Pediatric or childhood obesity is now an epidemic in this country. One in three children are overweight in America today, one is five are obese and children are developing “adult onset” diabetes before they turn 10. More and more, children are becoming obese but why?
The answer is of course, multifactorial; too much screen
time, lack of exercise, enormous portion sizes, and sugary, addictive man-made
food being pumped out by the food industry and advertised directly to our
children. Sugar is addictive. Chips,
sugar cereals, cookies, pastries, ice cream, snow cones, and soda can be as
addictive as any drug. So can yogurt with added sugar, chocolate milk, popcorn
with sugar hidden in the ingredients list, and deli meat that contains sugar.
Very few people overeat nature-made food like corn, broccoli or chicken, yet
it’s hard to stop eating a bag of potato chips or Skittles or a slice of
cake. We are biologically wired to crave
these uber-processed foods and we can’t stop eating once we start. That candy bar or cookie in the pantry calls
to us; our thoughts keep returning to it, until we finally give up and eat it.
It’s important to note there are sometimes extenuating
medical and psychological issues that result in severe childhood obesity too.
You never know what people are struggling with. It very well may be beyond
their control and they may be working on it harder than you can ever imagine,
so please, do not judge. Be kind.
Why must we boldly stand up to the obesogenic society that
is causing this problem? Because the implications are frightening. We are
seeing children bullied about their body size and hating their bodies in
kindergarten. We are seeing kids who
cannot fit into children’s size clothing.
We are seeing kids under the age of 10 with sleep apnea, fatty liver
disease, high cholesterol, heart disease, aching joints, and type 2 diabetes.
Allow me to illuminate what life with type 2 diabetes is
like. It means taking medication or
injections daily. It means feeling tired
and hungry all the time. Chronically high blood sugar does irreparable damage
to the blood vessels in the eyes, kidneys, hearts, and feet. Years’ worth of
high blood sugar can lead to blindness, permanent kidney failure and life
hooked to a hemodialysis machine three days a week because your kidneys can no
longer clean your blood. It means heart
attacks in your twenties and thirties and amputation of toes and feet later in
life. And that’s just diabetes.
Fatty liver disease can lead to liver failure, which results
in death, short of a liver transplant.
High cholesterol can lead to heart disease which may result in a heart
attack, stroke, or even death. Sleep apnea leads to more weight gain, stress on
the brain and heart, overall exhaustion and poor academic performance.
These are very real diseases impacting children worldwide.
Waitlists to see a pediatric endocrinologist, cardiologist, or sleep doctor can
take months. The burden on healthcare systems, and often on family finances
too, is enormous.
It’s easy to tell children what not to eat, but
if we don’t show them by example what they should eat instead, we are
contributing to the decline in their health, behavior and school performance.