Tag Archive | Childhood obesity

a bushel and a peck of ways to address childhood obesity

It seems that we spend a lot of time fixing things that should not have ever become so broken. Not only time is wasted but a lot of resources– that seem to be rather scarce these days.

As this relates to the care and feeding on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels of human beings, we certainly have been drawn off course. Some significant digressions from what should have been a rather intuitive matter or a natural symbiotic relationship with the natural and nurturing environment have occurred.

Healthy Children

Healthy Children (Photo credit: Korean Resource Center 민족학교) drawing by 13 yo Suzy An, Irvine, California

Though early humans expended much of their energy trying to procure food for survival, they still seemed to have had time for other endeavors as well–like discovering fire, inventing the wheel and designing clothes. Nomadic cultures certainly had to find to go or take out food solutions. One would think that at this stage of the game, we too should be able to both nourish and progress.

Listening to the persistent conversation about the problem of obesity one might think evolution-wise we were still inventing the wheel. The top experts in the field are engaged in the mandate to ferret out the problem and find solutions, huge research projects are undertaken, big monies are allocated, programs are created, public health campaigns are rampant. The hunt is on and it has been going on for decades. This time its pursuit is not roaming bison or wild turkey but the reclaiming of our natural homo sapien form and functioning. So far, we seem to have only snagged the primordial beast of ‘eat less and exercise more’.

I wonder if this all has to be so difficult. Where and how did we stray so far off course? How did we allow the school food situation to get so bad? Other nations with way fewer resources have maintained a large degree of nutritional integrity, even if in the form of some hearty gruel. Jamie Oliver, a simple lad from England, has managed to bring nourishing food into kids’ cafeterias.

Today, sadly aware that September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, I venture into the childhood obesity debacle to suggest that maybe we can shift the focus, listen to our inherent wisdom, reclaim our cultural connectedness and tweak the approach, to save some of the expended resources that we are currently draining. I know these are complicated matters but perhaps there really are more holistic solutions.

Here are some possibilities:

ð  Legislate paid maternity leave of a valuable length. The United States is one of only three countries in the world that do not offer paid maternity leave. The other two are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. Most countries provide paid leave of between 14-22 weeks. Norway allows 44 weeks, while Canada allows 50. Mothers here who do get to stay home for a meager six weeks after the birth of their babies generally are those whose jobs provide disability insurance. Wow. What a warped difference in consciousness. maternity leave comparison

ð Implement more generous, equitable and flexible time-off policies. Without time for parents to establish healthy routines, many important aspects related to family and child health are neglected. Additionally, one cannot even begin to discuss weight matters without acknowledging the role of stress on our eating and metabolism.

ð Promote and normalize breastfeeding. It is important to understand the nutritional, metabolic, digestive, and immune implications of replacing human breastmilk with artificially manufactured milk substitutes. Updated 2020: Infant Feeding History Revised

ð  Revisit infant feeding recommendations. Our early feeding practices rely on the introduction of cow milk and soy-based proteins, processed grain cereals and juices as babies’ first foods. Infant feeding recommendations promulgated by physicians professionally under-educated on nutritional matters and baby food manufacturers seem almost sacrosanct in our society. Decades-long infant feeding guidelines are based on often misguided attempts to compensate for and mitigate the negative effects of depriving infants of species-specific breastmilk. The digestive imprinting and physiological adaptations to our first foods provide important clues as to children’s feeding inclinations. Ignoring this stage is short-sighted.

Update 2020: Somehow I missed the memo. While I had known the American Academy of Pediatrics had through the years strengthened their stance on promoting breastmilk as babies’ first food, I did not realize that in 2017 they updated their 2008 guidelines on starting solid foods. Notable changes are recommendations for extended breastfeeding, no juice during the first year, and an increased variety of introductory solid foods instead of just iron-fortified cereals. First foods to give your baby.

ð  Appropriately nurture children’s developing food palates–like other food-conscious cultures do). This means we should not be catering to children’s unformed palates. Doing so dwarfs the development required to appreciate more sophisticated and healthier foods, tastes and textures. Overexposing children early to an onslaught of sweet and chemically-produced tastes inhibits acceptance of the wide variety of foods required for a balanced diet and predisposes them to serious health problems. How the french feed their children;

ð   Stop advertising and marketing food to children. Over thirty-five years ago, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Action for Children’s Television petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to restrict advertising aimed at children–in large part due to its effects on children’s dietary preferences and intake. The FTC agreed that such practices were inappropriate. However, the food, toy, and advertising industries pushed back and unfortunately pressured Congress to halt taking action. Today, 17 to 20 billion dollars are spent annually on the marketing of non-nutrient foods to children.

ð Remove unsavory ingredients from the food system. While our FDA continues to hold to its stance that artificial food dyes and preservatives in our food are safe, other countries have begun to take progressive action to remove these substances from their products–even those made by American manufacturers–for the sake of their young citizens.

ð  Redesign supermarket and drug store layouts so that they do not cater to 4- year-olds’ sensibilities. Next time you shop, pay attention to how many cartoon character endorsed products are populating the food aisles, especially at the eye-catching “end caps” and checkout counters.

ð  Direct adequate funding to school meal programs. School lunch in Japan.

ð  Respect recess. Put it back in the schools if it has been taken away. Provide it daily and preferably before lunch. Children innately know how to move. We just have to ensure that they have the appropriate time and space to do so.

ð  Integrate relaxation/yoga/resilience training and cooking/gardening/movement curriculum at all grade levels.  

ð  Protect farmers and subsidize fruits and vegetables.

Well, using agricultural measurement, I think that is enough for now. If we truly and intelligently wish to address this matter–and to heal what should have never become so broken–we have to restore the capacity of those best equipped to nourish and protect our children–the parents, farmers, cooks, teachers and schools. And yes, it may require the funding, creation, and implementation of policies on a larger-scale which will facilitate that as a nation we are prepared to do so.

May we love our children a bushel and a peck.

In health, with a hug around the neck, Elyn

Please share your thoughts or additional ideas on this matter. Thanks.

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection.

by Gretchen

the humanist imperative to nourish and care for our children accordingly

Wednesday morning, upon logging in, I was greeted by the juxtaposition of the following subject line messages in my inbox:

Race to Fight Childhood Obesity from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation;

Censored: Michelle Obama‘s Biggest Mistake from Ragen Chastain’s blog Dances with Fat; and,

Lock-In Drill from my daughter’s high school.

Where shall I start? To begin with, on Wednesdays, I am not at the Health Center, and on that particular morning, my private client needed to reschedule. So, though I receive an onslaught of topic-related information constantly, I had on that day more time than usual to slowly digest these matters that are so relevant to what I do.

receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the...

Frances Moore Lappe receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the James Beard Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ragen’s offering attracted my attention first. I have referenced her work previously. She is a committed activist and a powerful voice in distinguishing the difference between health and weight issues, preventing fat-shaming, and, shining light on the lies and manipulations of the weight loss industry. I can always count on her to keep me informed of something meaningful. Here, I learned that Michelle Obama was planning to go on the show The Biggest Loser to thank the contestants for being role models. Ragen’s reaction was quite pointed and the story of what happened when she and filmmaker Darryl Roberts (America the Beautiful) tried to field a response to the media is quite interesting. However, it was this comment that contributed to the theme of my day.

The worst thing is that all this focus on the weight of individuals is distracting us from the systemic issue of lack of access. Many people do not have access to the healthy foods that they would choose to eat–including foods that are not genetically modified or full of hormones or government-subsidized high fructose corn syrup. Many people do not have access to safe movement options that they enjoy, or to affordable evidence-based health care. But as long as we focus on little Johnny’s BMI, we don’t have to address the real problems here and we can just keep shaming and blaming fat kids and adults and misinforming them and everyone else about the odds of becoming permanently thin.

I strongly share these sentiments and it took only a few clicks on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s website to confirm this dismissal of the larger issues. The articles in their In the News column included, Schools Find Active Kids Make Smarter Students and Virginia Legislation Calls for School PE Guidelines. Both are sad statements about the current state of affairs on such seemingly obvious matters. I applaud the work of the Alliance which I have discussed before in Diet for a Small Caterpillar, but I am often sad to see their amazing talents and resources going toward small, simplistic efforts to repair an intuitive intelligence that was broken by bad policymaking and vested interests disenfranchising the well-being of the citizens of the world.

I also have a visceral reaction to the term the fight against childhood obesity. Obesity is not the only consequence our children are suffering–it is just one of the manifestations of poor nutrition and the ignoring of all the ingredients that contribute to both physical and emotional well-being in early stages of development. If this were only about obesity, my daughter would not have had to, unfortunately, participate in a lock-down drill. Furthermore, fierce language is not what is needed even when details may make us wish to brandish our childhood obesity-fighting swords.

Thankfully, on that Wednesday morning, I was also fortunate to hear a really beautiful interview with Frances Moore Lappe, who has certainly had a strong influence on my own path. I will leave you with her words.

We don’t have a shortage of food, we have a shortage of justice. As we shift to focus on our relationships with each other, and with the earth, as we align our lives and our economy with what is true about our nature and is harmonious with the wellbeing of nature, we find answers to so many of the questions we face today. Hope is not what we find in evidence, it’s what we become in action.

So, I hope the connections make some sense and perhaps my title of this piece suggests such a shift of intention toward the task at hand.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?

by Julie

skinny boys

Skinny boys.  Now there is a group that could use some love. Skinny boys usually, though not always, start out as skinny little kids and stay that way into their teens and young adulthood. You see them everywhere. In spite of this obesity epidemic, these poor boys far outnumber the fat kids everyone is clamoring about, but still, they get no attention.

It was not too long ago that skinny boys had their pants buckled up under their armpits for the protection of their private parts or they were required to wear corny suspenders. Nowadays, it is quite common for their pants to fall below the level of their BVDs even with the use of securing devices like belts and drawstrings–so they are often walking around with their undies showing. How embarrassing. If they do have a belt, they have to force a homemade hole into the leather or hemp, whatever, and the non-buckle end goes wrapping around them like a snake, in order to fit.  

Then, their ribs stick out something terrible. Even nicely developed abdominal six-packs cannot cover up those ribs. Ouch. It must be hard for them to sleep–their bones jabbing into even soft forgiving mattresses. When they walk down the street, even strangers like Italian and Jewish grandmothers, are apt to want to take them home and feed them. What is up? Are their parents not feeding them?

Despite these emotional and physical challenges, there are no programs, whatsoever, designed to help them. There is no foundation for the Prevention of Adolescent Scrawniness, nor a Let”s Chill! initiative coming from the White House. Teachers, mothers, and fathers everywhere need assistance in just getting these kids to sit still. Instead, they are flying off concrete ramps on skateboards, incessantly shooting basketballs, playing guitars and drums with manic enthusiasm, and turning everyday household items into objects d’sport. TVs, video games and writing angst-ridden poetry are the only way to get these kids to stay in one place for any decent amount of time.

One might assume that these skinny boys, when they do eat, are eating carrot sticks and turkey rolled in lettuce leaves. How else could they be so skinny? But, what’s that? They are eating sugar and junk food just like those fat kids? How can that be?

A few months ago, I saw two teen-aged skinny boys walking. One of them carried a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew, the other a big box of Cap’n Crunch cereal. I say carried, but it was more like they were cradling these products like a young child might cuddle their favorite stuffed animal. As there had been rumors circulating wildly that the Cap’n might be retiring from the high seas as well as from supermarket shelves, their procured box might have generated even additional testosterone excitement and the desperate attachment for the two.

And, just the other day, as I was doing my usual investigative journalism in the local supermarket, I came upon two young, lanky, twenty-somethings crouched down in the cereal aisle, doing some serious nutrition label and ingredient reading. I was touched. After serious deliberation, they stood up and strode confidently away–a box of Frosted Flakes in hand.

Liquid, syrupy, intense, colored sugar, seems to be the lifeblood of skinny boys as coffee is to adults. As many rational grown-ups swear that they cannot survive without their daily Joe, keeping the skinny boys from their sugar would be akin to blood-letting. How else would they thrive? With their powerful internal engines burning high and hot enough to power a jet plane, what else could better serve as jet fuel?

So, that is where skinny boys are at a serious disadvantage in this whole weight war. We direct a societal finger-wagging at fat kids and their parents, preaching of the pain and woe that awaits them should they continue their wanton eating behaviors–but no one has given these skinny kids even a glimpse of what could just as easily be in store for them–that even their propelled metabolisms could be headed for a serious nosedive.

Because, when those adolescent male hormones finally begin to mellow out, even the best of the metabolically privileged, can find themselves in trouble. Tushies sink deeper into the couch in front of the TV, remote glued to hand; the zillion hours of organized sport become a thing of the past once that diploma is received and such play at best becomes an occasional weekend past time; all the pints of beer downed in solidarity or solitude accumulate in the expanding bladder of the belly and a gut begins to cover those once nicely sculpted abs; and the stress and worry of the real world turn acquired food from active fuel into evil, disease-producing stored fat. Excessive sugar intake is detrimental to everyone, and, I have never seen Mt. Dew, do a body good. A pair of true skinny genes or a life pursuit that includes significant physical activity or hard labor are required to stave off the accumulation of pounds in this current climate.

Whereas only 12.7 percent of 15-24-year-old males are obese as defined by Body Mass Index, (BMI), 22.2 percent of 25-34-year-olds fit that classification. That could be a pretty big shock for the unsuspecting ten percent who suddenly find themselves in the holes at the other end of their belts. Their husky elementary school classmates, once the brunt of jokes, have been way better prepared for their impending corpulence and may, in fact, get the last laugh.

Essentially, we need to provide all our children with the template of the basics of a healthy lifestyle and to have a society that ensures fundamental support so they can take better care of themselves throughout their lives.

So be kind to the thinnest amongst us. They have a hard road ahead of them. Chances are, you were once a skinny boy too. The next time you see a skinny boy, hold the judgment, give them a big hug and a prayer for a healthy life–but remember to be gentle, for they are pretty fragile creatures.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

My Plate Plate

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection. by Gretchen

 

she weighs how much?

I present this as a Zen Koan. A Koan is a paradoxical question, the meaning of which cannot be understood by rational thinking. It derives from the Japanese words “ko” for public and “an” for ‘matter for thought’. This is clearly a public matter for thought in the current dialogue on childhood obesity. How do we best serve a seven-year-old girl whose high weight highly challenges notions of normal growth patterns?

pond-3046592_1280

Image by Debi Brady

This girl is not a nameless, theoretical child. Tanazia is an amazing girl who I know. She has keen inquisitive abilities, deep empathy for others, and sophisticated insight for someone so young. She is deeply connected to her family, respects her elders, and helps care for her three-year-old brother and emotionally reactive two-year-old foster-sister who she shares a room with. She excitedly tells me that when she grows up she would like to do something to help others. When her grandmother mentions the Peace Corps, she responds that there are people right here in her own community who are in need.

Tanazia—who is just one of many children who are accumulating weight in an inconceivable short amount of time–is in a relatively good situation. She now lives with a set of very caring grandparents who love her dearly. She has a stable roof overhead, and there is a modicum of food security. While some family members are overweight, her grandmother, who had gastric bypass surgery a few years ago, is generally food-savvy and keeps a relatively healthy home. Plus, she has a back yard–one large enough and safe enough to play in—a rare commodity in this part of the city.

Despite this, she has already had to armor her body with layers of body fat against many emotional wounds. She was born to a 15-year-old mother who has since had two more babies and is now pregnant again. Her father has died, and she was at an early age exposed to and a victim of domestic violence. Her grandmother has chronic health problems. And, she herself, has asthma–another player in the childhood obesity conundrum. Her mom has supervised custody and gets to see her daughter every other Saturday for just a few hours. Equipped with few ways to show her love, during their time together she usually takes Tanazia out to eat somewhere. It’s usually Chinese food or pizza with soda and candy.

This sweet child has already endured the taunts of kids. Going to school-squeezed into her charter school uniform skirt—is something she is already leery of by second grade. Though her grandma does give her breakfast at home and provides her with lunches to bring to school, controlling the intake at school is hard to do. Unfortunately, the meals provided by the school lunch programs do not meet nutritional recommendations and are a sad source of the low-quality foods and excessive fats, sugars and calories that are contributing to the problem. Turning down a free meal or two in a day would be hard for anyone to do, especially for those to whom the secure availability of food is not a given.

Declining the morsels of joy to be found in the cheap junk foods that easily find their way into all the cracks and crevices of our lives–cupcakes, bags of chips, Rice Krispie treats, fruit punch– is nearly impossible for those with easy and happy lives let alone for those who excessively use food as an easy and legal pursuit to push down painful life experiences.

And, although Tanazia has a backyard, the physical activity levels of young girls who live in vulnerable neighborhoods are amongst the most limited. Add in the cold winters in this part of the country and the possibility of expending calories diminishes even more.

Despite these challenges, this beautiful child tries hard to do what I—her nutritionist—have recommended. She drinks mainly water, she listens to her belly to see if it is really hungry—a task most adults find hard to do– and has only a small piece of cake at birthday parties and church functions.

My heart breaks at having to impose such harsh restrictions on such a young life. I know restriction breeds hunger. I know parental strategies require fortitude, patience, non-judgment, and structure. I don’t have many options nor enough solutions to fight all the forces that prey upon this innocent child and countless others like her. Current anti-obesity initiatives come far too late and offer little. Cute and catchy names of new programs belie the gravity of the situation and chew at my cynical side—the part of me who knows too many stories of real children’s lives. Societal weight stigmatization adds to the burden. I pray for this young girl to grow up healthy and whole, equipped with all she needs to be a powerful adult. Hopefully, size alone will not get in her way.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

 

so, what’s the dilemma?

While musing about my blog and trying to decide how to best begin to describe what my dilemma is, a copy of chef Mark Bittman’s, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian blocked my path. I say blocked, because at 995 pages and weighing in at about 5 pounds, it is a boulder of a book and boulders don’t simply cross paths. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian : Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food: Mark Bittman

Last week, despite a 30-plus year vegetarian lifestyle, I was seeking some inspiration– as I was to be soon hosting my neighborhood vegan week dinner. One day, just prior to closing, I ran into my local library looking for a good cookbook, and Bittman’s book insisted that I choose it. I could not argue and lugged the tome home and curled up with the most comprehensive compendium of my culinary clan that I had ever laid eyes on. One does not flip through the pages. Instead, one takes about a one-inch chunk of paper and hurls it over to see what else lies within.

An idea came flashing. Perhaps instead of my ponderous and not very amusing idea to outline the conundrums and frustrations I face in my profession, I could instead, a la Julie Powell who made her way through every recipe in Julia Child’s, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, start cooking and blogging my way through Bittman’s vegetarian bible. Page 38, the first page of actual recipes–simple green salad. Sounds easy enough, but there are then three sub-recipes for greek, lyonnaise, and endive salad. Would I have to prepare all of those too? That could really slow things down if I had to get to page 907. Should I call it Elyn and Mark? Would it take me three years or four? These seem like rightful dilemmas, do they not?

By the next morning’s dawn, reality came slapping me in the face. 6:30 am. Bleary-eyed and making my daughter’s avocado, cheese and spinach sandwich for lunch, an NPR reporter in lighthearted radio voice informs me that 84% of parents fed their kid (ages 2-11) fast food in the past week according to a new report published by the Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. I grabbed for the closest writing implements–pen and paper napkin. Here’s what I hastily got down: advertising geared to children by fast food companies has increased 34% since 2003; despite the increased availability of healthier options, 80% of diners are given french fries automatically; marketing promises have not been kept; something about apple dippers; and, many kids meals still tally up to 1400 calories.

Oh boy, another day at the office. But, I wasn’t even at the office yet. By the time I did arrive, a co-worker had forwarded me additional gory details of the report in a Wall Street Journal article. The reality is though, I don’t need to read such reports. The data presents itself to me on an almost daily basis. By 10:45, a 13-year-old girl weighing 284 lbs. and with frighteningly high insulin levels portending diabetes was sitting before me. There I was outlining the grim details to this middle schooler and her mom. They got it. They weren’t idiots. But, they were up against some heavy outside forces–including billions of advertising dollars. So am I. And that is a big part of my dilemma.

So, for now, I will assign the Bittman project to the back burner. I have other work to do, other people’s stories to tell and other battles to fight. Perhaps best for the moment, I can just gently heave over a copy of Mr. Bittman’s book to this family. It could serve as both a nutritional guide and exercise weight in one. Now there’s a marketing idea. Diet and exercise. That’s all it takes, right?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

(Update 2020: Mark Bittman has released the revised 20th Anniversary edition of How to Cook Everything. At only 960 pages, it features beautiful color photos and recipe updates mindful of sustainability concerns.)