Friday, July 3, 2009

Childhood Obesity

Look around you. When you're at a local swimming pool, at a park, at the grocery store. Chances are every fifth child you see will be overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has been reported as an epidemic and the rate of obesity continues to climb and has doubled in the last 20 years among ALL age, gender and race groups.
Becoming overweight or obese as a child puts him/her at risk of heart disease and stroke, not to mention the risk of orthopedic problems, liver disease and asthma. Interrupted breathing during sleep, called sleep apnea, is one of the most severe problems facing obese children, and this can expand to learning and memory problems as well.
One of the most common conditions faced by overweight or obese children is type 2 diabetes. This was something that affected mostly adults at one time (as a matter of fact, it used to be called adult-onset diabetes!) and it was very uncommon to know any child afflicted with type 2 diabetes. These medical conditions will more than likely follow them into adulthood, since obese children have a 70% chance of being overweight or obese adults.
Sounds like a gloomy future for these children, right? Not if parents take an active role in providing their children (and themselves!) with a healthy and balanced nutrition devoid of empty calories.
Americans have become so dependant on convenience foods and choosing the easiest/fastest choice for their children's meals/snacks, that having home cooked meals is almost a thing of the past. Their idea of a home-cooked meal means purchasing frozen meals and putting them in the oven. Meals that contain incredible amounts of preservatives, sodium and unhealthy fats - those chemicals....uh....ingredients should never be eaten by adults, much less growing children.
We have become a nation of not only convenience, but availability of junk food has sky rocketed. Just about everywhere we go - gas stations, school hallways, work name it - there is junk food available to us. When was the last time your children attended their sporting event (soccer, swimming, basketball...) or classroom party when the snack/treats were "real" foods (apples, bananas, oranges) and not food that is loaded with sugar, preservatives and empty calories/empty nutrition?
One of the worst culprits is sport drinks (Gatorade, Powerade) that parents think we need to give our children to replace lost electrolytes. They contain upwards to two-thirds the sugar that soda contains and more than THREE times the sodium! These drinks were originally produced for athletes that were in endurance sports (i.e., continual exertion for 2-3+ hours), not the type of activity that our average athletic child is typically involved in - yes, even at their sporting events. Unless the child is exerting the type of athleticism you see in professional sports and the duration of that activity is over 2 hours - continuous - the child simply does not require anything more than what water, a piece of fruit and a handful of raw nuts can provide. Real food!
If you need further proof of how sport drinks and fruit juice drinks affects childhood obesity, research this topic and also type in "insulin response" and the effect it has on obesity as well.

So what are we to do? Purchase real food - spending most of your time around the perimeter of your grocery store rather than inside the isles can fill your cart with healthy choices - fresh fruits and vegetables as an alternative to junk food as a snack. Replace sport drinks and fruit juice drinks with water - especially during their sporting event. Fill their plates with a variety of vegetables and fruits and try different ways of cooking your meat, fish and poultry (there are loads of easy, quick recipes online that can be completely nutritious and healthy). If you are a busy family, take a look at using a crockpot - the most convenient way to eat at home. You control the ingredients, put them all in the crockpot first thing in the morning and by the time dinner rolls around, it's ready. Doesn't get any easier than that (again, do a search online for anything "crockpot" is a much-used piece of equipment in this household).
If you eat out frequently, make a pledge to make at least three meals a week at home. If you double your recipes, you can freeze the leftovers for the days you do not feel like cooking. Or, make all meals during the week and treat your family to a night out on the weekend. Make eating out a treat, not a regular part of your weekly dinners. Not only will home cooked meals make the waistline shrink, it will fatten the wallet with the money you save by eating at home. Another bonus - family unity....sitting down together as a family for dinner will allow for some very basic and important dinnertime conversation with your children that you would otherwise not have during busy days.
Out of all the health problems we have no control over, nutrition-based health is certainly one we completely control. Our children are utterly dependant on us for their nutritional health; let's not let them down.

Please feel free to contact me for any nutrional counseling.

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