Sunday, August 9, 2009

Slow Arsenic and the Gift of Childhood Obesity

Giving the gift of obesity to your child.

Someone talking about your child's weight can be uncomfortable. Especially if you don't think your child is overweight, and the other person does.

No one wants to think of their child as being overweight. In fact most parents don't see their child as being overweight even if the scales show otherwise. Parents are unable to tell the difference between puppy fat and childhood obesity. Non-judgmental parental love is the culprit here.

But discomfort and blindness aside, we are in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic that is growing worse daily. And the only way it is going to be solved is to acknowledge the difficult truth that childhood obesity has doubled in the last 20 years. Clearly something is wrong and getting worse. Clearly a new, ongoing conversation needs to begin about the seriousness of the problem, and start grappling with solutions.

So, can we talk about your child's weight today?

Because it does matter if your child is overweight. It does matter if your child is obese. It does matter, even if they are not overweight today, because their weight status can change dramatically, rapidly during their growing years. It matters because a child that is obese, that slims down during their teens, still has 2-3 times the risk of becoming obese in their middle years.

In the end, childhood obesity matters because your child's weight, their over-weight or obesity, is your gift to them. This is more, much more than simple genetics.

• If you are an obese woman, your daughter is 10 times more likely to become obese

• If you are an obese man, your son is 6 times more likely to become obese

This is not just genetics at work. It is your gift of lifestyle – exercise and food choices. Genetics just sets-up the over-weight possibilities. The rest is what you do teach them to do with those genes.

Let's talk about the food you feed your child.

Slow arsenic: It's what's on the menu.
Would you knowingly give your child arsenic if you knew it would kill them in a week? What about a month – would you give them arsenic if it took a month to kill them?

If you knew your child would be wonderfully happy for an entire year, the most happy they could ever be, because you found a form of arsenic that would make them exceptionally happy before it killed them in a year, would the tradeoff be worth it?

Would your choice be different if you gave your child happy-inducing-arsenic that took five or ten years to kill them?

Of course not – not if you KNEW it was slow arsenic, and even if it induced happiness along the path to their demise.

Yet, unknowingly, unwittingly, unwillingly, feeding your child slow arsenic is exactly what you are doing every day. The evidence for that is your child (or most children) are getting fatter. It not only makes them fat, it rapidly and lastingly destroys their health. It may look like ordinary food, but if your child is gaining unhealthy excess weight, you need to be in the hunt for slow arsenic in their diet.

The most difficult choice any parent makes is what to feed their child.

How do you know what is really healthy? What is supposed to be in a "balanced" meal? If you eliminate the trans fats, and lower the fat grams your child eats, is that enough to keep your child from becoming overweight or obese?

What about Vitamin D, omega-3, fiber, and whole grains? If you get all these, is your job done?

Not knowing the best answers to these questions, parents do the best they can, eliminate the worst foods from a child's menu, and give-in to their child's food choice requests.

The trouble is, this strategy isn't working. In fact it is making things worse. What mothers and fathers don't know about nutrition is killing their kids. Slow arsenic to be sure, but killing them nonetheless. That sounds harsh. It can certainly feel harsh when someone else is talking about you and your child. It is, however, all too true for most kids.

Consider the rapid rise of childhood obesity this last two decades – the rate has doubled.

Adult onset diabetes – as the result of obesity – is the fastest growing childhood disease. Isn't that frightening?

One in six children are clinically obese when they start elementary school. You probably only knew one kid, maybe two kids in elementary school that were obese. Your kids will know 1 in 6. Could your child be one of them? Could your child BECOME one of them?

What can be done? What can You do?

You have to start over. You have to overcome your reliance on what is clearly not working. You have to quit listening to all the bad dietary advice served up in magazines and on TV.

You have to quit dieting, especially if you are a woman, because your daughter, (as young as 5 years old, in many cases), and increasingly your son, will take your dieting as a strong clue that they should do the same. Your dieting is your child's path, THE PATH, to eating disorders. Or excess weight gain.

That advice won't get you far, but at least it will stop increasing the damage.

For the rest, you will have to look to your own diet. Because study after study is confirming that what YOU eat, how often YOU eat, how much YOU eat, what foods YOU eat together, are all "caught" by your children. They see what you do and follow suit. Of course they have their own variations and preferences. But, the main course of their daily fare is learned by watching YOU. By the time they are 9 or 10 or 12, that learning is a lifelong habit.

Before they are old enough to be taught "nutrition," they have "caught" their lifelong eating preferences from you.

So, if you want your child to eat healthily, you are going to have to learn to eat healthy yourself.

If you are already overweight, how YOU lose weight is the model your children will learn to follow.

Are you prepared to feed your kids Weight Watcher meals for the rest of their years at your table?

PS: Would more discussion on this crucial subject of childhood obesity be of interest to you? I would like to hear from you, please.