Post 4: Childhood Obesity: Targeting the Source

Our nation’s obesity epidemic has by no means skipped over our children. Childhood obesity has become one of the biggest health concerns our county faces today. Childhood obesity not only creates a multitude of risk factors and health concerns for children, but it also affects their psychological health and well-being  Physical complications include Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders, and hormonal imbalances (1). No longer are these types of complications and risk factors use to be fairly restricted to adults. Social and emotional complications include low self-esteem and increased risk of bullying, increased anxiety and poorer social skills, and depression (1). These issues can have an enormous effect on a child’s development and can lead to lifelong social and emotional issues. As it is very clear, this epidemic is and should be an important topic in nutrition policies, but where are most of the interventions focused?

                Through policy changes, such as school lunch reform, we have used schools to target this epidemic. Many intervention programs at the community level are also targeted at schools. This is all fine and dandy and I believe can be very helpful, because establishing that knowledge of healthy lifestyles in children will hopefully give them the tools to create healthy lifestyles in their adulthood. However, who is providing food to a third grade student? Children have limited control over what is available to eat at home, which is where most food is consumed. Parents assume the bulk responsibility of what foods their children are exposed to and consume. Yes, it is very important to provide healthy food to children while they are at school, but habits are formed in the home. Having one or more obese parents significantly increases the risk of childhood obesity (2).  Parental obesity more than doubles a child’s risk of becoming an obese adult (2). Interventions should be more focused at the parent level, as parents have the most control over the lifestyles of their children.

                Addressing childhood obesity is a tricky task. With children (and adults) the focus of the intervention must be on health and not too focused on appearances. In my opinion it is just as risky to have a six year old concerned about counting calories. That creates a prime environment for developing an eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa. Parents need to create a healthy environment at home, focusing on balanced nutrition and physical activity. Parents need to expose their children to a variety of foods from an early age to reduce the prevalence of “picky eaters.” The bulk of the responsibility of a child’s eating habits is on parents, and therefore we should be addressing this epidemic at the source through family and parent based interventions.

 

(1)    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/childhood-obesity/DS00698/DSECTION=complications

(2)     http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/710209_2

Percentage of high school students who were obese* — selected U.S. states, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2011

Map of the United States

Percentage of high school students who were obese* — selected U.S. states, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2003

Map of the United States

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/obesity-youth.htm 

 

 

Post 3: School Lunch Reform- Pros and Cons

There has been a lot of debate over the pros and cons of the school lunch reform implemented in 2012. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed The USDA to update the National School Lunch Program requirements and nutrition standards in order to improve the nutrition content of school lunches and help fight the rising childhood obesity epidemic (1). The changes include setting specific calorie limits and involve gradual reduction in sodium content of meals (which must meet target level by SY 2014). It also increases the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the menu (1). This all sounds good and dandy but there has been significant outcry from some of our nation’s youth through social media outlets. Kids, especially high school athletes, are claiming to be hungry before the end of the school day. The calorie restrictions require schools to serve a minimum of 700 and maximum of 850 calories to high school students, which typically include a cup of fruit, a cup of vegetables, two ounces of a grain, two ounces of meat, and a cup of milk (2). This is appropriate serving sizes for many high school students; however, for some highly active students, this may not be enough. The problem arises when hungry high school students run to a gas station to get snacks to tide them over through their sports practice, which for many students starts right after school. The high school students I know would probably choose a candy bar or bag of chips for a quick fix before practice, which mostly defeats the purpose of serving healthier foods. There are so many good things about this program, such as increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and lowering the amount of processed foods and sodium in the meals offered. These are obviously very good changes. However, I am just not sure that a broad calorie restriction works for everyone. In my opinion, broad policy isn’t the most effective. I do believe kids should be offered appropriate serving sizes, but maybe if some students wanted a second protein serving after they had finished their meal that could be available. Talking to my younger cousins over the holidays made the issue very apparent. In discussing the new policy with my family over winter break, my 10 year old cousin Erin shared that most days before she has sat down to start eating, at least two people have asked her if they can have her meat. Some of the problem is some kids being picky eaters and there really isn’t a way to make every kid happy about the meal option every day. This policy has a lot of really great benefits; however, I believe that some necessary tweaking should be incorporated in order to meet the variety of nutritional needs of students.

(1)    http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/AboutLunch/NSLPFactSheet.pdf

(2)    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/28/nutritious-school-lunches-or-the-new-hunger-games.html