Children’s Books About Obesity

family-reading
(This is a random sampling of what’s out there and why and by whom. A mention implies neither endorsement nor its opposite.)

Nanny Goat Chunks Up is the creation of Thomas Hund, a former Phys Ed teacher whose grandchildren inspired his second career as a writer of children’s books. The publisher’s description says:

Nanny Goat is expected to help other animals on Cloonie’s Farm because she is in very good physical condition. But as time goes by an unwanted change takes place. Slowly her abilities lessen and her weight increases. Her animal friends point out why this is happening. Nanny Goat has decisions to make. The lesson learned: It takes a lot longer to get into shape than it takes to chunk up.

That is indeed a valuable lesson, because one of the main things to know about childhood obesity is that it needs to be turned around early. The longer a child stays overweight, the more the body adjusts to that as its natural condition.

In The Biting Spiders’ New Diet, an illustrated book meant for 5- to 8-year-olds, Wendy the black widow spider urges her fellow spiders to avoid extinction by improving their diets, i.e. by making the switch from human blood to fruits and vegetables. A fundraising effort designed to raise money for a theatrical version met with no success, perhaps because of the confusing product page which begins:

I am a child author who wrote a book called the biting spiders new diet to fight childhood obesity.

This clumsy bit of text does not capitalize the book title or even give a clue about exactly where the title ends. Additionally, the phrase “I am a child author” suggests that author Farrah Mitchell is a child, which is not in fact the case, since Ms. Mitchell (according to the book’s Amazon page) holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration.

Mrs. Rachel E. Fielding published I Can Be Healthy!, a food and exercise journal for children from 5 to 10 years of age. It was created because when dealing with her own daughter’s obesity, Mrs. Fielding could not find such a book.

For parents, the same author has also published Our Journey… How We Beat Childhood Obesity. The Fieldings “abandoned everything we thought we knew and devised a program that worked” to help their own child who eventually lost 45 pounds, although it took 9 years.

Mrs. Fielding hopes that her family’s story can be a stepping stone to help other parents reach the heights of empowerment to “rid their own children of the senseless disease of childhood obesity.” She speaks of answers that “can not come from people who haven’t climbed this very mountain themselves” and adds:

We now know that we hold certain truths, which while are not always easy, are the cure (the only cure) to this heinous disease.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Children’s Book Author Releases New Book About Childhood Obesity Using Animal Characters,” PRLog.org, 10/03/13
Source: “Farrah Ferrari Mitchell,” Facebook.com, 11/11/15
Source: “I Can Be Healthy!,” Amazon.com, undated
Source: “Our Journey… How We Beat Childhood Obesity,” Amazon.com, undated
Photo credit: Neeta Lind via Visual Hunt/CC BY

Three Obesity-Related Films and a TV Episode

theater
The fictional story Funny Bunny was written by Olly Alexander and Kentucker Audley, who also starred in it. The R-rated film encompasses some sophisticated themes. It premiered at last year’s SXSW festival, which filed it under “serious comedy.” Audley also acts the role of Gene, an anti-childhood-obesity crusader “who has no social filter and so just talks about it to everyone, usually too bluntly,” according to director Alison Bagnall, who was interviewed by Sarah Salovaara for Filmmaker Magazine.

Although the character Gene is described as “the spine of the story,” there does not seem to be much connection to our concerns, but the interesting detail is Bagnall’s account of the character’s origin:

The obsession came about because I was running an after school library club in upstate New York for a year and I had two 8 year olds who were at least 150 lbs, so I started doing intense medical research on what lay ahead for them. I even worked in a hospital for two surgeons who did access for dialysis patients. All their patients had kidney failure due to preventable chronic disease related to obesity.

Next up is the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, which follows the journey of one man on a two-month juice fast which he credited with changing his life and with inspiring others to follow his example. The following quotation is from Caroline Brennan, co-owner of the Sprout Cafe juice bar and organic restaurant, which has served up fresh organic local food since 2007:

The movie does a great job of showing people the benefits of juicing and that juicing is accessible to everyone and completely doable.

Then, there is the 2014 film Fed Up, an advocacy documentary that Childhood Obesity News has already discussed. Many people found it revelatory and useful, but Harriet Hall, writing for ScienceBasedMedicine.com, has a different perspective. “The film gets a lot of things wrong,” she writes, and cites others who agree that sugar does not cause the childhood obesity epidemic, and maybe we shouldn’t blame the food industry or the government too much, either.

Hall sees Fed Up as overly dependent on the opinions of politicians and journalists, with not enough input from nutrition scientists, and points out that correlation is not causation, which is quite reasonable. But does that let sugar off the hook as an obesity villain?

The author quotes other people who refuse to blame sugar, and as if that were not heresy enough, she defends McDonald’s and castigates Dr. Robert Lustig for demonizing sugar with such inflammatory words as “addictive” and “toxic.” Hall is against the idea of passing laws to control the food industry, and says Fed Up “presents a simplistic caricature of the relationship between sugar and diabetes.”

Hall says that American sugar consumption decreased from 100 grams a day, to 76 grams a day, as if that were a telling point in her argument. Well, “Big whoop!” The World Health Organization’s upper limit recommendation is 25 grams per day:

The sugar/obesity hypothesis has not been properly tested either… We know some of the factors involved in successful weight loss, and eliminating sugar is not on the list.

Who could think that? But Hall does. Also, she believes it is “premature to make the kind of definitive pronouncements that the film makes about the role of sugar.” As if this documentary is the only voice! As if it is not one a thousands of voices raised against sugar, especially in independent media and social media — the traditional home of seemingly crackpot ideas that often turn out to be valid.

One of Hall’s claims is that people need more education about how to eat a healthier diet, an assumption which Dr. Pretlow has addressed many times, stating that what people need instead is training in how to resist cravings. To be fair, Hall does say several sensible things, then reverts to type, encouraging the suspicion that she is not only a bit too cozy with the sugar industry, but perhaps receiving other benefits too, from the Blue Apron food delivery program, for instance.

Bones, a TV show that has been running for 11 seasons, aired an episode last year in which a teenage girl who committed suicide because of bullying that apparently was not size-related, but the autopsy found old healed fractures that she had sustained as a morbidly obese child.

In real life, that sometimes actually happens, but no doubt Harriet Hall would remind us that correlation is not causation.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’: Alison Bagnall on Funny Bunny,” FilmmakerMagazine.com, 03/13/15
Source: “Sprout Cafe presents ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead’,” Moultrie News.com, 11/27/14
Source: “Does the Movie Fed Up Make Sense?,” ScienceBasedMedicine.com, 10/14/14
Source: “‘Bones’ Recap: A Guilty Victim and an Innocent Criminal Seek Justice,” BuddyTV.com, 05/07/15
Photo credit: David Jones via Visual Hunt/CC BY

The Screen — Bad News and Good

TV
Dr. Eliana M. Perrin and a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine studied 20 top-grossing children’s movies, both animated and live-action, that came out between 2006 and 2010. At the end, they had labeled twice as many segments “unhealthy.”

In the film Kung Fu Panda, for instance, a panda hears that he can never achieve the dream of mastering the martial arts because he has a fat butt and a ridiculous belly. In Shrek the Third, a donkey is insulted with the epithet “bloated roadside piñata,” and “fatty ratty” is the unkind name applied to a character in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel.

The report says:

Segments from each movie were assessed for the prevalence of key nutrition and physical behaviors corresponding to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ obesity prevention recommendations for families, prevalence of weight stigma, assessment of the segment as healthy, unhealthy or neutral, and free-text interpretations.

Most of the children’s films were found to include content that is not only stigmatizing but obesogenic as well. The latter includes such examples as characters eating unhealthful snacks, and meals with disproportionately large portion sizes, and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.

There is also an inordinate amount of TV viewing and video game playing. The study concludes that the films “present a mixed message to children: promoting unhealthy behaviors while stigmatizing the behaviors’ possible effects.” As Dr. Perrin put it, they capitalize on “glamorizing unhealthy eating and sedentary behavior yet condemning obesity itself.”

Another facet

It is almost universally accepted that screen time is an obesity villain. Peer pressure is also considered to be a nearly unalloyed negative influence, but that isn’t necessarily true either.

Recent news from the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre indicates that not all screen viewing experience is created equal. Assistant Professor Amanda Staiano led a study of preschoolers (ages 3-5). The group who were shown a 7 1/2-minute video of children eating bell peppers, ate more of the vegetable than the group who were not shown the film.

The interesting part is the time lapse. The statistically significant difference showed up a week later, when the children who had been exposed to the sight of bell pepper consumption ate about 16 grams of the vegetable, as compared to the other group who only ate about 6 grams.

It may be important to note that the viewing group only viewed the video once, which shows that an impression can be made on a child’s mind with ease. Another principle applies here too. Not all change is immediate. When an idea enters a child’s mind, a delayed reaction is more reasonable to expect than an instant change.

Sometimes the brain takes a while to process new information, which needs to “soak in.” Sometime the new information lies dormant until another puzzle piece is added to it. It is a shame that so many academic studies span such short time periods, because long-term effects are more meaningful than short-term behavioral fluctuations. Parents and health care practitioners are sometimes too easily and prematurely discouraged, which is both understandable and regrettable.

The Reuters reporter consulted a scientist not involved with the research, the executive director of Nebraska’s Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, to address the question of peer influence. Amy Yaroch, Ph.D., said:

We know from behavioral theory that role modeling is an effective strategy to get people (including young kids) to adopt healthy behaviors. Parents typically serve as role models, but peers can be a very strong influence as well, especially if they are viewed as “cool” by their peers.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Movies for kids send mixed messages about eating habits and obesity,” UNC.edu, 12/10/13
Source: “Videos of kids eating veggies may entice preschoolers to eat more themselves,” TheStar.com, 04/06/16
Image by LoveMyVouchers.co.uk

Big Grain and the Pyramid

USDA-food-guide-pyramid
The picture on this page shows two artistic renderings of the original USDA 1992 food guide pyramid, and the same thing is wrong with both of them. The bottom tier, representing the foods that people are supposed to eat most of, is the “Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Group.” Depending on size, gender, age, and activity level, a person is advised to consume between 6 and 11 servings per day from this group.

What is a serving, anyway? Surprisingly, this information was not easy to track down, but the website Serenity Dental did it. In regard to rice or pasta (but not other foods), a serving is ½ cup. So, theoretically, it would be all right if someone ate five and a half cups of pasta every day. Someone big. Would that person become even bigger? Undoubtedly.

The government-recommended food pyramid idea was borrowed from Sweden. Back when the first American version came off the drawing board, it was different from what the Department of Agriculture eventually disseminated, as Priceonomics.com staff writer Alex Mayyasi learned from Dr. Luise Light, leader of the team that invented it.

Her team placed fruits and vegetables at the base of the pyramid and whole-grain breads and cereals further up. The new guidelines not only switched carbohydrates to the base of the pyramid, they moved processed foods like crackers and cornflakes, which Dr. Light and her team had placed at the top of the pyramid with chocolate, to the base too.

In other words, the fix was in. This graphic representation of supposedly ideal nutrition is a perfect example of how the game is rigged to benefit agribusiness and hurt the ordinary person. By strange coincidence, almost the totality of government subsidies go to corn, soy, wheat and rice, and only then if they are grown according to the monoculture model, which is harmful for a number of reasons.

The “Food Pyramid” dominated nutrition education for two decades. There is one thing worse than neglecting to provide nutritional information in schools, and that is to teach incorrect nutritional information, motivated by the greed of manufacturers who stock the endlessly deep pockets of lobbyists.

Billions of dollars are at stake every year, and many people see the Farm Bill as the basic cause of the obesity epidemic, because of this support of industries that really don’t need it. Lauren Servin wrote:

Those that qualify for these payments are mostly big commodity firms […] much of the government subsidy gets banked as extra profits. The subsidies not only add to the national debt, but incentivize the overproduction of crops that are the major ingredients in unhealthy foods.

Servin notes that in the five years between 1995 and 2010, the government subsidized commodity crops to the tune of $167 billion. Corn alone got $77 billion. These are supposed to be food subsidies, yet most corn is used for animal feed, or to make fuel or very harmful sweeteners. Servin also relates the history of how and why this all happened, concluding:

It is also hard to ignore that the main ingredients in these cheap, unhealthy foods are the subsidized commodity crops that have flourished due to policies enacted during the ‘80s and ‘90s… This toxic combination of deregulation and perpetual subsidy has led to the overproduction and overuse of crops that we find in junk food.

Legislation has given all the advantage to grain crops, which can be transmogrified into everything from engine fuel to makeup. Corn and soy alone account for almost half the profit made by American agriculture, but little edible food.

Corn is the source of half the sweeteners that show up in beer and soda, and for the oil for deep-fryers. None of those products is essential to health. Beer, soda, and deep-fried food are in fact detrimental to health. Why are such monstrous subsidies granted to corn producers?

The average American eats half a pound of meat every day, an amount that many nutritionists consider far too much, while other nutritionists shun meat as totally unnecessary. Almost half the corn crop goes to feeding cattle, and the arguments against that practice are too numerous go into here, so we will just briefly mention that cows were not designed by Nature to eat corn. Cows are prone to a lot of diseases, and to prevent those diseases they are also fed massive amounts of antibiotics, and antibiotics are blamed for childhood obesity.

By the way, farms that receive grain subsidies are forbidden to grow fruits and vegetables. Alex Mayyasi wrote:

This puts the government in the insane position of subsidizing the cost of fast food while actively prohibiting more farms from growing fruits and vegetables…

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What is a Serving?,” Pagesetup.com, undated
Source: “The Food Industrial Complex,” Priceonomics.com, 03/24/16
Source: “How Our Government Incentivizes the Overproducion of Junk Food,” truth-out.org, 06/02/12
Image source: ChooseMyPlate.gov (fair use)

The Food Subsidy Racket

corn
Last week, Childhood Obesity News talked a little about government subsidies, and today we concentrate on one particular crop. In 2010, the monumental documentary film King Corn was released, and the following information and quotations come from a review at HealthyRepublic.com, by the one-named writer Almira.

When Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis graduated from Yale, they moved to Iowa in pursuit of “America’s best-drop secret” and connected with a farmer who agreed to loan them one acre of land on which to plant corn. Applying for and receiving a Farm Subsidy, they still lost enough money on the project to make it clear that growing corn can only be profitable as a very large-scale enterprise.

Their corn tasted like sawdust, just like everybody else’s. Michael Pollan wrote of Iowa’s major product, “The commodity corn, nobody can eat. It must be processed before we can eat it. It’s a raw material.” But the flavor doesn’t matter, because 50% of all corn grown in America is fed to animals, who don’t have the option of sending a dish back to the chef.

Beef cattle spend their last four months eating a diet that is 90% corn, and not longer than that, because “once a cow goes past 120 days of being fed a high-corn diet, the cattle’s health begins to rapidly diminish with ulcers…” So rather than die of disease, the beef stock are given antibiotics (70% of the antibiotics used in the United States are fed to meat animals) and slaughtered for people to eat.

The subtitle of a Salon.com piece by David Sirota is, “The real reason Big Macs are cheaper than more nutritious alternatives? Government subsidies.” A myth exists that healthful food is inherently more expensive, but the author cites “rigged economics and corrupt policymaking,” and denies the mistaken idea that “only Birkenstock-wearing trust-funders can afford to eat right in tough times.”

He goes on to say:

If the glib explanation seems almost too perfectly sculpted for your local right-wing radio blowhard — that’s because it dishonestly omits the most important part of the story. The part about how healthy food could easily be more affordable for everyone right now, if not for those ultimate elitists: agribusiness CEOs, their lobbyists and the politicians they own.

The bottom line is that the government uses public money to guarantee private profit. Protectors of the commodity crops — corn, wheat, soy, and rice — subsidize the careers of politicians with no conscience, who in turn vote for the subsidizing of giant factory farms. What the commodity food crops have in common is their presence in junk food.

Corn, for instance, has been propped up to the tune of $50 billion in the last decade, so that the nation may drown in high fructose corn syrup. It logically follows that the same corruption costs America more billions for the health problems caused by junk food.

And that’s only 18% of the corn that is grown. A much higher percentage is converted into fuel for machines. We pay “food” subsidies for products that are not even food.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “King Corn,” HealthyRepublic.com, 08/10/10
Source: “Why Americans Can’t Afford to Eat Healthy,” Salon.com, 07/15/11
Photo credit: Zanastardust via VisualHunt/CC BY

Generations of Insanity About Food

kale
No one can shed light on a current topic like a dedicated researcher of the past. Nutritionists love to hate the long-standing federal government ruling that ketchup, pizza and french fries could count as vegetables, for the purposes of school lunch programs.

That standard came into being in 1981. It remained due to the lobbying power of giant corporations, which in 2011 spent $5.6 million to make sure that fried potatoes and pizza sauce could still be defined as vegetables. No matter what the Department of Agriculture might want to do, its hands were tied by the congressional action of passing an agriculture appropriations bill that forbade spending any money to enforce anti-ketchup policies.

Priceonomics staff writer Alex Mayyasi writes:

Thanks in part to outdated and politically-expedient agricultural policy, farms’ lobbying power protects french fries, Big Macs, and soda rather than leafy greens.

The agribusiness corporations that grow crops that are processed into food have all the power. They were granted this power by “misguided” government policies. In 2015, for example, processed food manufacturers spent $32 million to buy influence, while the fruit and vegetable industry’s lobbying budget was only $3.7 million.

The sad irony is, the growers of potatoes and tomatoes (french fries and ketchup) are “the enemy within.” Technically, they belong to the fruit and vegetable industry, but they fight on the wrong side, with no interest in protecting school kids from either malnutrition or obesity.

Branding is a huge part of the reason for what Mayyasi calls a “self-inflicted wound.” Kellogg’s sells its name recognition and makes 35 cents of gross profit out of every dollar that consumers spend on its products. Even the most profitable vegetable farms only make 24 cents per consumer dollar.

Branding just doesn’t work on products that are sold by the bunch, like fresh spinach. The author says:

Companies do market veggies, but brand recognition is low. Brands need a year-round presence in supermarkets so consumers can purchase it routinely, but produce is seasonal. Efforts to link recognized brands with a certain quality level and a higher price point are hindered by the influence of weather on quality and prices.

The coupon strategy doesn’t work for fresh vegetables. When consumers receive coupons by direct mail, or cut them out of newspapers, the coupons are for boxes of cereal, not bunches of spinach. The vegetable industry can do a certain number of things, like offer a snack-size package of already-peeled baby carrots, but one of the downsides is an enormous amount of waste.

Fresh food has a very short shelf life, and when a retail store disposes of the unsold units, the waste doesn’t even go to good a cause, like composting. It’s just garbage.

The growth of a vegetable’s coolness quotient carries a built-in penalty. It only takes one celebrity with a large following to popularize a vegetable, like Joe Rogan did with kale, but the result has been a 25% increase in the price of kale over just three years.

“Organic” has become a strong selling point, but the problem with that is, it depends on taking somebody’s word. Organic inspectors can be bribed or threatened, and in the end, the consumer really has no way of knowing what’s what.

Another huge problem is that consumers have been conditioned into believing that every unit of produce must be identical, shiny, and unblemished, and nature just doesn’t work that way. We have been taught to eat with our eyes, with indescribably damaging results.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Food Industrial Complex,” Priceonomics.com, 03/24/16
Photo credit: daryl_mitchell via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Fat-shaming in Pop Culture

barbies
Professional comedians have a way of laying a finger on the pulse of truth. Tom Segura, who is a pretty hefty fellow, finds comedic raw material in his own weight and aims jokes at himself. He talks about eating so fast he forgets to breathe, before pausing to take a deep breath and reflect, “Oh yeah… my body also needs air.”

In his latest hour-long special, he says:

I don’t even want to lose weight to live long or be healthy. I just want to be able to make fun of fat people again.

Of course, some people who think they are funny say things that are deemed by others to be exceedingly unfunny. Nicole Arbour seems to think of herself as a courageous crusader who only tries to do good. One of the her famous quotations is, “If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I’m OK with that.”

Last September, Arbour caused a social media ruckus with a 6-minute video called “Dear Fat People,” which caused YouTube to take the nearly unprecedented step of shutting down her channel for a while. This, of course, afforded her even more publicity and, in some quarters, status as a free-speech hero.

On the other hand, it was reported to have lost her some film work, though she probably isn’t going broke as a result. Still, the video gained her 30,000 new YouTube followers. Not just views, but fans who specifically requested to be associated with her.

A few months later, Arbour followed up by unleashing “Dear Fat People 2 — The Second Helping.” It’s about the same length as the first part, and equally as rude (with some X-rated language). Arbour contends that the world is going crazy, and one example she gives is the presence of a plus-size model on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine.

She says fat people thin-shamed Barbie until the doll had to gain wait, and now looks like she eats cheeseburgers. This was in reference to the Mattel company’s decision to reissue the iconic doll in new shapes, an occurrence of such cultural significance that TIME magazine made it their cover story, with the provocative question, “Now, can we stop talking about my body?”

From the public, the new petite and tall new versions of Barbie elicited yawns, but Curvy Barbie inspired comment, with some calling her the major feminist development of our time, or at the very least, “an important opportunity for redirecting some of the body-shaming tendencies that take root at frighteningly young ages.”

For Slate.com, Christina Cauterucci summed up:

For her TIME cover story, [Eliana] Dockterman watched unattended little girls playing with the doll… In one session, for the pleasure of her peers, a 6-year-old speaks as if she’s the curvy doll. Here’s what she says: “Hello, I’m a fat person, fat, fat, fat.” […] Another child says she doesn’t want to hurt that Barbie’s feelings, so she spells it: “F-A-T.”

Covering this story, Alan Levinovitz asserted that Arbour is not “some lone hate-spouting troll” but a representative of mainstream beliefs, even the beliefs of health professionals, who see obesity as indicative of a lack of personal responsibility. To him, endorsing that attitude not only denies the humanity of overweight people, but diminishes the humanity of fat-shamers as well. Every incidence of
fat-shaming
 encourages more of the same.

He explores the interesting premise that, if we’re going to fat-shame, we might as well go ahead and poverty-shame, too, because poverty is a more accurate predictor than obesity of such conditions as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He sarcastically writes:

Nicole Arbour — and the Harvard epidemiologists — emphasize that losing weight boils down to a simple formula: Eat less and exercise more. Well, if that’s true, then poverty also boils down to a simple formula: Spend less and work more. Calories in, calories out? Dollars in, dollars out. I mean, if you’re “really serious” about getting out of poverty, it’s not rocket science. Right?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Tom Segura – Mostly Stories Review,” PasteMagazine.com, 01/12/16
Source: “Little Girls’ Reactions to the New ‘Curvy’ Barbie Prove Why We Need ‘Curvy’ Barbie,” Slate.com, 01/28/16
Source: “Shame on People Who Fat-Shame,” Slate.com, 09/11/15
Image source: Mattel/TIME (fair use)

The Ubiquity of Cravings

crave-you
Childhood Obesity News often mentions something that Dr. Pretlow has verified but few people really grasp. Kids don’t need more nutrition information. They mainly need training and encouragement in how to control food cravings.

Dr. Pretlow is far from alone in prioritizing the importance of cravings control. Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D., has been offering the list, “9 Ways to Conquer Your Cravings,” to the public for years.

It is still possible to find older versions of this plan online, which make it evident that Dr. Amen has expanded and refined his recommendations over time. The strategies he suggests are briefly summarized here:

Keep your blood sugar balanced.

Decrease the artificial sweeteners […] because they are up to 600 times sweeter than sugar, they may activate the appetite centers of the brain making you crave even more food and more sugar.

Manage your stress.

Outsmart sneaky triggers.

Find out about hidden food allergies.

Practice willpower to retrain your brain.

Get moving.

Get adequate sleep… An expanding body of scientific evidence has shown that the less sleep you get, the more cravings you have.

Take natural supplements for craving control.

Of course all these actions can play a part, but let’s expand on a few of them. Why is balanced blood sugar at the top of the list? Because when the blood sugar level is low, a person is quite likely to feel anxious, irritable, and, worst of all, hungry. The consequence, not surprisingly, is that the person will probably eat.

If the person eats refined carbohydrates and simple sugars, the blood sugar goes up, and then drops, starting a new cycle of anxiety, irritability, and hunger. If the person eats foods that are high in fat and sugar, the addiction-prone parts of the brain become involved.

None of this is good. What can help? Eating a nutritious breakfast, and smaller meals throughout the day.

Stress and Motion

In the field of obesity, stress has been a frequent topic, for an excellent reason. Dr. Amen mentions increased appetite, cravings for sugar and fat, low energy, poor concentration, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, hypertension, increased stroke risk, diabetes, osteoporosis, and anxiety. The psychological condition of anxiety, so often paired with depression, shows up whenever the root causes of cravings are discussed.

Movement is perhaps the most under-recognized preventative measure against an extensive list of ills. People tend to mischaracterize exercise as strenuous activity that has to be done in special clothes in a specialized setting. On the contrary, multiple benefits are obtained from exercise as gentle as a regular morning tai chi routine done by a nonagenarian. The movement is the important thing, keeping the joints supple and the blood circulating.

Check out Neila Rey’s “50 Reasons to Exercise” and view the list through the lens of cravings prevention. A case can be made for every item as contributing to the reduction of food cravings, and that’s not all. Dr. Amen says, “Scientific research has found that physical activity can cut cravings whether you crave sugary snacks or things like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs.”

Allergies

In the science of cravings, one of the more fascinating aspects is the relationship between allergy, addiction, and obesity. Dr. Amen asserts that “hidden food allergies and food sensitivities can trigger cravings,” and adds:

One of the things that might surprise you about hidden food allergies is that the foods you are allergic to are often the ones you crave the most.

He cites the examples of wheat and dairy products, where an allergic reaction can reduce the brain’s blood supply and the result is poor judgment, which often causes people to become slaves of their cravings. Allergic reactions can include not only anxiety and depression, but anger, headache, sleep problems, nasal congestion, bowel malfunction, joint and muscle aches, fatigue, memory issues, lack of concentration, and brain fog. Every one of those is stressful, and we know what stress leads to: cravings.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “9 Ways to Conquer Your Cravings,” DanielPlan.com, 2013
Photo credit: MidwayGlory via VisualHunt.com/CC BY-ND

Who Has It Worse?

tibetan-kids

Tibetan Kids playing among 108 carved Mani Stones, Kathmandu, Nepal.

By asking young people directly, via the Weigh2Rock website, Dr. Pretlow has learned that most children and teenagers in America are well supplied with information about what constitutes a healthful diet. The school system seems to do a pretty good job with that, and of course since the Internet has become part of just about every person’s life, a plethora of information is available online. Television presents not just entertainment and advertising, but also, occasionally, documentaries full of solid facts about the results of eating the wrong stuff.

Rather than more of the same kind of information about calories and vitamins, what kids desperately need is knowledge about how to kick the wrong stuff out of their lives; in other words, how to resist cravings. Where can they learn this? Take a look around: How many adults know how to resist cravings? Going by the evidence, not many.

Observing this from one angle, it could be said that adults are subject to much more temptation than kids are. By and large, adults have money, transportation, and plenty of opportunity to make bad choices. Legally, they can fatten themselves up not only with food, but with alcoholic beverages, which are renowned for their empty calories.

For a bodybuilding website, David Robson listed the five major reasons to avoid alcohol, if excess weight is an issue. Briefly summarized, alcohol:

Supplies almost twice as many calories per gram as protein and carbohydrates
Loosens the inhibitions
Can damage the stomach, kidneys, and liver
Lowers testosterone
Increases appetite

Of course, the page includes detailed explanations of why each characteristic of alcohol can contribute to overweight and obesity.

The point is, grownups have all that to contend with, in addition to their ability to afford and procure hedonic foodstuffs. The freedoms and opportunities that come with adulthood have been the downfall of many adults.

But mobility and money are also that same factors that give grownups the advantage. Many grownups are totally equipped to make the choice to shop at stores that specialize in nutritional awareness. An adult can join a gym and even hire a personal trainer.

It used to be that fitness just sort of automatically came along with youth, and people only had to start worrying about weight control as they grew older. But with every passing year that becomes less true. The many temptations of modern life conspire to take away the natural advantage of youth.

Sure, teenagers can do a lot of physical activity, and can, of course, often exercise a lot of choice over what they eat. But for many teens, by the time they are equipped to make use of their wider choices, the habits that promote food addiction are already quite firmly established.

Teenagers who had normal-weight childhoods often let themselves slide into unhealthy dependency on food. They get out of shape, and then discover the sad reality that it is very much easier to stay fit than to become fit. To break a bad habit is much more difficult than to avoid starting that habit in the first place, which a lot of adolescents don’t realize until bad habits are deeply entrenched.

Between teenagers and adults, it is hard to say whose path is more laden with challenges. But the child demographic definitely faces the worst obstacles. Kids pretty much have to eat what is given to them. Kids can’t make healthy choices if those healthy choices are not even available in their limited world.

Unfortunately, when kids do have some say over what they eat, the results are seldom good. A child who wants a box of cereal with a cartoon character on the package can be pretty persuasive.

On the other hand, children are often susceptible to influence, which is why it is so important to supply the guidance they need and deserve. They require the right kind of support, which often includes a need for their responsible grownups to, among many other things, say no to the cartoon-branded cereal.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “5 Ways Alcohol Hinders Fat Loss!,” Bodybuilding.com, 03/27/16
Image by Wonderlane

Emotional Eating — More Angles

emotional-eating-woman
Ever since the consciousness revolution of the 1960s, suppressed communication and stifled emotion have been recognized as harmful to the human psyche. This short paragraph about a small study says a lot about how the phrase “eating your emotions” came to be part of our shared vocabulary:

36 women were asked to watch a particularly emotional scene from the movie Terms of Endearment. Half were told to control their emotions, while the other half were allowed to let loose with a box of tissues. After the test, the two groups were offered unlimited ice cream. Those who had suppressed their emotions ate 55% more ice cream than those who did not.

Not long afterward and in relation to the same issue, writer Anne Hart discussed the work of Kelly Bost, Ph.D., a University of Illinois professor of human development and family studies who specializes in pediatric obesity. When children experience emotional distress in the form of sadness, anxiety, or anger, the harmful reactions of some parents can range from dismissiveness to punishment. The extreme form is a threat familiar enough to be a cliche — “Stop that sniveling or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Ideally, a parent will show a degree of sensitivity, and attempt to provide a child with tools or strategies for handling negative emotions. Insecure and inept parents who don’t practice those skills themselves are apt to express their own feelings of inadequacy or guilt by responding negatively to a child’s emotional turmoil. This, in turn, can set up unhealthy eating patterns and foster the habit of eating for comfort.

The worst thing about comfort eating is that it works — or at least, gives the illusion of working, in the short term. There is no denying that a ration of chocolate-covered bacon can create happiness — at least for the five minutes it takes to consume.

The sad thing is that so many people carry these patterns into adulthood. A typical example is the advice given by Eliza Barclay regarding sugar addiction:

Take a week or two to monitor exactly when the cravings hit. Then figure out what the cues are — like stress, boredom, emotional downers or the need for a distraction.

Those are absolutely artifacts carried over from childhood, and their prevalence among adults is the best evidence for the need to create programs that can stop food addiction in the earliest stage, before it has a chance to take hold.

Childhood Obesity News has referenced Michael Prager’s courageous book, Fat Boy Thin Man, many times. It is not surprising that other writers and reviewers have been equally impressed, including Jennifer LaRue Huget who noted:

As with other addicts, he explains, his emotional development stalled the moment he became addicted; for him, that was at age 12, in the midst of a troubled childhood.

Along with being emotional, such human behavior has a very practical side, verbalized in such folk wisdom as, “If it works, don’t fix it.” A child with painful feelings learns that a candy bar works. The momentary pleasure applies anesthetic to the wounds. Too many children carry that lesson into adulthood, never taking the next step, which would be realizing that the pain-numbing effect is fleeting, while the bad consequences are long-lasting and cause even more pain.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Why gov’t should regulate food like tobacco & alcohol,” NYPost.com, 12/28/13
Source: “Is Sugar Addiction Why So Many January Diets Fail?,” NPR.org, 01/09/14
Source: “Insecure attachments and emotional eating: Childhood obesity and unhealthy foods,” Examiner.com, 07/03/14
Source: “Conquering Food Addiction,” WashingtonPost.com, 01/18/11
Image by Vic

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