Childhood Obesity

If you heard me on JP Peterson’s radio show last Friday, you heard the latest obesity numbers are out on children in the U.S. and the numbers are not good. the current statistics reflect obesity rates for children ages 10 – 17 to be 16% whereas children in the overweight category are up to 30%. In adults by the way, these numbers are 30 and 33% respectively. These numbers continue to climb despite all of the recommendations put out by the “experts,” who have been parroting the same hollow advice, supported by our government and of course the food lobby in the U.S.

Case in point of the food lobby are the recent commercials you see touting the equality of high fructose corn syrup to other forms of sweeteners ie good old fashion sugar. Is it curious to anyone else that these commercials even exist? It is becoming more and more obvious that the dietary recommendations and the food products that stock our grocery shelves that have been so wholeheartedly backed by our government and our academic institutions in the 70s and 80s have had the exact opposite effect on the health of the American population than what was intended. They love to tout the reduction in deaths from heart disease but what they don’t tell you is that the incidence of heart disease has not declined, only that improved medical care allows people to be kept alive longer which reduces mortality rates. They also will not own up to the fact that the obesity rate began a dramatic increase soon after time these recommendations were announced.

One of the more devastating effects of these toxic recommendations has been the skyrocketing rates of obesity in this country. The scary part of these stats is that the fastest rate of increase in obesity is in children and adolescents. As I said on the radio show last week, this is not just a problem of fat kids, it is a problem of fat kids who become fat adults with obesity related disease such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and what could be the undoing of the medical system of this country, chronic kidney disease. We are the first generation that can claim significant diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. This form of diabetes was formerly referred to as “adult onset diabetes,” because it traditionally was diagnosed later in life after many years of gradual weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels. Now however, children are fed refined sugar and flour at almost every meal from birth, causing elevated sugar and insulin levels from a very young age which accelerates this once adult onset disease to a disease of the young, and fat.

Make no mistake, this is a catastrophic problem for our health care system, especially with universal health care looming. Make no mistake also, it is our fault. We control or refuse to control the health of our children, period. This is not a kid problem, it is a parent problem. Granted we have been led astray by the “experts,” who tell us to replace fat with refined sugar and flour. We have been sold a bill of goods that includes foods that are killing us.  Hydrogenated oils, refined white flour, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup have wreaked havoc on our health and the health of our children and if we don’t do something about it soon, as parents, our children face a lifetime of health problems and oppressive taxes which will go to pay for the care of those once fat kids.

I’m currently reading a book titled, In Defense of Food written by Michael Pollan which is a no nonsense look at our food supply and the series of events that led to the current diet recommendations and the economic reasons why our food is so unhealthy. In his book, he cites a study which illustrates the power of simple, organic eating. The study was conducted in 1982 by Dr. Kerin O’dea who extensively studies the health of Australian aborigines. This particular study took a group of middle aged, male aborigines who had become “westernized,” by moving close to more developed areas and subsequently adopting a more western lifestyle i.e. poor diet and more sedentary lifestyle. The results of this cultural change caused a more western health profile as all of the subjects had developed obesity, diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels. This group was voluntarily placed back in the Australian outback which forced them to adopt their prior dependence on the land for food, hunting, fishing, and gathering which obviously increased their physical activity level as well. Their diet consisted mostly of lean meat and fish, wild fruit and vegetables and water. After 7 weeks of drastically altering their lifestyle they last an average of 14 pounds and reversed their elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The author, Michael Pollan poses a good question in the book, “aren’t we all aborigines?” In a sense, we are. Although most of us would not last a week trying to live off the land, our forefathers did not have Mcdonald’s® on every corner, sodas in their fridge, and high fructose corn syrup in everything that they ate. They also had dramatically lower rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

I often tell my patients that our culture is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. It is not convenient or cheap to eat healthy. We are spread so thin it is difficulty to livean active lifestyle. We are overstimulated to the point that I can count on a single hand the number of patients who tell me they sleep well. We are the creators of “western,” lifestyle, and it is killing us. We have become desensitized to obesity in this country to the point where it has become the new normal. So what do we do about it? On the surface, it is a complex problem that involves socioeconomics, psychology, politics and genetics. The answer however for most of us is simple. Starting with the Michael Pollan’s simple rules to eat by: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Food being real food, like the aborigines, not much, most people in this country eat enough for two people in this country and his has become normal, and lastly, mostly plants – one of the harder things for Americans to get used to but it is how we are meant to eat.

If you want to change your health and the health of your children you also need to eradicate the toxic stuff in your life.  Toxins come in many forms: stress, food, people, jobs, and drugs. I suggest first dealing with the toxic things you are putting in your body everyday. Stop buying products that contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, and refined wheat (enriched flour). You will find that this is no easy task, as I stated earlier, it is not convenient or cheap to eat healthy in this country, but it is possible. These products exist because they are cheaper to produce and provide much greater shelf life to the foods we eat but it is at the cost of our health and the health of our children. I realize this may seem anticlimactic but this first step will force you to eat more like an aborigine; more fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean protein and whole grains. It will also force you to read labels and, you will find, begin to look for different foods to replace those we have been programmed to eat as staples. One of the bigger challenges will be to replace your children’s morning cereal. Eliminating refined wheat and high fructose corn syrup eliminates 95% of the cereal aisle. I recommend the Nature’s path brand cereals as a good start for kids, although it is still a little high in simple sugar it is real sugar not high fructose corn syrup and if you’ve read my prior blogs, use 1 or 2% milk instead of skim, the small increase in fat slows the absorption of sugar which helps to regulate blood sugar levels.

Reversing the obesity trend in this country and because of human nature will always be an uphill battle. I promise continue to fight that battle by educating my patients and readers to the best of my ability and living in such a way that I provide a positive example for my children as well as stepping up and being responsible for what they eat and how they live. What will you do?

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Until next time, stay healthy and live well. Dr. Mike

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Dr. Michael Heim

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