Relationship Between the American Diet and Childhood Obesity

3659 words (15 pages) Essay in Nutrition

08/02/20 Nutrition Reference this

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A Healthy Start

                                                              Abstract.

This paper explores the link between the typical American diet and childhood obesity. A diet consisting of meat, dairy and processed food with lack of exercise is the leading cause of childhood obesity. Adopting a more whole food plant-based diet can reverse and heal this epidemic. A lifestyle that includes physical exercise is also important to maintain a healthy body weight in children. Childhood obesity, untreated, continues into adulthood. The National League of Cities notes the cost of treating obesity and other related conditions amounts to $14 billion. These conditions include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Overall function and well-being of children who develop these illnesses due to obesity becomes a challenge. For instance, NAFLD if untreated can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer; this can end up fatal. Studies also show that the onset of cardiovascular disease starts in childhood in obese cases. The heart study conducted in Bogalusa Louisiana proved that. Plants are rich in minerals and vital nutrients also found in meat and dairy therefore consuming less animal products will not lead to any deficiency. Primary care givers are the important part in reinforcing healthier diets and lifestyle. Eating healthy can be expensive but there are ways to make it affordable. Shopping at discounted grocery stores like Aldi. Because cooking can be time consuming there are alternatives like using slow cookers, cooking meals for an entire week and freezing. There is also information on practical ways to treat obesity from Pediatric Obesity Association, walking, swimming and getting outdoors while limiting screen time.

A Healthy Start

“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

 If we took this quotation from Hippocrates literally what would our state of health be like today? Is the food we are consuming hurting us instead of healing us? How much do we know about what’s safe to eat and feed our children? Primary caregivers we are the most important individuals in treating and preventing childhood obesity. This responsibility calls for teaching and showing children healthy living lifestyles and eating habits from their early years of life. Getting them started right sets them up for an enjoyable long-life void of preventable illnesses and conditions. The American diet consisting of meat, dairy and processed foods is the leading cause of childhood obesity but a plant-based whole food diet can prevent and reverse it.

Childhood obesity has become a serious health problem and a big challenge in America. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “Data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States have obesity. Based on this data, its alarming to see how many children are at risk of this epidemic, and the numbers are still growing. Factors contributing to childhood obesity vary from lifestyle to food choices and habits.  For instance, consuming excess processed carbs, sweetened drinks and absence of exercise leads to childhood obesity. Low income populations are highly affected because of lack of resources, information and access to healthier food choices.

Being overweight can present both health and economic challenges. Childhood obesity if ignored will affect the health of children in several ways. High cholesterol and blood pressure are two examples of complications linked to being overweight. These put much strain on the heart which can then lead to high risks for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Because of excess body fat children can also develop fatty liver disease. “ Known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, it primarily occurs in overweight kids and is now the most common liver condition affecting children in the U.S.” (Esposito May 26, 2017).  The liver is a very vital organ for a long healthy life. Keeping it healthy is very important. “The risk for NAFLD is directly proportional to the body mass index (BMI), with obese children being most at risk for NAFLD” (Hartman and Schnabl, 2018). If not treated NAFLD can lead to more serious diseases including cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease. There are fewer options for treating end-stage liver disease. Doctors may recommend a transplant as a last option to treating it. Organ rejection after surgery especially in obese children with other health conditions is likely. This therefore means medication and continuous tests to monitor the health of the transplant for the rest of their life. That can be debilitating to a child’s body and can affect their normal growth and development. Feeding them healthy diets and keeping a healthy weight in children eliminates chances of ever having liver disease associated with obesity.

Childhood obesity, if not addressed, continues to adulthood making it difficult to reverse.  On the Emmy nominated HBO series, Weight of the Nation (2012) reported findings from a heart study of obese children conducted in Bogalusa Louisiana. This shocking discovery was evidence that the onset of cardiovascular disease starts in childhood and may not manifest until adulthood. Most of these children in the study had developed high blood pressure when they became adults. Other findings in autopsy study showed that the children had lesions in their aorta and coronary vessels. This is the hardening of heart vessels causing blockage can result to a heart attack as observed in the study. Because of this study coronary events and other heart related diseases are preventable from a very young age.  

Known to be associated with old age these chronic illnesses, now linked to childhood obesity, can shorten the life of children. An article in New York Times shared some shocking truths based on statistics “Obesity is such that this generation of children could be the first basically in the history of the United States to live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents,” said Dr. David S. Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital Boston, and one of the authors of the report”( Belluck, 2005). No parent wants to be burying their children, it should be the other way around. Here in America alone, according to Belluck, a child’s life span is shortened by 5years if they are obese. Such alarming numbers must cause everyone to help stop this from getting worse.

 Obese children tend to be teased or bullied at school. This can unfortunately affect their psychological wellness compared to normal weight kids. They are also subject to body shaming which can cause them to loathe and hurt themselves. Results from research showed that obese children are prone to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and eating disorders (Psychological Consequences of Childhood Obesity US National Library of Medicine ,2016). Healthy weight in children will stop the onset of these behavioral problems linked to obesity. Training them on healthy eating habits gets them on a good start.

 It’s important for children to experience the carelessness of growing up, to be able to run, roll, jump and live active lives. Obese children are limited in the amount of child play activity they can do. Because they are still developing, the extra weight can strain their skeleton therefore damaging their joints and muscles. “Obesity is associated with functional limitations in muscle performance and increased likelihood of developing a functional disability such as mobility, strength, postural and dynamic balance limitations.” (Tomlin, Erskine, Morse, et al  2015). This will eliminate any chance of active child play because of joint pain and weak muscles.

 We all want the best for our kids, good health, basic needs and a happy fulfilled life. Beside poor diet many children are not staying active in sports and outdoor activity. Encouraged by the distraction of their electronic devices like phones, iPads and tablets they find no time to be active instead spend more time gaming, on social media, or browsing the internet. The Journal of Pediatrics states that screen time is a major cause in the rising number of obese children (Jean-Philippe Chaput,PhD. 2017). This in part is caused by mindless eating while spending long hours of screen time. Most content for children is full of food advertisements that provide unhealthy options hence influencing how they eat.  These ads don’t care about children’s health, but the profits gained from selling their food products.

 With the rising healthcare prices prevention of disease is better than cure. The economic burden of treating all the conditions associated with obesity is crippling the healthcare system. It is more effective to address and deal with the causes of obesity than managing it and the related conditions. Studies show that the cost of treating childhood obesity and related illnesses are enormous. “Childhood obesity alone is responsible for $14 billion in direct medical costs.  Obesity-related medical costs in general are expected to rise significantly, especially because today’s obese children are likely to become tomorrow’s obese adults” (National League of Cities, 2012). Treating obesity in adulthood gets harder and expensive too. If as parents, we can get children started on the right diet and lifestyle we will be giving them a healthier longer life.

The health our of children is at risk and change is inevitable. Understanding the benefits of plant-based nutrition will lead primary caregivers into making better food choices. Plants contain all the nutrients children need to grow healthy and maintain a good weight. Meat and dairy are not the only source of protein and calcium especially for growing children. Plants have as much if not safer nutritional value. Most cultures around the world consume mostly plant-based foods and yet haven’t died off for lack of animal products. There is a lot of intentional push, especially by the meat and dairy industry, to consume animal protein. This is through their ads and campaigns on their products. There is a link between overconsumption of animal products for protein and weight gain Garth Davis, MD “Rethink Food “(2014).

Studies in nutritional science are finding the link between food choices and disease. In Disease Proof Your Child, (2005) Joel Fuhrman, M.D shares findings of how a plant-based diet can protect children from developing diabetes and heart disease. While addressing the obese epidemic he shares ways to get a child on a healthy start with whole food plant-based eating. The earlier children get to taste food at its most natural the higher chances they’ll eat it and not be picky. Making healthy food options available for children always is very important. Reducing the number of unhealthy snacks and food accessible to children is a good way to start.

Most people will say that they have eaten meat for generations and obesity runs in their family. While that could be true it is stoppable. Scientific studies have shown this to be true. In the book, How Not to Die, is the story of a patient who as an obese child developed type 2 diabetes. She adopted a plant-based diet with exercise and became diabetes free after two decades of sickness (Greger, 2015, p.100). One might be predisposed to certain traits but with lifestyle change can reduce the chances of falling victim to the obvious. Feeding children from the start a healthy diet gives them a strong immunity and the best quality of life. Failing to do so puts a child at a higher risk if they are already predisposed to obesity.

Healthy eating is expensive but there are ways to find affordable and healthy foods. Shopping at discount stores like Aldi is a great example. They have fresh produce and locations everywhere in the city and county. Comparing prices when buying different foods can also help to shop wisely and healthier. Consider the price of beef for example “Ground beef at mid-level-priced grocery stores costs about $4.59 per pound, tilapia costs $5.99 per pound and pork chops cost $3.99 per pound — all marked up between 30 and 40 cents per pound since last year, Hopkins said.” (New York Post article ,2014). In contrast one-pound dried pinto beans costs around $1.79 and yields 12 1/2 servings when cooked, ( The bean Institute, 2018), very affordable compared to meat. This also is an excellence source protein, iron, magnesium and fiber. Beans have a longer shelf life unlike meat and dairy. Rather than soda pop which cost between $5.98-$18.98 at Walmart one can buy fresh fruits like oranges, grapes and bananas. These cost less and have more nutritional value.  Also monitoring portions and avoiding mindless eating vital training for children.

The compromise for parents is to still allow their children enjoy some of the foods they like while introducing healthier choices. Changing a diet or a lifestyle can be hard but not impossible. A gradual approach will yield successful results. The most important thing is understanding that these changes must be consistence for one to start noticing the weight loss in obese children. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle must be the end goal. Eating more home cooked food instead of fast food is a good habit to get into as well. Meat can be available for special times like when eating out and holidays. Candy and sweetened drinks can be used sparingly as earned treats to motivate children to eat healthy. Smoothies therefore are a better alternative for sugar cravings when made with fresh fruits and berries. Discounted grocery stores like Aldi sell bananas and frozen fruits at very low prices which are the main ingredients in smoothies. Parents and children can make this fun and make cooking a family activity.

It is necessary for parents and caregivers to know the weight of their children during annual wellness doctor visits. Pediatricians use Body Mass Index (BMI) as a screening tool to identify possible weight problems (Renee 2018). This information can ensure early detection and treatment for childhood obesity. Growth rates vary from child to child, as Renee points out, therefore pediatricians use standard growth charts to establish normal and abnormal growth while considering the height, age and sex of the child. Parents and guardians are the most influential in children’s diet and lifestyle and it’s important for them to stay informed. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle together as a family helps motivate both parents and children; even communities stay healthy.

NutritionFacts.org is an online resource for everything plant-based whole food diet. There are recipes, videos and support for a healthier lifestyle. It was founded by Dr Michael Greger author and renown plant-based enthusiastic. They share information about nutrition facts of different plant foods. “Legumes comprise all the different kinds of beans, including soybeans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils. While eating a bowl of pea soup or dipping carrots into hummus may not seem like eating beans, it is. We should all try to get three servings a day.” (Nutritionalfacts.org).  Provided on this website also is the right portion sizes. In addition to that the pediatric obesity association has great resources for primary care givers to provide information and practical ways to treat obesity. “Early intervention in feeding patterns and practices is emphasized coupled with an active lifestyle in their “randomized controlled trial”. Encouraging more outdoor activities like walking, playing kickball, taking kids to the park, swimming while limiting screen time.” This is crucial because the numbers are astonishing. “Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. The new warning from the AHA recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.” (Welch, 2018).

Cooking can be time consuming involving a lot of preparations and cooking time. There are meals that are quick and easy to make; some that even take half an hour. It’s very convenient nowadays to find chopped vegetables harvested at their peak, therefore nutritious, at the grocery store. These can be steamed for less than 10minutes in the microwave, seasoned, and ready to eat. For the busy parents making crockpot meals can be less time-consuming. Another alternative is cooking meals in bulk then freezing. Reading food labels and understanding what they mean verses what they are saying for advertising purposes. For instance, a breakfast cereal may have “whole wheat, healthy grain” on their label but doesn’t mention if its 100%. This cereal could have ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, over processed sugar in all the sweetened drinks. Understanding this language of advertising will help in knowing what food choices are healthy to buy.

In conclusion food can hurt or heal us. It is clearly shown by the rising numbers of childhood obesity here in America. This is an urgent health crisis that requires everyone’s involvement. To ensure healthy meals for children both at home and school. Educating primary caregivers on nutrition from infancy will help get children started on eating healthy while adopting healthier lifestyles as families. The American diet will become for these children a healing diet reducing the challenges and problems of childhood obesity. This will see children grow into healthy and productive citizens in the workplace. Changing our lifestyles and food choices is where we begin, A healthy start. 

References

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  • Centers for Disease Control and prevention, division of Population health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2018) Childhood Obesity Facts. from   https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm
  • Cherney K. and Nall R. (May 21,2018). The Facts About Liver Transplant. Healthline Newsletter. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/liver-transplant-survival
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  • Esposito, L (staff writer). (2017) U.S News & World Report. Fatty Liver Disease Is a Growing Problem for U.S. Kids. Liver conditions once limited to adult alcoholic are rising with child obesity. Retrieved from  https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-05-26/fatty-liver-disease-is-a-growing-problem-for-us-kids
  • Fuhrman,J. MD. (2005) Disease Proof Your Child: how to feed kids right. St. Martin’s Press, New York.
  • Garth Davis,MD .The Connection Between Animal Protein and Obesity. In Shushana C. and Amy-Lee G (Authors), Rethink Food (2014). (p 314-315)
  • Greger, M, MD & Stone G (2015) How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.Flatiron books NewYork.
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  • Hippocrates (460BC) “Let thy food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food”. Retrieved from https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/let-food-be-thy-medicine-and-medicine-be-thy-food-the-fetishism-of-medicinal-foods/
  • Jean-Philippe Chaput,PhD. (2017). Screen Time Associated with Adolescent and Obesity Risk Factors. The Journal of Pediatrics,Vol 186, 209-212
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  • National League of Cities (NLC) in partnership with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://www.healthycommunitieshealthyfuture.org/learn-the-    facts/economic-costs-of-obesity.
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  • The bean Institute. Cost: If You Want to Save Money Cook with Dry Beans. Retrieved from http://beaninstitute.com/dry-vs-canned-beans-which-is-better/
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