom.

What could that mother have done differently? Depending on various other factors intrinsic to family situation and environment, one course might be to avoid the church festival altogether and choose a different activity. Or, an energetic parent might join the event-planning committee and actively campaign to convert the food offerings to more healthful alternatives.

A slightly more ambitious parent might decide to make a mother/child project out of creating a festival booth to feature delicious low-calorie snacks, and give away the recipes for other families to try. A truly audacious parent might propose the radical idea of restructuring the whole event so as not to include food at all.

Solutions call for originality, “outside the box” thinking, and a willingness to abandon old habits and start new ones.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by badgreeb fattkatt

How to Observe Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

i got dizzy

Much of our current understanding of the childhood obesity crisis comes from highly respected institutions. To pick a random example, after research was done at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, the authors made suggestions about what two different groups should do.

They would like to see a collaboration between the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and Congress, with the objective of regulating all marketing that is directed toward children. Another goal would be to repurpose the Farm Bill to subsidize fruits and vegetables. Also, primary-care physicians are encouraged to face reality — childhood obesity is “one of the most prevalent chronic diseases.” The Harvard researchers would like to see more cooperation between their fellow scientists and the medical profession, the advocates of public health, experts from the area of business and law, and of course parents.

Room to move

Joanna Rothkopf of Salon reported on a recommendation that in most places would take a lot of community support to implement: increased availability of public lands for people to actually use for activities like hiking and trail biking. Researchers from the state universities of both Missouri and Minnesota looked at some Minnesota towns. Rothkopf says:

The study found that counties with more trails and forests had higher levels of youth activity and lower youth obesity than counties with fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The trouble is, in urban areas, trails, parks, and playgrounds seem to have become increasingly likely to harbor crime rather than healthy exercise. Parents can contribute greatly to the community and help reduce childhood obesity by advocating and supporting safe, accessible recreational space in all neighborhoods.

The great outdoors

For Outside Online, Katie Arnold reported on the message of Peter Gray, PhD. In the American Journal of Play, he summarized what is to be learned from two University of Michigan studies about children’s play. Gray conveyed the news that between 1981 and 1997 children’s total play time diminished by 25% and outdoor playtime was cut in half. Guess how much time per day the average contemporary child spends “goofing off outdoors” — between 4 and 7 minutes.

Sure, kids have school sports — the ones who can afford the uniforms, equipment, and other expenses. But one of the reliable sources of exercise enjoyed by previous generations — walking to and from school — has almost become extinct.

In his research, Gray posits that children who don’t play are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression; childhood obesity and diagnoses of attention-deficit disorders are on the rise. Play teaches children how to work together and mature into more socially well-adjusted adults; it has also been proven to build better brain function and improves academic performance.

Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and clinical researcher who founded the National Institute for Play, calls play “a fundamental survival aspect of all social animals.” Through his research of homicidal males in the 1960s, he found that a lack of “normal give-and-take play behaviors” may even be an indicator for mass violence.

Arnold urges parents to put their kids outside more, and even offers helpful instructions for the forgotten art of communicating with other parents about visits and guidelines for safety.

So if parents wonder how to commemorate Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, here is a clue. Work toward the establishment and maintenance of useful, safe play areas in your neighborhood, and encourage not only your own children but others to get out there and run around.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kids are what they eat,” Harvard.edu, 09/26/12
Source: “How the built environment is contributing to childhood obesity,” Salon.com, 09/11/14
Source: “America Needs a Playtime Intervention,” OutsideOnline.com, 08/27/14
Image by guilherme jofili

Globesity — Norway and the Netherlands

Taking the World by Storm

In the Netherlands, only 4% of the children are overweight, according to NBC News. Apparently the source is the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, although a visit to their data visualization page seems to indicate that the percentage is 17.2. This particular microcosm illustrates the problems inherent in keeping current with, and conglomerating, obesity statistics.

To be relevant, numbers need to match in the ways they were collected and the populations they were collected from. Different countries have different ways of gathering statistics, and vastly different resources with which to do it. The attitudes of various governments toward statistics-gathering range from meticulous to lackadaisical, and their reporting requirements — and penalties for missing the mark — reflect this.

If one place defines “children” as aged 2-16 and another place defines them as aged 5-18, how can the collected numbers be compared in any meaningful way? To grasp the worldwide picture is very difficult, and experts must depend on approximations in reporting, because precision is not obtainable.

A new study

In the Netherlands, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment collaborated with the World Health Organization to assess how community-based initiatives (CBIs) to reduce childhood obesity are working out. The study looked at measures begun in the years 2005-2011. The areas of inquiry were the CBIs’ general characteristics, applied strategies, and reported effects.

The researchers sorted through a lot of available data sets to select the ones that matched their study’s criteria. The 71 selected included projects originating in 15 different countries. Almost all of them “implemented both environmental and individual strategies.” About half were public-private partnerships, and more than half carried out activities in multiple locations, or throughout a neighborhood.

The initiatives varied in nature — heavy on the professional training and offering many programs for parents, with plenty of attention to making changes in the social and physical environments. Much interesting information can be gleaned from this report, whose conclusions are:

Despite diversity of included CBIs, common characteristics were the application of integrated actions at a local level, aimed at changing the environment and the children’s behavior directly. Evidence supporting effectiveness on weight indicators is available, although the design and conduct of most of these studies were suboptimal (i.e. no control group, a small sample size, not random).

From the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the good news is that between 2008 and 2012, Norwegian third-graders did not get any bigger on the average. The Institute’s Child Growth Study also identified some factors affecting child obesity, including the educational level of the child’s mother, whether the parents are married, and whether the family lives in a rural or urban environment. As might be expected, children with undereducated mothers and divorced parents do not fare as well.

Perhaps surprisingly, because of the stereotypical picture of hard-working country kids, the rural Norwegian children experience more overweight and obesity than city kids. But unlike their counterparts in other countries, the majority of Norwegian children get back and forth to school either on foot or via bicycle. Also unlike their counterparts in other countries, Norwegian officials are very concerned about social justice and fairness. The Child Growth Study’s project manager, Ragnhild Hovengen, is quoted as saying:

Health clinics and school health services have a unique opportunity to identify children and families at risk of developing obesity and other health problems and they must be encouraged to introduce preventive activities among children and young people in their municipalities…. There is a danger that trends in overweight and obesity in some groups will help to maintain and increase social inequalities in the years to come.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Whole World is Getting Fatter, New Survey Finds,” NBCNews.com, 05/27/14
Source: “Overview of 71 European community-based initiatives,” MyJournals.org, 07/28/14
Source: “Childhood obesity unevenly distributed in Norway,” HealthCanal.com, 08/20/14
Image by JD Hancock

Globesity in Some English-Speaking Countries

cool globe chicago recyclable waste

Last time, Childhood Obesity News looked at developments in the United Kingdom, and today we take a peek at what has been going on with one of England’s neighbors and two of its former colonies.

In Ireland, there are 300-pound teenagers and growing concern. The country has a hospital-based service, W82GO, for obese children up to age 16. Currently, 91 patients are on the waiting list (average wait time 20 weeks) for its healthy-lifestyle program. Fiona Dillon describes it as providing families with guidance about activities, as well as counseling in health, nutrition, and self-esteem. The staff includes a clinical psychologist, a pediatrician, a physiotherapist, a nurse, and a dietician. The director is senior physiotherapist Grace O’Malley, who is quoted as saying:

Your sleep controls your growth but also your appetite, so a lot of kids who are not sleeping will gain weight. It becomes harder to move around, and there can be breathlessness, sore joints and there is very often an embarrassment associated with moving. We have had some really good success with teens. And when we get the children younger it’s easier because they have got growth on their side.

O’Malley is not the first health professional to point out that younger is better. The earlier an intervention can happen for a child sliding into obesity, the better. Best of all, of course, is prevention, always.

The University of British Columbia issued a report that found obesity rates “at an all-time high,” with at least one quarter of all Canadian adults qualifying as obese. But the Fraser Institute, according to an uncredited Huffington Post article, disagrees. The think tank published its own report with the title, “Obesity in Canada: Overstated Problems, Misguided Policy Solutions.”

So one group is saying that Canadian obesity increased between 2003 and 2012, and another is saying it did not, and it all comes down, apparently, to how they massage the numbers. Part of the confusion comes from either reliance on, or doubt of, BMI measurements, which is a whole different and important issue. What the Fraser Institute does not seem to want is for government money to be spent on anti-obesity initiatives, which would impose costs indiscriminately on everyone of every weight class. The reporter says:

In response to the claim that obesity places additional burden on Canada’s health care system, the institute says that most costs are borne by the individual in the form of lower income, more sickness, fewer employment opportunities and possibly a shorter life span.

In the minds of many people in other countries, Australians are a hardy race of wiry, toned crocodile wrestlers. This stereotype is unfortunately not accurate. In fact, 60% of the adults are classified as overweight or obese, along with 25% of the continent’s children. One major movement is to discover what type of intervention helps families most, because there is no doubt that the entire family needs to be involved in the weight-loss efforts of any member.

Interestingly, parents with unhealthy eating habits often resort to controlling-type feeding strategies (such as pressure to eat and overt restriction) in an effort to develop healthy eating habits in their children. Such strategies appear counterproductive, as they interfere with kids’ ability to self-regulate their appetite, adversely affecting their eating habits and, in turn, their weight.

Like many of their counterparts elsewhere, Australian health-care professionals and authorities recommend family meals, home cooking, fresh produce, smaller portion sizes, and involving children in the preparation and if possible the growing of food. They urge parents to switch over to treats and rewards that are not edible, and most importantly, to substitute water for sugar-sweetened beverages.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Irish teens weighing 22 stone on waiting list for obesity programme,” Independent.ie, 08/21/14
Source: “Obesity Epidemic In Canada A Myth, Says Fraser Institute,” HuffingtonPost.ca, 04/29/14
Source: “Tackling childhood obesity: Part One,” ATMA.com.au, 09/02/14
Image by John LeGear

Globesity — United Kingdom

17 Sorten Fett

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News talked about obesity around the world. Dr. Pretlow once said:

Poor lifestyle choices is commonly touted as the reason for the obesity epidemic. Yet, obesity is rapidly becoming a worldwide epidemic as countries adopt a western diet and import western products. Why is obesity spreading at an alarming rate globally? It doesn’t make sense that it is as simple as the spreading of the adoption of poor lifestyle choices.

Everywhere, the answers to those questions are being sought. In the United Kingdom, which encompasses England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, 64% of adults are classified as overweight or obese. Three areas of north-west London have childhood obesity rates that are among the highest in England. The National Child Measurement Programme found that among 10- and 11-year-olds, 39.8% of the children were overweight or obese in Brent, and 39.4% in Westminster and Hounslow.

Why? The apparent answers are: portion sizes, deprivation, fast food, busy parents, and a sedentary lifestyle. Buyana Ailoo, leader of the Healthy Weight Team in Hounslow, remarked that parents tend not to see obesity as an urgent problem. In London, which is now home to so many immigrants, cultural expectations are different. Especially in the lower economic strata, many parents with fat babies and chubby kids feel blessed. When childhood obesity reduction is the goal, this is a difficult mindset to work around.

In Blackpool, an oceanside city in northwest England, the suppliers and vendors of school uniforms have a story to tell. (Unlike their American counterparts, many British public schools require that kids from age 4 to 16 wear uniforms.) The wholesalers and retailers have dropped the word “average” from their vocabulary.

In a country where the average grown woman takes a size 16 (about the equivalent of a U.S. size 14), one shop had to order a size 24 skirt for a girl in secondary school. The story doesn’t specify how many inches around the waist a size 24 is, or whether it is more or less than the waist size reported by another shopkeeper who supplied a skirt with a 36” waist. A third vendor reported taking an order for a blazer with a 48” chest for a secondary school student and one with a 38” chest for a younger child. Those are a lot of inches for any kid.

Dr. Arif Rajpura, director of public health in Blackpool, would like to see the government do something about fast food establishments, as well as the low price and easy availability of sugar-sweetened beverages. He is quoted:

‘Obesity is a national problem, and unless we do something here and now our future generations are going to have poor health. These issues start in childhood, and to see excess weight from reception class onwards is a worry.’

The picture on this page shows a typical full English breakfast, as served in Paddington.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Child obesity in north-west London among worst in England,” getwestlondon.co.uk, 12/16/13
Source: “Supersize kids sees uniform sizes expand,” BlackpoolGazette.co.uk, 09/16/14
Image by Christian Kadluba

Globesity Reigns

Atlas

Poor Atlas, that mythological figure who must carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. Since 1980, he has noticed it getting heavier. There are now four times as many overweight and obese adults as in 1980, according to the Future Diets report issues by the Overseas Development Institute.

Put another way, this means one in three people is overweight. Consequently, humans are having a lot more diabetes, strokes, and heart attacks. Most of the damage occurs in what is called the “developing world,” or what used to be called the Third World. In developing countries, 904 million people are now considered overweight or obese. In China and Mexico, obesity rates have almost doubled since the year picked for the beginning of measurement for this report.

In May, Maggie Fox for NBC News wrote about another study that used 1980 as its starting point, this one performed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Fox says:

Perhaps most troubling, kids are heavier than ever…. The percentage of overweight or obese children and teenagers has increased by nearly 50 percent since 1980 and now more than 22 percent of girls and nearly 24 percent of boys in developed countries are overweight or obese.

And according to this survey, nearly one-third of the world’s population (around 2.1 billion people) is overweight or obese. Not a single country among the 188 surveyed has succeeded in lowering its obesity rate since 1980. Among them, the United States is most extreme. In 12 of our states, the adult obesity rate is over 30%. We have 5% of the earth’s population and 13% of its obese inhabitants. Fox writes:

The U.S. has 78 million obese adults, the highest number of any country in the world, even China, with four times the population. Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60 percent of women are obese or overweight, it finds. And nearly 30 percent of U.S. children and teens are either obese or overweight, up from 19 percent in 1980.

The Institute’s director, Dr. Christopher Murray, told the reporter that as incomes continue to rise in formerly poor countries, obesity rates will continue to rise too. In other countries, as in the U.S., obesity causes or exacerbates a number of medical problems and leads to massive suffering, incredible expense, and preventable early death. It has been suggested that obesity accounts for pretty darn close to 20% of deaths in the U.S.

“Rapport” is a French word that means something like “We’re on the same page with this,” whether in intellectual understanding, emotional resonance, or both. UN literature says:

A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not United Nations staff nor paid for his/her work.

When visiting a country, the Special Rapporteur interacts with governmental and nongovernmental bodies, expecting free access to the relevant facts. The “Special Rapporteur on the right to food” is Dr. Olivier De Schutter, who gave a speech at the annual summit meeting of the World Health Organization earlier this year.

He told the assemblage that in the 10 years since WHO began its Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, governments have focused on increasing food availability but have not carefully considered the quality of the available calories, the price, or the marketing methods behind this availability. In his opinion, the junk food problem is not taken as seriously as it needs to be, and the most quotable portion of his address deemed unhealthy diets a bigger threat to global health than tobacco use. Charlotte Alter wrote:

The Special Rapporteur has previously agitated for greater governmental action on junk foods, including taxing unhealthy products, regulating fats and sugars, cracking down on advertising for junk food, and rethinking agricultural subsidies that make unhealthy food cheaper.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity quadruples to nearly a billion in developing world,” gulf-daily-news.com, 01/04/14
Source: “The Whole World is Getting Fatter, New Survey Finds,” NBCNews.com, 05/27/14
Source: “Factsheet 27,” ohchr.org, April 2001
Source: “Obesity a bigger global threat than tobacco: UN,” Time.com, 05/19/14
Image by Contando Estrelas

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