Childhood obesity is a growing problem that I believe is a direct reflection of our own challenges impacting our health and wellbeing, such as excess sugar in the diet, inactivity (due to the overuse of TV, computers, etc.) and lack of sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that obesity has doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the last 30 years. In 2010, more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight and/or obese. Childhood obesity is not only an epidemic, it’s leading to an unhealthy adult future of weight problems, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, bone problems, skin conditions, cancer and more.
One of the primary reasons for obesity for both adults and children is the high consumption of sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is an ingredient in almost all processed foods and beverages. What many people don’t understand is that sugar leads to fat storage, much more so than fat. Excess calories from sugar (including grains and starches that break-down into sugar) get converted into fat, disrupting the body’s ability to regulate insulin and leptin. Specifically HFCS also goes directly to the liver. Studies are now indicating an association with HFCS and non-alcohol caused fibrosis, liver disease and/or liver injury.
The best advice for parents is to discard all sugary beverages, including processed fruit juice and especially soda. Teach your kids to enjoy whole grains instead of processed carbohydrates. Consuming fiber with carbohydrates lessons the insulin response.Make sure that your kids are eating plenty of vegetables and avoiding or limiting packaged snacks, fast foods and convenience foods. Require your children to wait 20 minutes in between first and second portions to give your brain enough time to signal that they’ve had enough. Above all, know that you lead by example and it’s also important to assess your own dietary habits, sharing in healthy meal preparation with the kids. Even though there are still quite a few issues with the food available and being served at schools, healthy habits learned at home have a more influential role than one might think. In my view, children need to understand the consequences now and in the future of an unhealthy diet as well as the abundance of benefits they’ll receive from a healthy one such as more energy, sharper memory, stronger concentration, better skin, healthier body, etc.
TV, Computers, Cell Phones, Etc.
Even though there have been many benefits that have come along with the increase in technology, many children (and adults) have fallen into obsessive use patterns at the expense of physical activity. One psychologist, Dr. Aric Sigman, analyzed 35 studies on the effects of television on the brain and found that it has a numbing effect on areas that would otherwise be stimulated by activities such as reading. Those children with TVs, computers, video games and other gadgets in their room are at an even higher risk of obesity due to the loss of sleep time spent on using these devices past bedtime. This occurs due to decreased melatonin production, which studies show relates to weight issues as well as a number of other health problems. It appears that the brain becomes confused with the blue lights omitted from TVs and computer screens, which resemble daylight hours.
Experts recommend that parents remove all electronics from the bedroom, especially at night. The sleeping room should be kept extremely dark without any ambient light to encourage healthy melatonin production. To increase your child’s physical activity, Dr. Robert Lustig, Pediatric Endrocrinologist, suggests that you tell your children that they have to “buy” electronic time with activity time. In other words for every hour they spend riding a bike, they can have an hour on the computer. If at all possible, limit your child’s TV time to 1.5 hours for children 3-7yrs of age and 2 hours for older kids. Children under 3 should not be exposed to television at all.
Although we’ve already mentioned the effects related to weak melatonin production, losing sleep in itself is also a contributor to childhood obesity. Children need more sleep than adults, usually 7 or more hours. When the body is sleep deprived, one tends to feel hungrier due to the fact that the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite (gherlin and leptin) are disrupted. Glucose and insulin are also affected by lack of sleep, which can contribute to weight gain. A study done by the University of Chicago tracked the sleep patterns of Kentucky children aged 4 to 10 and found that those who got the least amount of sleep were 4.2 times more likely to be obese than the other children.
Again, it’s important to remove electronics from the bedroom to support good sleep patterns. Teaching kids the importance of stress management, a regular exercise program and avoiding bedtime snacks will also help.
 (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
 (2010, March 23). High fructose corn syrup linked to liver scarring, research suggests. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100322204628.htm
 (2012, May 11). The skinny on obesity (extra): four sweet tips from dr. lustig. Retrieved from http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.aspx?showID=23901
 Mercola, J. (2013, January 31). TVs in kids' rooms linked to obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/01/31/kids-room-electronic-devices.aspx e_cid=20130210_SNL_MS_1&utm_source=snl&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20130210
 (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/tc/high-triglycerides-overview
 Neporent, L. (2011, January 24). Lack of sleep linked to childhood obesity. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/lack-weekend-catch-sleep-risk-childhood-obesity/story?id=12743677
Published On: March 26, 2013