Child Obesity Prevention

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Almost every country in the world is trying to get their arms around the increased incidence of overweight and obesity.

The United Kingdom hoped to do this via the development of a “National Childhood Obesity Database.”

The idea was to weigh all 5 to 11 year-olds to create the largest database of its kind in the world — with the hope that having this good-quality data would translate into effective programs for increasing physical activity and improving diet.

Well, I’m not sure how having this data would help with these goals but it looks like they aren’t going to get it anyway.

Only 48 percent of the country’s children were given permission by the their parents to participate in the study. Conservatives in the UK are calling this shambles over data collection “just one more public health failure by this government.”

What a waste:

1. There is no evidence that the goals of collecting this data (increasing physical activity and improving diet) will have any impact on childhood obesity.

2. Even if there was, it’s not at all clear how having this data would help in making these goals occur.

4. Even if having this data would help, it probably not possible to collect it.

When are public health officials going to stop wasting their time on projects that will have no impact on the problem of childhood obesity and start focusing and dealing with the real issues?

Allen Oelschlaeger
Author of The Straight Scoop About Childhood Obesity

The chairman of the International Obesity Taskforce says that the world needs a “Traffic Light” food-labeling system in order to address the increased incidence of overweight and obesity in children.

In his comments he said that Singapore’s “Trim and Fit” programme doesn’t go far enough, despite it’s success.

What’s the Trim and Fit programme?

It was introduced in Singapore in 1992 and, since then, the proportion of obese school children in Singapore has dropped from 14 percent to 9.3 percent.

Wow! With the increased incidence of overweight and obesity in children throughout the rest of the world I’d think folks would be pretty excited about these results.

The program focuses on getting kids to be more physically active and knowledgeable about nutrition. But, here is the key — the promoted benefits of the program are the following:
* Feel more confident
* Increase self-esteem
* Experience fewer medical problems
* Improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels
* Reduce anxiety and stress
* Build healthy bones and muscles
* Be more alert and study better
* Look better
* Control weight

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my point. Eating healthier and getting more physical activity have wonderful benefits but weight loss isn’t one of them. The Singapore programme promoters understand this. Therefore, kids are encouraged to exercise and eat well for reasons other than losing weight.

That’s the way it should be. By taking this approach, kids can relax about their weight and, instead, just enjoy physical activity and good food.

But, for some crazy reason, this Obesity Taskforce guy thinks more needs to be done. His recommendation? — a worldwide food-labeling system where foods with high fat and sugars would be required to have a “red” label and foods with low fat and sugars would get a “green” label (those in the middle would be required to have a “yellow” label).

So, where is the research that foods high in fat and sugars cause overweight and obesity? And, who is going to decide which foods get which label? For example, does chocolate get a red label even though it has been shown to have positive health effects?

Here’s the reality — there is absolutely no evidence that foods high in fat and sugars cause overweight and obesity. And, until there is (which will never happen because such foods are NOT the cause), we certainly shouldn’t put a labeling system in place which suggests a cause and effect relationship exists.

Allen Oelschlaeger
Author of The Straight Scoop About Childhood Obesity

The “childhood obesity epidemic” is prompting some strange practices.

One of these practices was highlighted in a recent article in the Amherst Times (Pennsylvania newspaper) titled: “In Obesity Fight, Many Fear A Note From School.”

Here is how the article began:

“Six-year-old Karlind Dunbar barely touched her dinner, but not for time-honored 6-year-old reasons. The pasta was not the wrong shape. She did not have an urgent date with her dolls. The problem was the letter Karlind discovered, tucked inside her report card, saying that she had a body mass index in the 80th percentile.

The first grader did not know what ‘index’ or ‘percentile’ meant, or that children scoring in the 5th through the 85th percentiles are considerred normal, while those scoring higher are at risk of being or already overweight.

Yet she became convinced that her teachers were chastising her for overeating.

Since the letter arrived, ‘my 2-year-old eats more than she does,’ said Georgeanna Dunbar, Karlind’s mother, who complained to the school and is trying to help her confused child. “She’s afraid she’s going to get in trouble,” Ms. Dunbar said.”

WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR KIDS???

I don’t get it. More and more states are adopting the “obesity report card” (Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas are the states I know about) even though there’s absolutely NO evidence they provide any value — and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence (like Karlind’s experience) these reports cause harm (e.g., eating disorders and social stigma, inappropriate actions based on a misinerpretation of numbers, sense of helplessness about high scores).

Here is what Marlene Schwartz, director of research and school programs at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale (in other words, no slouch), says about these programs:

“The practice of reporting body mass index scores in schools has gone from pilot program to mass weigh-in despite ‘no solid research’ on either its physical or psychological impact, and ‘no controlled randomized trial. Entire states are adopting a policy that has not been tested.”

But here’s the BIGGEST issue. If a parent gets a “obesity-alert” report card, what are they supposed to do about it?

Do they put the kid on a diet (proven to not work — in fact, studies show that diets actually cause weight gain over time), do they encourage more physical activity (also proven through numerous scientific studies to not work - see my last blog), do they send the kid to fat camp at a cost of several thousand dollars per month?

What EXACTLY do the schools expect the parents to do about their obese children?

I think the assumption is that obese kids are the result of parents who don’t know their kid is overweight and, thus, just keep pumping them full of junk food. Instead, if parents knew their kids were overweight, they’d quit feeding them so much unhealthy food and the children would lose their extra weight.

HOGWASH!

Allen Oelschlaeger
Author of The Straight Scoop About Childhood Obesity

The Univerity of Baltimore has been publishing an assessment of state’s efforts to address the “obesity crisis” for the last three years.

Their assessment evaluates the quantifiable efforts by state legislatures to pass laws related to addressing the obesity problem. Currently, eight different types of legislation have been introduced and in some states, passed. The types are as follows:
* nutrition standards—controlling the types of foods and beverages offered during school hours
* vending machine usage—prohibiting types of foods and beverages sold in school and prohibiting access to vending machines at certain times
* body mass index measured in school
* recess and physical education—state-mandated additional recess and physical education time
* obesity programs and education—programs established as part of curriculum
* obesity research—legislative support for other institutions or groups to study obesity
* obesity treatment in health insurance—expanding health insurance to cover obesity treatment where applicable
* obesity commissions—legislature-established commissions designed to study obesity

It turns out only three states, in the opinion of the assessment’s authors, are doing an “A” job — California, New York, and Tennessee.

Here’s my opinion. The state legislatures are grasping at straws.

The truth is that there’s been no research on if any of these legislative actions will have a positive (or a negative) impact. But, the states are under such pressure to do something, they are passing laws that seem to make logical sense but may cause more harm than good.

For example, states received points for passing legislation requiring school students to have their body mass index measured and reported to their parents. Is this a good idea? Personally I think it is a terrible idea and so do many others — but laws are being proposed and passed none-the-less.

Before we pass legislation willy nilly, we should understand the true impact of proposed laws so we don’t make the problem worse rather than better.

Allen Oelschlaeger
Author of The Straight Scoop About Childhood Obesity

The President and Mrs. Bush met with corporate leaders about the “childhood obesity epidemic” on February 1, 2007.

David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner, applauded the meeting but said: “That still leaves the question of what to do. Talking about it is a first step. It is a very large public health challenge, the consequences of which we have only begun to understand.”

Exactly.

I would guess that every person in the U.S. is aware of the increasing incidence of overweight and obesity among our nation’s youth. How could they not be with all the media attention on this issue?

So, awareness isn’t the issue — the issue is figuring out what to do about it. In fact, the President said, “We believe it is necessary to come up with a coherent strategy to help folks all throughout our country cope with the issue.”

This meeting — like all other public policy meeting I’ve read about — stressed the importance of two things:
* Healthful eating
* Physical fitness

The problem is that there’s no evidence “unhealthy eating” and decreased physical activity has caused the problem — or is there any evidence that healthy eating and increased physical activity will solve it.

In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to promote healthful eating and increased physical activity and the problem just keeps getting worse.

In a press release distributed in conjunction with the meeting, all the programs the federal government is implementing to fight obesity were listed — at a total cost of $600 million dollars!

Wait a minute! We’re spending $600 million dollars at the federal level and probably an equivelent amount at the state, community and school level to fight obesity, with NO POSITIVE RESULTS! Don’t you think that would prompt someone to question the value of what the money is being spent on?

But, for some reason it doesn’t.

When are we going to get serious and settle on the real cause of the “obesity epidemic” so we can work on real solutions?

Allen Oelschlaeger
Author of The Straight Scoop About Childhood Obesity