Childhood Obesity Caused By A Toxic American Diet

A toxic American diet is responsible for the epidemic of child obesity. A high-calorie, low-fiber American diet promotes hormonal imbalances that encourage children to overeat.

American kids eat too much. Over a 10-year period, the average child consumed up to 165 calories more than he or she needed each day -- the equivalent of an entire can of soda. And the fattest teens took in as many as 1,000 calories more each day than they needed -- almost as much as two Big Macs.

Many American kids are suffering from an "energy gap," in which they take in more calories than they burn. An estimated one in three American kids is either obese, a step beyond overweight or in danger of becoming obese.

Consider these facts from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

The rate of obesity among U.S.children and adolescents doubled in the past two decades. The likelihood that childhood obesity will persist into adulthood is 20 percent at age 4. It swells to 80 percent if those pudgy cheeks endure through adolescence.

Overweight children face increased risk for asthma, low self-esteem, type 2 (adult onset) diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

In a comprehensive review of obesity research published in the August 2006 edition of the journal Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology & Metabolism, Robert Lustig, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics at UCSF Children's Hospital, says that food manufacturing practices have created a "toxic environment" that dooms children to being overweight.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of children who are overweight in the United States has doubled during the past two decades. Currently one child in five is overweight. The increase is true for children and adolescents of all age groups and races and for boys and girls.

Diseases that once were only seen in adults, like type 2 diabetes, now are occurring in increasing numbers in children. Overweight children tend to become overweight adults, which also puts them at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Children who are obese also are socially ostracized and teased, putting them at risk for depression and other psychiatric conditions.

Our toxic Western diet has become highly insulinogenic, as demonstrated by its increased energy density, high-fat content, high glycemic index, increased fructose composition (high fructose corn syrup), decreased fiber, and decreased dairy content.

Fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.

It has long been known that the hormone insulin acts on the brain to encourage eating through two separate mechanisms.

First, it blocks the signals that travel from the body's fat stores to the brain by suppressing the effectiveness of the hormone leptin, resulting in increased food intake and decreased activity.

Second, insulin promotes the signal that seeks the reward of eating carried by the chemical dopamine, which makes a person want to eat to get the pleasurable dopamine "rush."

Calorie intake and expenditure normally are regulated by leptin. When leptin is functioning properly it increases physical activity, decreases appetite, and increases feelings of well-being.

Conversely, when leptin is suppressed, feelings of well-being and activity decrease and appetite increases -- a state called "leptin resistance."

Changes in food processing during the past 30 years, particularly the addition of sugar to a wide variety of foods that once never included sugar and the removal of fiber, both of which promote insulin production, have created an environment in which our foods are essentially addictive, he adds.

Children cannot be blamed or expected to take personal responsibility for their dietary behavior in an environment when the foods they are offered -- especially cheaply prepared "fast foods" that are full of sugar and devoid of fiber -- are toxic.

The concept of personal responsibility is not tenable in children. No child chooses to be obese. Furthermore, young children are not responsible for food choices at home or at school, and it can hardly be said that preschool children, in whom obesity is rampant, are in a position to accept personal responsibility.

If we don't fix this, our children will continue to lose. Children � and adults � should eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full, even if food remains on the plate.

Here are some ways you can help your child avoid a weight problem:

  • Never put your child on a low-calorie deprivation diet. You can lower dietary fat, but maintain calories by increasing the consumption of fruit, vegetables, cereals, and breads.

  • Children who eat full meals do better nutritionally than children who merely snack. Your child should come to the table hungry, learn how to control hunger, and wait for his meal to be served.

  • Remove snack temptations around the house.

  • Don't use desserts and sweets as rewards.

  • Have family meals, and set a good example by eating a wide variety of foods.

  • Make mealtime pleasant. Don't use this time for criticizing and scolding.

Parents in particular need to be aware as their children grow that they not consume excessive calories from large portions and sugar-sweetened beverages, and that they remain physically active. Children and adolescents need to be provided with physical-education classes in their schools and encouraged to be more active after school.

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