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    Globesity — United Kingdom

    September 19th, 2014

    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

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    Globesity Reigns

    September 18th, 2014

    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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    Childhood Obesity and Economic Disparity

    September 17th, 2014

    McDonalds Map

    A report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gave the disturbing news that obesity rates continue to link up with income inequality. A Harvard research team found that obesity is decreasing in teenagers from well-educated (and consequently better-employed) families, while it increases among the economically disadvantaged. When the numbers in some subgroups go up while others go down, the overall statistical picture can look like a plateau.

    Such misapprehensions can inspire misleading media headlines and a false sense of victory. Journalist Lauren F. Friedman explains the mystery that is involved in trying to figure out why obesity rates are different. The kids whose parents only had a high-school education — in other words the poorer kids, who were getting fat — actually consumed fewer calories than the progeny of college-educated parents, who by any logical calculation, should be getting fatter. And get this. Friedman says, “But both groups were eating fewer calories per day in 2009-2010 than they were twenty years earlier.”

    It doesn’t seem to make sense, and this is one of many reasons why more research is needed. It may be that exercise is the deciding factor. Rich kids get pretty much the same amount of exercise as in past years, but poor kids are getting less exercise than they used to.

    Theories have been put forth. It costs money to participate in school sports, so maybe lower-income kids are missing out on exercise opportunities for that reason. Schools in poor neighborhoods might not even have sports programs because of budget cuts. Inner-city playgrounds and parks where kids used to go for exercise may be unsafe these days.

    Friedman quotes study author Kaisa Snellman on the danger of making unwarranted statistical inferences: “There’s a danger in aggregating trends in groups that are so different. The picture becomes very murky.”

    For a Think Progress piece about the same research, Sy Mukherjee looked up a separate and previous study carried out at the University of Georgia in 2013, which might explain the higher obesity rates among teenagers from financially burdened families. He writes:

    Lead study author Gene Brody found that poor young teenagers who do well in school, are in good mental health, and are socially well-adjusted actually end up with an excess of stress hormones because of the strains of overcoming economic adversity. Consequently, these teenagers are more susceptible to obesity, hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases from a younger age.

    What a terrible paradox, that the kids best equipped and motivated for success are setting themselves up for ravaging medical conditions, just by being so responsible and hard-working. Mukherjee also mentions that this is a worldwide trend among nations, as well as people. In affluent countries, obesity rates may fall. But at the same time, there is more obesity than ever in “developing” countries.

    Your responses and feedback are welcome!

    Source: “America’s Obesity Crisis Is Ending — As Long As You’re Not Poor,” BusinessInsider.com, 01/15/14
    Source: “Obesity Rates Falling Among Affluent/Well-Educated But Rising Among The Poor,” ThinkProgress.org, 01/14/14
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    Childhood Obesity Awareness Should Focus on Prevention

    September 16th, 2014

    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

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    Parents, Activism, and Community

    September 15th, 2014

    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
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    Some Current Thinking on Childhood Obesity

    September 12th, 2014

    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

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    Nader, Bear Fat, Astroturf, and Childhood Obesity

    September 11th, 2014

    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 

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    Childhood Obesity Awareness and Scratch Cooking

    September 10th, 2014

    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
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    Families Not What They Used to Be

    September 9th, 2014

    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
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    Changing Family Affects Childhood Obesity

    September 8th, 2014

    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

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