ObesityWeek 2014: Can We Stop Childhood Obesity in its Tracks?

HealthGal Health Guide
  • This is my final sharepost covering sessions from the ObesityWeek2014 conference.  Childhood obesity certainly took center stage at the event, with a number of presentations devoted to new research, observational studies, and intuitive recommendations from experts.


    The Research


    We certainly know that mom and dad are models of behavior, and young children do try to emulate their parents’ actions.  So it makes intuitive sense to eat fruits and vegetables and other healthier choices in the presence of your kids, and to give them tastes or display these foods regularly on the table.  It also makes sense for them to see you engage with fitness and physical activity. 

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    Peers also impact childrens’ choices and behaviors, and one expert noted that if you do have a child already showing resistance to eating certain foods, the answer is not to “give them anything, just to get them to eat,” but instead to get creative and wait out a bit of hunger.  You can make eating a game with blindfold taste-testing or gather young peers who do eat a variety of foods and have them over as guests.  Peer pressure can be a huge help in breaking through poor eating habits and repeated exposure may encourage your child to try foods they have been refusing. Other issues that complicate childhood obesity:


    • Moms struggling with tight finances and with food insecurity, may be overfeeding their kids when food is available, causing feeding and hunger confusion in young children.
    • Using food as rewards raises the risk that your child will be an emotional eater later in life.
    • Low birth-weight children may be overfed early in life, as parents try to “correct” the low weight situation, again leading to an overfeeding situation and poor connectivity to feeling full.
    • A woman’s weight and eating habits prior to pregnancy, and during pregnancy, may set the stage for a child’s food preferences, weight patterns, and susceptibility to weight gain.
    • TV ads directed at kids are still “too heavy” in showcasing unhealthy foods, enticing them to eat (and drink) foods that have too much fat, sugar, and sodium.
    • With daycare featured prominently in the lives of very young children; how much physical activity they get and the liquid calories they take in, can contribute to obesity.

    Even after the conference was over, childhood obesity continued to trend strongly in the news:

    • Kids may not be sleeping enough, and this may be setting them up for higher risk of being overweight or obese.
    • In the UK there’s been a call to banish fruit juice from “5-a-day” recommended fruit servings because of the lack of fiber and high calorie count associated with juice.


    Mom May be the Cure


    That’s a pretty strong statement, and it’s supported by a theory out of the University of Alabama, School of Public Health.  Infants in the US are being born heavier than ever before and a meta-analysis tries to offer some insight.  It advances the theory that:


    • Obesity is the result of fat cells “out-competing” other tissues, for the energy (calories) we get from food
    • A woman’s body composition before, during, and even after pregnancy has evolutionary impact on her offspring and can determine metabolism and risk of disease in several generations.
    • Many mothers have evolved past the so-called tipping point of their metabolism, which can make obesity and poor fitness inevitable in their kids


  • This theory means that we can’t simply say “the child is over-eating or not moving enough,” and that’s why they’ve developed childhood obesity, though habits like these may be present and nudging the obesity process.  Experts now believe that the propensity to childhood obesity goes way beyond the eating/exercise simple statement, and research shows that evolution may be a strong contributor to the obesity trend in kids.  So clearly a big part of the solution is “mom.”  Healthcare needs to make interventions to set up healthy pregnancies a priority – for the sake of our kids.

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    Communication with Parents is Crucial


    A recent study out of UT Southwestern Medical Center, published in the journal Pediatrics,  found that 1 in 5 parents of overweight Latino children is not being told (directly) that their child is overweight.  If a language barrier exists, they hear even less messaging on the subject.  These children are also at high risk of hypertension, diabetes type 2 and high cholesterol.


    The problem is far bigger than just in the Latin community.  Pediatricians struggle when it comes to this weighted discussion with most parents.  Parents feel a sense of blame and it can complicate any meaningful dialogue.  Parents can become easily defensive and territorial.  And this is also seen in schools, where kids spend a significant part of their day.  Efforts to inform parents by sending home weight report cards, BMI information and other weight variables has been met with huge resistance.  Certainly some of the methods used lack an understanding of communication basics.  But there has also been an outcry by parents to “stay out of their business.”


    For the sake of the children and their health, we need to get past these roadblocks.  We all want what’s best for our kids.  So maybe we need to set aside feelings, and get to work on the causes we do understand.  Better health, balanced nutrition, and exercise habits before, during and after pregnancy is doable.  Parents committing to healthier food purchases, cooking more, and setting an example, are all doable.  Getting kids to exercise, in exchange for every hour that they use tech devices or sit and watch TV, is a doable habit.  Supporting more physical activity and healthier lunches in school, is doable.  And aiming for health goals, that will probably nudge weight loss, is doable.


    Next up: Five Easy Ways to Lighten Up Thanksgiving


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Published On: November 22, 2014