I was sitting with my kids at one of the “buffet” style restaurants. At the table next to us was a child sitting with a “my eyes were bigger than my stomach” plate full of french fries. He asked his mother if he could go up to get some dessert and she said “Not until you finish all your fries”. Now I suppose that it could have been the mother using this as a teaching moment about not wasting food, but unfortunately it was not.
What bothered me most was that this young child was already moderately obese, and from his weight and eating behavior he was clearly following (or being led) in the footsteps of his parents and older siblings.
By the way, food quality aside, it is possible to make good food choices at buffet type restaurants, and it can also be a nice venue to teaching children about trying different things, and making good nutritional choices.
So why did this bother me so much?
Child and adolescent obesity in the United States is a major and growing problem, more than tripling in the past 30 years. Nearly 20% of all children and adolescents in this country are categorized as obese, which is not just “a little heavy”. The causes? Bad food, too much food, advertising, poor dietary habits, lack of physical activity, lack of education, stress, environmental factors etc. Unfortunately the most easily influenced among us are now suffering from the immediate consequences of being obese, and unless something changes they will begin to develop the long term complications that follow chronic obesity.
Obese youth are beginning to develop things that up to this point were associated with adults. They are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, have pre-diabetes (or even “adult onset” diabetes), bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea.
Obese children are at higher risk for poor self esteem and other social and psychological problems.
Obese children and adolescents are much more likely to be obese adults with the subsequent higher risk for developing heart disease, strokes, diabetes, arthritis, and an increased risk of developing many types of cancer including breast, colon, cervix, endometrium, prostate and many others.
There are even hormonal concerns. Obesity in both male and female adolescents is associated with increased levels of estrogen and the stress hormone cortisol. Because of the increase in estrogen, males are more likely to experience breast development. In females, periods are more likely to start earlier, and they are at higher risk for endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, PMS, and fibrocystic breasts. Girls who are obese at puberty are at risk for higher levels of testosterone which is associated with development of acne, facial hair, and abnormal periods.
I know that as a father, the fewer of these issues that I have to contend with, the better my life will be.
So how do we correct this? Unfortunately both the cause and the solution boils down to one simple thing–US. It is an uphill battle, but our children can’t be expected to make the right decisions on their own. They need our support, they need us to be role models, they need us to counter the unhealthy messages and advertising that they are exposed to, and they need us to set limits and expectations. We need to engage our schools to make sure that healthy choices are offered at lunch and that physical activity is encouraged. We need make sure they stay as physically active as possible. We need to explain to them that this is about more than just “not getting fat”.
We can prevent this epidemic from worsening. By doing so we will improve the quality of not only their lives, but ours as well. Think about this—as we age we would like our children and grandchildren sitting at our side, helping to care for us, not sitting with us suffering from the same problems that we have.
So here we are, a few weeks into the new year, which is a good time to take note of where you are at with regard to your New Year’s Resolutions. By now you should be able to see if you have:
—Embraced your resolution, made it a “habit”, and are seeing some progress. Maybe you could even make an additional change in your life.
—Let the resolution and your good intentions fall by the wayside. No guilt here, January 1st is only a date on the calendar and you can make changes any day of the year.
—Not made a resolution, but you realize that you really do need to change something for the positive, and should do it before another year goes by.
For all three groups, I do have a suggestion for an easy, inexpensive, life and health changing addition that you can make in your life——Keep a Food Journal.
Simply carry a slip of paper in your pocket, and each time you eat ANYTHING, write down what and how much. No need to look at calories etc–you are only keeping a list. Just be honest. Then at the end of the day, enter everything in a notebook or on your computer.
The life and health changing part of this comes through our conscience and self awareness. Most of us do not realize how much, what, and how often we eat. Faced with the black and white reality of what we are actually consuming in our day, many of us will find it easier to eat differently and make better choices. The difference between eating 2 and 4 cookies does not seem like much, until you know you have to write it down and look at it along with everything else you ate that day. It does work, and can help create a positive change in your life and health with very little effort.
“Be moderate in everything, including moderation.” – Horace Porter
Any way you look at them, the statistics and predictions are impressive.
In 2010 there were an estimated 18.8 million people in the US with diabetes, and another 7 million who have the disease but have not been diagnosed. Among US residents 65 and older, almost 27% have diabetes.
Even more alarming is the prediction recently published in the journal “Population Health Metrics” which estimates that if current trends continue, by 2050 up to 1/3 of the US population will be diabetic. Think about it in this way. Look at the person to your left, and then the one on your right. One of you will be diabetic. With numbers like this, the personal, societal, and financial costs are unimaginable.
Just as distressing is the fact that it does not have to be this way. Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a large study of people at high risk for diabetes found that PREVENTION or delay of diabetes is feasible, cost effective, and can persist for at least 10 years.
So why should you worry about your blood sugar being “a little bit high”?
–Diabetes is the leading cause if kidney failure, non-traumatic lower limb amputations, and new cases of blindness in the US
–Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke
–Diabetes itself is the seventh leading cause of death in the US, and increases the risk of dying from from many other illnesses.
–It simply decreases long term quality of life.
These are not small issues, and personally if I can prevent them, I am willing to put a little work into it.
So what kind of “work” is required?
Studies show that for every 500 calories burned per week through exercise there is a 6% decrease in relative risk for developing diabetes. The effect is greater for those who were heavier at the start of the study.
Weight loss can improve insulin sensitivity, improve blood sugar control, and delay or even prevent progression to Type 2 diabetes.
It should be noted that when exercise and weight loss are combined, the benefits increase significantly.
Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugar. Be a label reader. Check for sugar content in things you consume. You would be surprised how much sugar is added to commercial or processed foods.
Lower your intake of carbohydrates (starches) as these are just sugar in a different form.
Increase your fiber intake. Having more fiber in your diet helps stabilize blood sugars, and increases the feeling of fullness so you eat less.
Eat a good breakfast containing protein and fiber as this will help stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels throughout your day.
Eat meals on a regular basis. Skipping meals (especially breakfast) increases insulin resistance
Balance your hormones
Hormone imbalance can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain.
Check your numbers
Talk to your health care provider about getting testing to see if you are at risk for developing diabetes. These tests should include fasting blood sugar, insulin, hemoglobin A1C, or a more comprehensive and predictive test such as the PreDx test.
So in essence, this really is a case where “prevention is the best medicine”.