Childhood Obesity Awareness Should Focus on Prevention

October 4 work day

One year ago, during Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, the most recent Childhood Obesity Prevention Summit was attended by nearly 300 state and local policy makers, and even some representatives of federal agencies. Other advocates of childhood obesity prevention included members of community organizations, as well as academics and professionals. The public relations material described the summit agenda:

Workshops addressed, among other topics, food marketing to children, food access in underserved communities, community development and design strategies, school-based policies and socioeconomic disparities in policy implementation.

While visiting Baltimore, summit attendees were invited to visit Druid Hill Park, known for its hiking and bicycling facilities. They could also tour the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School for Health Professions. Another site of interest was the Great Kids Farm, a project of the city’s public schools. Activities there are very similar to what goes on in other schools fortunate enough to be involved in garden-based learning.

In that same month, Zoe Mintz wrote for International Business Times about a newly identified class of risk. This condition has been defined as severe obesity, and 5% of American children are said to exist within it. But what does it mean exactly?

In children over the age of 2, severe obesity is defined by a body mass index (BMI) that’s at least 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender and age, or a BMI score of 35 or higher.

These children are looking at a future that includes one or more of the following: “Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, sleep apnea, musculoskeletal problems and early signs of clogged arteries.” What is worse, the treatment options are few. Modalities that are effective among other obese populations don’t seem to work for severe obesity, which is characterized as “an extremely difficult disease to treat.” Mintz includes an interesting quotation from Dr. Valentin Fuster of New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center:

Somehow you think you’ve got it, but they come back…. This is why it’s so important to know the reasons for why you’re obese.

As for the reasons, followers of Childhood Obesity News have heard this before: Many people are obese because they are addicted to high-calorie, low-nutrition, chemical-laden concoctions that are shameful imitations of food. Yes, even people who know better! The world is full of intelligent adults, some with multiple academic degrees, whose bones are asked to support far too many pounds.

These are adults with life experience, credentials, disposable income, the ability to travel, and many other advantages. If they can’t figure out how to shed their addiction, what chance does a little kid have? Especially the ones who arrive in the “severely obese” category before any responsible adult thinks to pay attention. Since severe obesity is so intractable once it sets in, prevention is clearly of paramount importance.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “2013 Childhood Obesity Prevention Summit,” LeadershipForHealthyCommunities.org, undated
Source: “5 Percent Of US Children Are ‘Severely Obese,’ New Risk Category Rising Among Youth,” ibtimes.com, 09/10/13
Image by Friends of West Baltimore Squares

Parents, Activism, and Community

Brentwood School Board Candidate Forum

The “Let’s Move” campaign is said to aim for a return to the normal childhood obesity rate of 5 percent, as defined by how it was in the late 1970s. In a general sense, efforts to turn back the clock inevitably fail. More specifically, the phraseology suggests that the goal is just to get things back to “as bad as they were before,” and that is not a particularly inspiring motive.

For parents who are inspired to move forward, the best advice is to start at home and make the place where your kids live the most stress-free and temptation-free food environment, and set an irreproachable example of clean living. Also, there are ways to be effective in the larger community. During Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, what do parents need to know about activism?

Know how to know

Before the average person invests time or money in a project, there had better be some indication that the effort and risk will bear fruit. How do we know if a program can help our kids, or anybody’s kids? How do we decide which kinds of community intervention to support? A good place to start might be Evaluating Obesity Prevention Efforts from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The 462-page manual is subtitled “A Plan for Measuring Progress.”

We need access to the data, and a context or framework in which to weigh it. Help can be found in a chapter titled “Improving the Usefulness of Obesity Evaluation Information to Potential Users.” The report includes information on how to discern whether any given activity actually promotes health equity, and on “Community Obesity Assessment and Surveillance,” which sounds rather ominous.

Much of our current understanding of the childhood obesity crisis comes from highly respected institutions. To pick a random example, publicity about research done at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health said this:

There’s no question that junk food, most of it highly processed, and sugar-sweetened beverages are major contributors to the obesity epidemic…. There’s no lack of convincing research … demonstrating the solid relationship between such fare and a greater risk of obesity…. One key factor in the rise of childhood obesity involves advertising, primarily via television commercials.

One suggestion made by Harvard experts was that schools need larger budgets for physical education classes. Segments of the political spectrum are against it, though it seems obvious that kids need physical activity on general principles. For the sake of teachers and administrators, giving kids an outlet for their restless energy probably helps to keep classrooms more peaceful.

Kids need space and equipment for exercise — even if obesity reduction is not the targeted issue and even if no direct correlation between exercise and obesity is ever proven. Why? Because exercise is beneficial in 50 or more ways, depending on who is counting. Every one of those ways contributes indirectly to obesity reduction, because they are building blocks for a life that provides satisfactions greater than food.

The point is that parents can have a great amount of influence on school boards. On the local scale, becoming involved with the school system is an accessible route to making a difference. To be even more influential, always remember the power of example, especially when it is up close and personal — like at home, in front of the kids. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” And Jamie Oliver said, “When parents get angry, anything can happen.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A Plan for Measuring Progress,” Institute of Medicine, August 2013
Source: “Kids are what they eat,” Harvard.edu, 09/26/12
Image by longislandwins

Some Current Thinking on Childhood Obesity

mimi feeding 2

Sometimes a headline accidentally sums up everything that’s going on in the world at the moment. Such a headline is “Severe obesity in US children on the rise, multipronged solution needed.” That says it all. The main message is, “All classes of obesity in U.S. children have increased over the past 14 years, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.”

The writer quoted a doctor who said pretty much the same thing everyone says — we need better policies, more consumer education, and more individual responsibility. It’s unfortunate, but these days no matter who says it, “individual responsibility” ends up seeming like a cop-out. It can’t help sounding like an Astroturf solution suggested by the food industry to a problem that is not so easily swept under the rug. Where addictive substances are concerned, the idea of individual responsibility is problematic, because the first step in dealing with addiction is for the person to admit powerlessness against the substance.

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is a good time to look back over the year and think about what has been done. This summer, Dr. Richard Besser, the ABC News Chief Medical Officer, acted as host to a TED-MED panel discussion with five other health-care professionals. The discussion was wide-ranging, and some of it centered on the built environment.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, called upon urban planners and architects for more leadership in translating the concepts of a healthful environment into a living situation most beneficial to children. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, is quoted as saying:

Transportation funding initiatives in some cities have changed to include funding for safe sidewalks, bike lanes, walking paths, and other means for physical activity. This is a great example of cross-sector collaboration.

Don Schwarz, an official from Philadelphia, spoke of the importance of a city’s zoning policies. He also emphasized the importance of getting local employers on board with visions of decreased childhood obesity. Schwarz advocates working with the local Chamber of Commerce and reaching out to food retailers. Employers, he suggests, should provide wellness programs that cover dependents.

Class and stress

Elissa Epel, who teaches at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, is concerned about the class discrepancy, which shows up in the form of more stress among the economically disadvantaged.

One characteristic of stress is that self-control does not have much of a chance against it. Stress goads people into disastrous eating habits, and they become overweight or obese, and are stigmatized by society, and that adds more stress, which leads to overeating, and so on ad infinitum. It’s one of those vicious cycles. Here is an interesting quotation from Dr. Epel: “It helps to understand that comfort food is a ‘drug’ — like a cheap form of Prozac.”

There was much positive and encouraging talk in a general sense, pertaining to prevention-oriented policies and the collective utilization for the common good of skills found in public and private organizations. Someone emphasized the importance of recognizing incremental change in the individual, and the rewarding of even small signs of progress, such as the loss of 5 to 7 pounds. The importance of putting research into practice was agreed upon, but writer Mike Beauchamp remarked, “Very little is happening so far to create actionable programs that make a difference.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Severe obesity in US children on the rise, multipronged solution needed,” FoodNavigator-USA.com, 04/24/14
Source: “TED-MED and Dr. Richard Besser Host a Candid Chat,” DietsInReview.com, 07/22/14
Image by Philippe Put

Nader, Bear Fat, Astroturf, and Childhood Obesity

Activist Ralph Nader is still fighting the good fight against the corporate bulldozers that figuratively plow consumers into the ground under tons of misleading media. He blames “the vast fast food and food processing industry and their clever advertisers” for “pouring massive amounts of empty calories into the mouths and down the throats of these children.”

Nader is critical of Michelle Obama’s efforts with school lunches, because she ought to know that kids shun vegetables even when they are quite hungry. There is also an unfavorable mention of the time when the President gave out M&Ms to children visiting the White House, just a few days before the First Lady hosted a multimedia event to announce her “Let’s Move” program. At the top of the page is the presidential candy, from when Childhood Obesity News mentioned it in another context. Yes, we have shown the picture before, but it is handsome.

Will bears save us?

Earlier this year, a researcher suggested that bears have some talents that should be investigated, such as the ability to store fat in a way that doesn’t result in diabetes or tissue inflammation. Maybe the two-thirds of American adults who are overweight could use this information.

In answer to this news, a rebuttal was issued by Alicia Bandy, who asks why we should bother to do bear research, when we already have the wonderful tools of — you guessed it — diet and exercise. Not that there is anything wrong with either an intelligent diet or a reasonable amount of exercise. Also, it’s very true that sometimes the answer is simpler than medical intervention. And who could object to these noble-sounding sentiments?

If you start from the ground up to build communities that allow people to exercise and eat healthy, we can tackle the root cause of obesity rather than spending billions of dollars to treat it…. Obesity prevention is about community organizations coming together to build healthier communities, involving the public in conversations about how to live a healthy life and giving people the tools they need to make those decisions on their own.

The words sound fine, but Ms. Bandy wrote them for a company called Solomon McCown, a firm that specializes in “integrated, strategic communications, public affairs and crisis management services.” In other words, they are damage-control experts who help corporations and institutions deal with bad news and adverse publicity. This article appears to be what activists call “astroturf,” pretending to advocate one side of a controversy while actually supporting the other.

Too much imagination?

It’s so subtle it’s almost invisible, but the rhetoric here throws responsibility for weight solely onto the consumer, whose job it is to “exercise and eat healthy.” If all the tubby, lazy consumers decline to eat vegetables along with their junk food, or refuse to exercise enough to work off the junk-food calories, it is not the food industry’s fault. Like crack dealers, food corporations are just filling a need. People want this stuff and are willing to pay for it. What could go wrong?

Big Food is totally on board with giving Americans the freedom to buy whatever horrible concoction of chemicals they wish, and to consume as much of it as they desire. As long as all the attention can be focused on the people who make use of those freedoms, eyeballs will not be looking at corporate malfeasance. That is, anyway, what they hope.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Ralph Nader: Fight against obesity should target food companies, not children’s eating habits,” RegisterCitizen.com, 02/22/10
Source: “Grizzly Bears are Not the Solution to Obesity,” solomonmccown.com, 02/13/14
Image by whitehouse.gov 

Childhood Obesity Awareness and Scratch Cooking

Fresh Stop share

Once again, September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, because the problem is still with us. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 17% of American children are obese, and a lot of them are preschool-age kids. These youngsters face a lifetime — and an unnecessarily shortened one, at that — of physical discomfort, medical problems, and probably mental-health challenges too. The CDC says:

The federal government is currently helping low-income families to get affordable, nutritious foods through programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program also called WIC. State and local officials can go a step further by making it easier for families with children to buy healthy, affordable foods in their neighborhoods.

Of course, they also advise that parents and caregivers help the cause by demonstrating healthful habits themselves. More than anything else, kids need a good example. Beyond the personal, there are many more levels of potential involvement.

Some answers apply in the home with the family, and other important answers apply in the larger community. A caring adult will create an opportunity to make a difference. Mrs. Q the Lunch Lady, for instance, is an elementary school teacher who ate what the students were served for lunch, found much to object to, started a blog, and signed a book deal.

A noticeable lack

It is widely acknowledged that these days, too few people have cooking skills. Some schools teach modern versions of what used to be called “home economics.” To produce healthful meals on a daily basis, a real solid knowledge of “scratch cooking” is needed. Also necessary is access to fresh produce, the basis of health-conscious meals.

In Louisville, Ky., an innovative program is called “Veggie Rx” to remind participants that shopping for food is much like filling a prescription. Rather than treat diet-related illnesses with pharmaceuticals, the concept is to treat diet-related illnesses with an improved diet. Veggie Rx is affiliated with Fresh Stops, which is run by the nonprofit New Roots, a kind of farmers’ market co-op whose mission is to “provide local produce on a sliding scale to communities that might otherwise have limited access.” Their website offers a number of resources, including a how-to manual to start a new Fresh Stop locally. The Veggie Rx course is designed to accommodate 20 families at a time, and for a $75 donation they can keep the cooking equipment. Journalist Erica Peterson provides an outline:

The six-week program includes hands-on cooking classes, discussions on nutrition and food justice and physical fitness. And every participant gets six weeks of free produce…. The program is open to all families, but a main caregiver must commit to attending six consecutive weeks of two-hour classes. Each family also must have one child between the ages of 6 and 13, though older and younger children are also welcome to attend.

A course in scratch cooking is always worth the investment of time and/or money. Losing weight is a side effect. The real benefit is in learning respect for food and for the processes of the human body. When you pick up your weekly share of fresh produce, which item needs to be used first before it goes bad? Can it be refrigerated or not? In a loose bag or an airtight one?

Some people don’t even know how to steam rice, or what kind of receptacle to do it in. A person who was not brought up on vegetables has no clue how to even make this stuff edible. How to get the most out of the food dollar, and how to get the best out of the food itself — these are things worth knowing.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,” CDC.gov, September 2014
Source: “New Program Prescribes Veggies Over Medicine to Combat Childhood Obesity in Louisville,” WFPL.org, 09/02/14
Source: “NEW ROOTS: Fresh Stops,” NewRootsProduce.org
Image by glass.dimly

Families Not What They Used to Be

Per Nuclear Dino Family

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the work of sociologist Philip N. Cohen, author of “The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change.” A traditional breadwinner-homemaker family is one where the father has a job and the mother stays home with the kids. Fifty years ago in America, 65% of children under 15 lived in that kind of home. By the time Cohen did his research, that number was down to 22%.

The difference is accounted for by changing patterns of marriage, and the entry of so many wives and mothers into the paid work force. In 1960, only about 7% of children lived with single mothers, whose single condition was caused by separation, divorce, or widowhood. Very few children were being raised by never-married mothers. On the other hand, there were a lot of children in orphanages. Things are different now. To make a long story short, the stereotypical ideal of the nuclear family is not yet obsolete, but is visibly losing ground.

Where does childhood obesity come into this? Almost every possible permutation of human relationship has unique characteristics, needs, and possibilities. But government policy lags behind sociological reality. Authorities have suggested and implemented anti-obesity measures that only benefit one type of family structure, and a numerically shrinking one at that. The results might be worse than if no measures were taken at all.

“Teach your children to grow food,” is good advice from anti-obesity experts. A lot of parents would love to do that, except they live in shabby apartments with unreliable utilities, no space, and a thousand rules. Of what use is advice to someone who is literally not in a position to take it? This is where controversial subjects, like the existence of food deserts, build up momentum. More needs to be done toward formulating social policies that accommodate quite a range of human variety. Journalist Nina Shapiro says:

What Cohen calls ‘an explosion of diversity’ has led to a hodge-podge of family make-ups: those with a female-breadwinner and stay-at-home dad, those headed by a single-mother, or single father, those with unmarried parents living together, those consisting of children and their grandparents and more.

The reporter also questioned Stephanie Coontz, research director for the Council on Contemporary Families, who said, “Educators and policy-makers need to stop assuming that every child has two parents in the home.”

Coontz suggests that schools will “develop different types of assignments to fit different families’ needs.” Such programs would necessarily entail a degree of big-brotherism or nanny-statehood that many Americans would find intolerably intrusive.

The different configurations of families do not, of course, account for everybody. A lot of families, while technically intact, are separated by a parent being active-duty military, or in prison. A lot of people are in assisted-living facilities, and while that population doesn’t affect childhood obesity, plenty of children are in homeless shelters or foster homes. Any obesity-prevention advice given with the “married mother and father with children” paradigm in mind is bound to be inadequate under many other circumstances. Life is very, very complicated out there.

Here is an example of life’s complexity, from Cohen’s own website, Family Inequality, when he discussed the importance of nearby and safe playgrounds in neighborhoods.

The relationship between social class and playing outdoors is not clear at all. Rich children have more access to some kinds of facilities, but poor children have more free time — and, where there is public housing, it usually includes playgrounds….

In Annette Lareau’s analysis of family life and social class, Unequal Childhoods, children of middle class and richer parents spend more time in organized activities, and poorer kids spend more time in unstructured time (including play and TV)…. Are middle class parents hovering more than poorer parents do, and with what effect?

Cohen goes on to describe a very interesting study of 2,700 children who frequented the public parks of Durham, N.C. Its authors concluded — to express it in far less academic language — that parents lurking around the playground are a buzzkill. Their presence has an inhibiting effect on lively physical activity and free play, and designers should figure out how to create a playground that is comfortable and safe, but which cordons off the parents and gives the kids some breathing room.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “There Is No Longer Any Such Thing as a Typical Family,” Time.com, 09/04/14
Source: “Study Finds There Is No ‘Typical’ Family,” SeattleWeekly.com, 09/04/14
Source: “Play, supervision and pressured parenting,” WordPress.com, 11/01/11
Image by Alan Levine

Changing Family Affects Childhood Obesity

Simpsons in couch

The post-WWII “baby boom” generation learned to read from textbooks starring Dick and Jane, a pair of siblings who also had a little sister, a mother and father, a cat and a dog. Over the past half-century, families have changed, and consequently, households have changed. In the old days, a family would more likely be a married couple with several children, within a predictable age range. Two grownups, getting an early start and presenting a united front, can enforce mandatory dinner for the entire family at the same time every night.

Childhood Obesity News interjects that example because a reliable family-togetherness time over a shared meal is one of the suggestions often made when obesity prevention is the topic.

But today’s household could be any configuration, such as a family where one working mother has a couple of older kids from her first marriage, and a couple of much younger kids from a second marriage that didn’t last. Good luck to such a valiant mom in her efforts to provide family-oriented meals. Time journalist Belinda Luscombe writes:

Families headed by single moms‚ whether divorced, widowed or never married, are now almost as numerous as families that have a stay-at-home mom and a breadwinner dad — about 22% and 23%, respectively.

Those numbers came from University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, who has studied the American family for years. He is the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, which discusses some sociologically significant phenomena, most notably the decline of marriage.

In 1960, about 65% of households had married couples at their heads, and all the husband-and-wife pairs included one male and one female. Nowadays, only 45% of households are headed by married couples. A lot of people identify with families they have found or chosen rather than with genetic relatives. A lot more people live alone by choice. About as many children are cared for by grandparents as by single fathers. About 7% of kids are cared for by cohabiting, unmarried parents. Cohen writes:

Different families have different child-rearing challenges and needs, which means we are no longer well-served by policies that assume most children will be raised by married-couple families, especially ones where the mother stays home throughout the children’s early years.

Another trend Cohen spotlights is the giant increase of women doing paid work outside the home. In childhood obesity terms, working mothers don’t have a lot of time for thoughtful shopping or cooking from scratch. Keeping the family’s diet on track takes real dedication, and the demands on parents are multitudinous. Families are complex, and the typical or stereotypical family is an illusion. Bottom line, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work, and any policies designed to alleviate childhood obesity must take that as a given.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “There Is No Longer Any Such Thing as a Typical Family,” Time.com, 09/04/14
Image by Desiree Onievas Lopez

Childhood Obesity — Ease Up on the Reins

Portrait of King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII of England

Last time, Childhood Obesity News remarked on the proposal made by UK health groups to put the struggle against childhood obesity on something of a military footing. There is always a question of how much strong-arming the population will endure, even for the sake of a good cause.

The social environment is of course made up of more than the official rulings handed down by a government. Narrowing the focus back to the personal level, it appears that parents can be too rigid, which turns out to be counterproductive.

For Medical News Today, Marie Ellis wrote about the American Heart Association’s concern over the fact that more than one-third of American children are overweight or obese. At the group’s 2014 Scientific Sessions meeting, a study was presented whose subjects were more than 37,000 Canadian children. The researchers kept track of these kids from birth up to age 11.

They defined four different parenting styles. The “permissive” kind features responsive but undemanding parents. A permissive regime can be beneficial in some ways, but also has the potential to backfire. “Negligent” is another potentially harmful category, although some kids thrive with minimalist parents who are neither demanding nor responsive. Negligent parents may not give a darn what you do, but the downside is, they don’t give a darn what you do.

The most desirable style is “authoritative,” which means the parents are demanding but at the same time responsive to a child’s issues and emotional affect. “Authoritarian” parents are also demanding but without any softness to compensate for it. Ellis says:

Results showed that kids whose parents were authoritarian had a 30% higher likelihood of being obese in kids between 2 and 5 years old, while kids between 6 and 11 years old had a 37% higher chance.

[K]ids whose parents are strict but not emotionally receptive are more likely to be obese, compared with kids whose parents set boundaries but are affectionate.

The object of this study was to get some pointers about how to construct better interventions. While professionals are doing that, McGill University postdoctoral fellow and study author Lisa Kakinami suggests that parents should at least be aware of their parenting style and aim for a nice balance of limits and affection. For Today.com, Linda Carroll reported on the same meeting and also quoted Kakinami:

When we’re born, we come equipped with our own self regulation. But authoritarian parents override that. They take away the child’s own ability to regulate themselves.

Carroll also quotes several other experts who make similar points about how too much control can deny a child the ability to hear her or his own inner voice. Kids react better to rules that come with explanations attached. An extreme rule, like absolutely no sugar, will probably have dire results in the form of sneaking and rebellion. There is even the suggestion that kids who are taught to bow before authoritarian parental pressure will give in more easily to peer pressure.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kids of authoritarian parents ‘more likely to be obese’,” MedicalNewsToday.com, 03/20/14
Source: “Hug more, scold less: Strict parenting linked to child obesity,” Today.com, 03/19/14
Image by Lisby

Britain Eyes Militarization of Obesity Battle

Exercise Cerberus Guard march '13

Last time, Childhood Obesity News wondered out loud what can be done about the basic problem of childhood obesity, or what at least some researchers have identified as the basic problem — a weak bond between mother and child. The younger the child, the more important the bond is, and when it is not strong, changes can happen that manifest in obesity. But aside from assigning a government-trained nanny to every newborn child, what can a government agency, or any agency, do about such a primal and private relationship?

In the United Kingdom, which has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in Europe, Dr. Rachel Pryke says:

The stark fact is that overweight children are being set up for a lifetime of sickness and health problems…. We have reached a state of emergency with childhood obesity and the current threat to public health is most definitely ‘severe’.

For cancer prevention, smoking is the most obvious reversible factor, and obesity is the next biggest reversible factor. But oncologist Dr Richard Roope is concerned that in the public mind, only 3% of people realize the link between overweight and cancer. Everyone is afraid Britain’s National Health Service will be totally swamped by demands for medical services. Right now, many parts of Britain are without child obesity treatment services, and elsewhere the available help is inadequate.

The members of the Royal College of General Practitioners are very worried about the upcoming generation of children. The RCGP and 11 partner organizations think something can be done. They want to kick it up a notch, take it to the next level, and get militant.

What they are asking for is the immediate creation of a national Child Obesity Action Group (COAG), described as a “COBRA-style emergency taskforce.” COBRA is a specialized branch of the armed forces that deals with terrorism, national disasters, and other emergencies. Doctors, nurses, dietitians, dentists, midwives, and schools would collaborate, and the COAG would be a “battalion” of health professionals. Many people find it disheartening and/or frightening that such a model is held up as exemplary of what the effort to reduce obesity should be based on.

If this COAG group comes to pass, its main targets would be junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages. One of the most urgent goals of the mission is to stop the terrible phenomenon of little kids with diabetes. Many suggestions have been made, including more support for the Child Measurement Programme; better software for gathering and collating statistics related to obesity; better training in the areas of obesity and malnutrition for all doctors and other health care personnel; and family outreach programs.

The 12 organizations composed an open letter to England’s Chief Medical Officer asking for implementation of their plan. Urgent action is needed, no doubt. Would this be the right action? Will people resent what they perceive as coercion, and behave even worse just to demonstrate their independence?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Health leaders declare ‘State of Emergency’ on childhood obesity,” RCGP.org.uk, 08/31/14
Image by Archangel12

Childhood Obesity a Wide-Ranging Problem

fat logic meme

Mothers need to be sensitive, and toddlers need to feel emotionally secure. If these factors are not in place, the child is at risk of being obese by age 15. This was a conclusion reached in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which encompassed 977 subjects — all born in 1991 — from nine American states. From Ohio State University, lead author Sarah Anderson, Ph.D, told Psych Central News:

It is possible that childhood obesity could be influenced by interventions that try to improve the emotional bonds between mothers and children rather than focusing only on children’s food intake and activity…. Societally, we need to think about how we can support better-quality maternal-child relationships.

The researchers suggest that diet and exercise are not the only areas where attention is needed, and that parents need to be educated, not blamed. If there is money and energy for prevention initiatives, the constructive move would be to improve mother-child bonding. Such an intention could lead to many interesting dilemmas. In order to bond with their children, mothers first of all have to be present with their children. That is a wonderful ideal, but how can any government make that happen, short of requiring that mothers never work outside the home?

Or, a government might change conditions to where a family could get by with only one wage-earner, so that more mothers could afford to stay home and bond with their kids. In any case, huge changes take time, and their outcome is never guaranteed. When giant societal changes happen, even good ones, they often bring unintended consequences in their wake.

How can a government, or private or nonprofit agency, change people’s behavior without infringing on religious and cultural traditions, violating privacy, or creating a multitude of potential administrative difficulties? How does a society go about changing the quality of emotional relationships between mothers and toddlers? What an enormous and impossible task that seems.

The practical aspects

If the stress-response system is in a state of dysregulation, trouble ensues. Dr. Anderson explained how brain changes might be indirectly responsible for obesity, because of the limbic system, which runs hunger, thirst, the sleep cycle, our stress-response capability, and “a variety of metabolic processes”:

Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress. A well-regulated stress response could in turn influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress — just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity.

The case for sleep looks more solid every day, and the prevalence of eating in response to emotional distress is undeniable. The best thing parents can do is work on themselves so they can model healthy behavioral responses to stress, and just generally act to keep the stress level at home very low.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Teen Obesity Linked to Mom’s Relationship with Baby,” PsychCentralcom, 12/26/11
Image: unattributed Internet meme

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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