Preventing Childhood Obesity

The American dream for the population between 18-35 years of age commonly includes gainful employment, marriage, home ownership, and children. Each component adds a new level of stress and happiness. Specific formulas for stress free living can only be found in the land of “Utopia” (a mythical place that doesn’t exist.)  Life and the lessons reality teach us determines the outcome (sometimes.) I add the word “sometimes” because knowledge does not necessarily equate with better outcomes. For example:

  1. we know that spending should not exceed income, yet most of us continue to live in debt
  2. we know that driving a car above the speed limit is illegal, yet most drive at least 5mph over the limit.
  3. we know that bad eating habits lead to weight problems resulting in the #1 cause of death, yet 70% of adults are overweight.

Although education is very important, it certainly is not enough to motivate a change in behavior. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the two factors that motivate a change in behavior are:

PAIN OR PLEASURE

Once our brains experience enough PAIN or PLEASURE behavior modification is achievable. Think about it. If you had a choice to have open heart surgery (PAIN) or eat more fruit and vegetables (if you enjoy a vegetarian diet) or steak, pork, chicken and lamb (if you enjoy a paleo diet) (PLEASURE) and both resulted in better heart health, why would anyone choose the surgery? Believe it or not, I can answer this question. There are various reasons including:

  • the desire to have someone other than oneself responsible for individual health
  • the belief that one can return to the same behaviors enjoyed prior to the surgery that has now “fixed” the problem
  • denial that a problem exists regardless of the facts

Those who are willing to look at these statements objectively and honestly are also more likely to assume self responsibility. When the behavior only affects oneself, each of us has the right to our own decisions. When the behavior puts other lives at risk for disease and death, the boundaries of personal rights and liberties have been crossed.

Our children rely on us to guide them through childhood. They are a responsibility we have CHOSEN. (Chosen is defined as the act of procreation regardless of intent!) With the rise in childhood obesity, we are not fulfilling our responsibilities to them. When we place our children at increased risks for (1) high blood pressure, (2) high cholesterol, (3) insulin resistance, (4) diabetes, (5) joint pain, (6) arterial placque, (7) heart burn, (8) fatty liver disease and (9) gall stones based on our lack of awareness or denial, our competency as parents need to be questioned for the safety of the children. ABUSE is a harsh word to describe this situation, however, maybe the PAIN the word inflicts on the individual parent will be enough to modify awareness and/or denial. How can we reverse this pattern if parents aren’t held accountable?

ALL health professionals must get involved. They must create awareness and require follow up visits to insure the child is following a beneficial course of action. Any parent lacking the knowledge to correct this situation should have FREE classes available to learn the steps needed to reverse this course. If the parents are unwilling to participate, social services should help guide the parents to understand the consequences their children will suffer. If the doctors, nutritionists and social service employees responsible for the welfare of the children are unsuccessful at gaining the support of the parents, an intervention on the child’s behalf would be needed.

The purpose of this article is NOT to tell parents how to raise their children. The purpose IS to make sure that children do not begin life at a young age developing self inflicted diseases and conditions they were not mature enough to understand and avoid. I understand some will resist my suggested approach, but what alternative methods are we successfully applying today that is reversing this trend?

Below are some ideas that parents can implement in their homes. Children do not understand morbidity and mortality. The following ideas can make the learning process productive and easier on both parent and child.

  1. Children need more physical activities. Parents may be concerned about unsupervised outdoor activity in various neighborhoods. If supervised outdoor activities are too difficult, bring some form of exercise into the room with the TV. It can be a stationary bicycle, rower, elliptical, jump rope, calisthenics. jogging in place, etc… The child can watch TV AND EXERCISE at the same time. You can apply this rule during specific hours of the day. If the child must perform some form of exercise (even if it is walking in place) while watching TV, they are likely to watch less while reducing sedentary activity. Children average 8 hours of TV per day!
  2. Find articles and books for children that talk about childhood obesity and health ramifications. Discussion time after dinner could be family time to discuss solutions so that all participate.  This helps empower the children to learn the importance of self reliance with the support of their parents.
  3. Teach children to feed and hydrate their bodies with healthy sources of food and fluids FIRST. If they want candy, cookies, soda, etc… these are the last things to enter the mouth. This will accomplish two important solutions. First, it will provide the child with the nutrition needed to be healthy; second, the amount of processed or unhealthy food will be reduced without the child feeling deprived. They will be full and satisfied and can follow this pattern of eating as they get older. This is all part of reasonable and realistic moderation.
  4. Parents should contact their child’s school and encourage health classes to further educate children on healthy living. It is important that the lesson plan include content that will help truly motivate the child. The reality of disease resulting from the complications of obesity through movies or power point viewings or stories with pictures that children could relate to would stimulate childhood thinking and ultimately behavior.

I hope you walk away from this article realizing that childhood obesity is at epidemic levels and the future consequences if new effective ideas are not implemented. My suggestions are just tips of the iceburg. Health care providers, educators, counselors, and parents all need to work together to reach a viable solution.

I welcome your comments, but more importantly welcome your ideas for changing our current approach. Please participate to create a desperately needed dialogue. Thank you.

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5 comments

  1. That is a strong statement: “Knowledge does not necessarily equate with better outcomes.” I am in agreement that what people need is inspiration. They need to see how others have overcome the temptations to achieve a higher quality of life that is available to anyone who will do the things necessary to get it. I was an overweight child and grew into an overweight adult. I now model good health for my own children and students. A wrote a few weeks ago about how ironic it is that so many of the wellness tools being developed are web-based, while research shows that the more time we spend in front of a screen, the more our health suffers! My idea for changing our current approach is for more families to join us in an “unplugged summer challenge.” This involves being more selective about television, internet, video game and mobile device usage and instead doing what our parents recommended; go outside and play!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well said. The challenge is a great idea. You mentioned being overweight as a child. 40% of children are overweight if 1 parent is overweight. That number elevates to 80% if both parents are overweight. I always talk about the VARIOUS COMPONENTS necessary for health change and improvement. Childhood obesity will need to be approached from many angles to make a difference. Your suggested challenge is a great start.
      Thank you for participating in this important endeavor.

      Like

  2. I like your unplugged summer challenge idea. If it catches on, maybe we can unplug all year round.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jay Meggison · · Reply

    I have some reservations about involving a government agency such as social services to “guide” parents into any type of behavior. I believe in freedom of choice and government coercion on any issue makes me nervous. (Look at the whole vaccination issue in Vermont right now). I’m not making a case for obesity and I agree with most of your suggestions, but let’s keep the bureaucrats out of it. Remember that they thought the food pyramid was a good idea.

    Like

    1. You mean 11 servings of sugar (I mean grains) per day with MINIMAL FAT CONSUMPTION is a bad idea? I understand your concerns regarding gov’t intervention. The intent was to introduce multiple organizations and professions to give every parent the opportunity (from a different perspective) to recognize the problem and the tools to correct it. If a real intervention was needed, the gov’t and the courts would have to share a role in the process (share, NOT be in charge.) This article hopefully will stimulate dialogue to ultimately form an action plan that could be introduced to the community, doctors, nutritionists, counselors and anyone else interested in turning this epidemic around. If no one talks about it OPENLY, childhood obesity will continue to worsen.
      I appreciate your feedback and your commitment to the welfare of others.

      Like

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