Children born today enter a world where more than one-third of all adults in the United States are obese. They also face the prospect of being part of the one-fifth of American children who are obese. These risks of obesity significantly increase mortality rates. According to a new study by researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at Columbia University, obesity is responsible for 18 percent of deaths in the U.S. Unfortunately, it’s possible that number will continue to grow if obesity rates follow the trend they’re on now. They have more than doubled since 1980.
The study found that the problem isn’t exclusive to older individuals, but rather people from younger generations who, as they age, have a greater chance of developing obesity-related health problems. “Obesity is unhealthy at any age, but as obese individuals grow older, they are more likely to experience serious health complications of obesity, including premature death,” said Ryan Masters, Ph.D, study author and researcher at Columbia in an interview with HealthlineNews. Masters fears that while the results of the study are worrying, they could actually be worse than they appear. He feels as obese individuals age and encounter health problems; they are less likely to participate in studies like the one conducted at Columbia. This can make the results skew healthier, an error he tried to correct in the results to allow for the discrepancy.
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A team of cardiologists at the University of Michigan has found that among obese middle schoolers, 62 percent watched two or more hours of TV a day. The data suggests that when “screen time” replaces physical activity, obesity is likely to ensue. When you pair this decreased activity with the calorie-rich, fat-laden lunches served in schools, you have a full on epidemic.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was meant to provide healthier food for the national school lunch program, which took effect last year. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but still far from perfect. As for the other side of the coin, it’s ultimately up to parents to tackle the TV problem. The life-long effects of poor dietary and activity habits can lead obesity, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
Our resident nutrition expert, Mary Hartley, RD, has been an ardent supporter of the school lunch overhaul, and told us that for many kids, half of a child’s calorie intake comes from school lunch, and those calories were 34 percent fat.
“French fries and other potato products accounted for a disproportionate number of the vegetables on kids’ trays,” she said. “But improving school lunches is only one part of the obesity problem. Parents at home have a far greater impact.”
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The days of going through the lunch line at school and picking every greasy, cheesy, fatty option are soon coming to an end. The Department of Agriculture has outlined new regulations for the kinds of foods that can be sold to kids at school. For the first time, the government is tackling the content of “a la carte” lines, vending machines, snack bars and other sources of food regularly available on school campuses. According to Registered Dietitian Mary Hartley, “the policy would increase student exposure to healthier foods and decrease exposure to less healthy foods.”
Previously unregulated, the “a la carte” lines and similar non- standard lunch line options provided kids access to foods like nachos, pizza, chocolate sandwich cookies, and other unhealthy treats. Now under the new guidelines those foods will be replaced with more healthful options like granola bars and yogurt. The new regulations also outline a difference in the beverages that can be sold in schools. Elementary and middle schools will only sell water, carbonated water, low fat and fat-free milk and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices. Sodas and sports drinks that contain 60 calories or less will be made available in high schools. Though the changes don’t have to be in effect until July 1, 2014, several schools will start implementing them in the upcoming school year. It has been found that schools with this type of reform already in place have seen little to loss of revenue from food sales.
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Childhood obesity is an epidemic. It is being seen in kids and adolescents three times as often as it was in the 1970s. Primary care physicians are reporting seeing more children who are obese than ever before. According to Dr. Garry Sigman, director of Loyola University Health System’s Pediatric Weight Management Program, the cause of this increase in childhood obesity comes down to the many changes in culture and environment.
To combat the problem “try to simulate the way the world was. Not too much restaurant food, eat home meals as much as possible,” Dr. Sigman said. In addition, he recommends eating natural food products and minimizing the amount of processed food kids eat. Beyond food intake, Dr. Sigman feels that children should be cared for in a way that not every cry is interpreted as a need for food. He also stresses that children need to have the ability to move, attributing some of the obesity problem to the lack of time spent being active outside. “The streets are less safe, [the kids] go out and play less and spend far too much time watching screens like video games, computers and TV.”
Dr. Sigman’s focus, however, is not on preventing childhood obesity, but rather on helping those already suffering from it. He saw that children and their families were not receiving the treatment that would be of the most benefit. “The problem is that the health care system is designed to reimburse for procedures but not for the long time it would take…to make the healthy changes, the behavioral modifications,” he said. It was this problem that led to the creation of the Pediatric Weight Management System.
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Are you a member of the “clean plate club”? That’s the saying that always stuck with me when parents (and grandparents) push kids to finish their meal. That sort of mentality, while well-intentioned, may have lasting negative side effects.
New findings have shown that pushing children to eat everything on their plate has a direct link to obesity. The University of Minnesota has published a study that shows this forced eating can be linked to unhealthy eating habits when the child gets to adulthood. Interestingly, while these kids may be at a normal weight at the time, this changes later in life.
The researchers combined data from two studies including findings from EAT 2010 (Eating and Activity in Teens) and the Project F-EAT (Families and Eating and Activity Among Teens). Both of these gathered their data from asking about the eating habits of nearly 3,000 children and young adults. Each person was given a form that asked questions about weight and regular eating habits throughout the day. It wasn’t until the data from each individual study was compiled that the link to adult obesity was found.
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