March 18, 2010

Growing Pains

I heard a news story the other day about obesity and diabetes that was pretty scary. So I started digging around the internetwebosphere to find more information. Here's what I found.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention undertakes a regular study to pulse-check the health habits of adults in the US. The most recent results pertaining to obesity and the contributing factors to obesity are pretty startling.

- One in five adults smokes.
- 61% of adults report that they're current drinkers. In fact 75% of educated adults - those with bachelor's degrees and higher - indicate they drink.
- Two-thirds of adults are overweight.
- 12% of children between 2-5 are obese.
- The population of children between 6 and 11 finds a 17% obesity rate.
- 17.6% of kids between 7 and 19 are considered obese.
- 80% of kids who were overweight between the ages of 10-15 were obese at age 25.

Over the last three decades the total number of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in the United States alone tripled to nearly 1.5 million. Of the diagnosed individuals, 83.5% were overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetes occurs rarely in children, however the emerging cases over the last decade are staggering. Most studies attribute this outbreak to two primary factors - exercise (or lack thereof) and diet.

Americans consume about 12 teaspoons of high fructose corn syrup per day; kids and teenagers generally exceed that average by 80%. In fact, of school-age kids, nearly one-third of their caloric intake comes from sugar (while the national average is around 10%).

The average American kid spends three hours a day in front of the TV, and nearly five and a half in front of anything with a screen. And while we can all have arguments over what constitutes excessive TV watching, the simple fact is that these things - entertainment and exercise - don't have to be mutually exclusive. Most recommendations simply call for one to two hours of physical activity a day. Yet that hour or two is being traded for sedentary activities.

The Federal government shells out somewhere around $100 billion per year to pay for or offset obesity-related medical expenses. The individual states add anywhere from $85 million to $7.5 billion to support individuals with obesity-related healthcare expenses or provide related care. For those who are concerned about the government getting involved in health care, I have news for you - they already are. And we're forcing them to.

I threw out a lot of information, a lot of facts. I don't really have any answers nor do I have an argument. I can't complain nor can I judge. But what I want to know is this - what can be done to curb the problem? Or are we just in a downward spiral of cheap food and sedentary lifestyles?

Posted by Chris at March 18, 2010 7:14 AM

It's funny that you should write about this. I have been watching the German system for 22 years. When I first lived there, they did not have "fast food" or pre-made meals. (frozen TV dinner types). In fact I learned to actually cook from scratch because there was no "Hamburger Helper" over there. Over the last 22 years they have brought in all of these products and their grocery stores are just as large as ours and you know what has happened? The same thing that has happened to our kids. Chubbier, non-athletic kids. Type II Diabetes is up and all the other inherent health problems.
So much of it is what we eat, and how it is cooked. Do we need the Government telling us what we can and can't eat? I don't think so. However, remember back in school when they had "Home Economics"? Well jeeze, shouldn't kids learn about good foods, how to cook and how to feed their bodies healthfully?
Start there and it may have a positive domino effect.

Posted by: Maribeth at March 18, 2010 8:23 AM

Wow! Those are some startling facts! Although I'm Canadian,we have a lot of the same issues here. I think,like most things, we all need to start with ourselves. We can lecture others as much as we want, but we need to lead by example. Get active, eat food, mostly plants, but don't eat too much. I've started training for a 1/2 marathon and it's given me a lot more energy to play with my kids. We're all being more active and eating better. I hope that the example we'er setting for our neighbours will influence them etc.

Posted by: Janice @ Mom on the Run at March 18, 2010 8:49 AM

Unlike you, I feel fine both complaining AND judging.

The folks where I work that have the largest pool of grant money work on diabetes research. It is, as they say, the grant subject that keeps on giving. They do genetics research and part of what they're finding is that how a person lives can end up altering the person's genome. Nothing groundbreaking, necessarily, except that in the case of sedentary lifestyles, the body begins to adapt the metabolic pattern and can 're-program' the person's genome to support the given lifestyle. It doesn't happen right away, but it can easily happen within a couple generations, which is how the U.S. has trended since the introduction of TV and processed foods. Diabetes can be either an acquired disease via lifestyle choices or the result of a genetic mutation, but once one happens, the other often follows, and once a genetic mutation slips into the genome of reproductive individuals, it tends to be in the species for the long-haul.

In other words, people are acting like lemmings, while Darwin smiles from the grave. I work on autoimmune diseases that generally afflict people through no fault of their own. It's how I roll.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at March 18, 2010 9:14 AM

As far as the children go, forget the term "play date" and just let your kids go out and "play" And put some apples in a fruit bowl on the kitchen table.

And -- offer healthy meals which you all eat. And if food portions are a problem, fix their plates.

But that's just what I would (and did) do.

Posted by: cassie-b at March 18, 2010 9:30 AM

I could go on and on about this topic, but I won't. Instead, I'll just direct you to Jamie Oliver's TED prize wish talk:

Posted by: Elizabeth at March 18, 2010 9:49 AM

Well, as your children get older, you'll want to start watching the school lunch thing. Here's a start. He's in DC and he writes about food issues. He is a great writer and has done a lot of research on the topic.

Posted by: k8 at March 18, 2010 9:57 AM

We are only in a downward spiral of cheap food and sedentary lifestyles if we choose to be. Kids learn by watching what their parents do.

As you said...the population as a whole is forcing the government to need to be involved, but that's only because of choices we make. It's easy to eat crap food and sit on our butts...but there are consequences. If we don't like the consequences, we choose to do something else.

Posted by: Teresa at March 18, 2010 10:50 AM

The great thing about living in a democracy is that if watch long enough, you see big changes.

The bottom line is that high fructose corn syrup short circuits the human body's response to being full, so we can eat the stuff by the bag full without even noticing. So the solution? Legislate out high fructose corn syrup. You can already see the ground swell forming; in the last several decades we've gone from a relatively healthy diet nation, to a fast food nation, to a nation that is slowly becoming shocked by what is actually going into our food.

And the people most shocked are pretty much the same people who you could call active citizens; they vote, they talk ( or blog ), they think deep thoughts and they know how the levers and buttons work in our government. 10 years ago it was thought impossible to ban smoking, now good luck finding anywhere to smoke in Ohio and many other states. The same could hold true here.

In the meantime, educate your kids and yourself, and make it a point to watch what you eat and how much you exercise. But until the root cause is fixed ( food that by default will not fill you up combined with a sedentary lifestyle ) we will continue to have to supplement health care.

Posted by: metawizard at March 18, 2010 11:04 AM

As the mother of daughters, I find that it's a fine line for me as far as making health a priority, but not letting it get "out of hand" to give my daughters issues about food. I've done the eating disorder thing and still have tremendous issues with body dysmorphic disorder (a fancy way of saying I tend to think I look fat when there's no way in hell that I am)...

SO, i want to focus on making healthy food choices MOST OF THE TIME. And I want to focus on making being active a priority. But it's okay to curl up with a book all day one day if you don't feel up to playing outside. And it's okay if there is a brownie sundae with your name on it... occasionally.

It's hard - when we were kids, our parents could send us out the door in the morning and tell us to come home when it starts getting dark - nowadays, that may or may not be a safe thing in some areas.

I guess even I have room for improvement, but I do what I can about the things I can -- the easiest being starting by making more food from scratch and relying less on convenience foods. Even making my own taco seasoning versus buying a store bought sodium laden packet, for example, makes a difference.

Also, the kids are involved in activities outside the home that are not weather dependent (currently, gymnastics). Gives them a chance to be active in a diff setting which they love.

Posted by: Sarah at March 18, 2010 11:12 AM

Those are depressing statistics.

I've cut out a good 95% percent of the HFCS from my diet (it's all but impossible to completely avoid it!) and it's amazing how much better I feel overall, just by changing that one thing.

I'm trying really hard to eat better foods at home, but I'm not much of a cook and I struggle with it sometimes.

Posted by: Katie at March 18, 2010 11:33 AM

Big issue in my house. Hubby is 6'1 and has fought with his weight his whole life. Our son has never been active from maybe, 5-6 years of age. His idea of activity is shooting hoops or kicking around a soccer ball for 10-15 minutes. He is very sedentary. He would rather read.

I feel he is going to have to learn on his own. In the meantime, I make him run on the treadmill a few times a week and I push him on making better choices when we eat out. I'm buying more fruit and looking for ways to eat better as a family.

Personally, I feel it is all these processed foods that most of us eat and mostly laziness. When I was a kid, I was outdoors playing most of the time.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at March 18, 2010 11:48 AM

Hey Chris, I was out of town for almost a week with almost zero internet connection.... (It was hell)
Anyway... I keep seeing a commercial online that says the children of today are the first generation that aren't expected to outlive their parents. That's horrible! I think alot of the fried foods are a huge contributing factor to obesity. It seems like almost every restaurant we go to has an entire appetizer list of deep fried everything. YUCK!

Posted by: Rose Winters at March 18, 2010 12:02 PM

We do notice the high fructose corn syrup when we vacation in the USA. It's hard to avoid it, and we have taken to bringing our OWN soda and snacks so we can cut down on how much we're eating.

Also the portions in the USA compared to Canada are HUGE. I'm not sure what can be done about it, except if people's attitudes change. We always get weird reactions when we order and ask for veggies instead of fries, or share a meal, or just get toast for breakfast. We never eat out the rest of the year, only on vacation. And we find it increasingly hard to get a healthy meal that way.

Posted by: Scatteredmom at March 18, 2010 12:34 PM

Preventative healthcare. Education. School reform. All good things.

But how about GROCERY STORE reform? If every grocery store had the products that Whole Foods carries, along with their knowledgeable staff, it would make changing people's diets SOOOOO much easier!

Thanks to Whole Foods, I gave up wheat and sugar/HFCS a week and a half ago. I've hardly missed it at ALL because there are so many great alternatives. And the best part is, I never feel hungry and never crave anything sugary like I did when I ate a lot of sugar and breads. Bonus: I've lost 2 pounds while eating my fill and not increasing my exercise.

In 2 weeks I'm moving to Alaska. There is no Whole Foods in Alaska. I'm already in mourning.

Posted by: Amy at March 18, 2010 2:38 PM

I rememeber you saying you watched Wall-E a bunch recently. didn't that movie scare the %&$#()#$out of you!! I do not want our world to end up that way!!

Posted by: Niki at March 18, 2010 2:43 PM

But if we ate healthy food, then the farmers who make the HFCS would be out of business. Heaven forbid. And so would all of the DOCTORS and DRUG COMPANIES. They don't want us to eat healthy.

If eating healthy were a priority in the country, then organic food would be cheaper, not more expensive, and all of the crap would be more costly.

Posted by: Suzy Voices at March 18, 2010 3:22 PM

Here's an opinion- Good or Bad.

I blame it ultimately on the parents. If they don't take an active role or interest in their childs life then the children are left to eat whatever and whenever. They are allowed to sit on their butts in the house and play video games.

It is no doubt a tough freakin job being a parent and even harder if you take an active interest in their well being.

My kid is/has not ever been over weight, and that is due to ME signing him up for all kinds of sports. It is because I buy mostly good healthy things to eat at our house. Its because when we go out to eat I set a good example on what kind of food I order.

Do I enjoy doing this every day? No, but I want the best for my kid.

Posted by: soccermom at March 18, 2010 4:22 PM

Check out Dr. Mercola has many articles on health related items, HFCS being one of them. It utterly amazed and shocked me how the body metabolizes HFCS.

Posted by: bacioni at March 18, 2010 4:42 PM

The Government approved the use of High Fructose for all foods in the 70s when the agriculture laws changed, the FDA could care less what manufactures put in the food as long as a fat check is involved and a food discussion alone would take hours and most likely shock people, none the less the government is indirectly responsible for our crappy diets already. For over 40 years the quality of our food products have decreased because of the laws created, high fructose is in everything unless you buy kosher or organic, people should be more responsible and conscience about what they consume, I for one do not need a baby sitter telling me what or how to eat, I can read a package and use common sense.

Posted by: Shannon at March 18, 2010 7:43 PM

I wish I knew the right answer. How do you shift culture? I'd argue that you use the media since that's the only thing shifting opinion these days.

I can tell you what I can do. Live a healthy life, pass it on to my kids, and show everyone what it takes and how much fun it is.

Posted by: Brad at March 18, 2010 9:19 PM

You know this one hits home for me, since they found my diabetes at 32, and while I am definitely in the overweight category, the rest of it is yucky genes for me. Boo.

Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at March 19, 2010 1:52 AM

This discussion always makes me feel guilty. I wish I made better choices, I *know* the right things to do, it's just so hard to overcome a lifetime of bad habits. I have to remember not to beat myself up overmuch about the past, and take each day one good choice at a time! I have to remember too, to applaud myself for the good choices - like, instead of drinking pop (I haven't, other than maybe a diet coke once every few months?) I drink water. I love water - with ice, and a squeeze of lemon or lime - is a thousand times more refreshing and delicious :) So I've got to learn to substitute more habits like that.
As to health care spending, I think a lot more needs to be focused towards education and preventative care, as well as encouraging activity. And I also think that some of the "fat hate" that goes on needs to stop. Absolutely, it can be reflective of a person making bad choices, but we all have things we struggle with - some are just more visible than others. But for one thing, slightly overweight does not mean unhealthy (if you eat well and are active) and skinny does not equal healthy, either - it's not quite that simple. And no matter what, a person's value as a human being is not tied to their looks or their waist measurement.
(aaand that was an inarticulate rant. Sorry 'bout that!)

Posted by: Heather at March 19, 2010 2:58 AM

(Also, I'm going to be watching Jamie Oliver's new show on abc - it looks really interesting, and at the same time, some of it scares me and makes me realize that at least Canada is not QUITE as bad as some parts of the US!)

Posted by: Heather at March 19, 2010 3:01 AM

I have been reading some stuff over at the soft landing, that is ALARMING.

I just did my very first grocery shop where I did not buy ONE thing with HFCS in it. We are moving towards eating fresh, cutting out all processed crap, limiting meat consumption, buying organic and local whenever possible, and I am even moving in a direction of educating myself about what is in everything else we buy. Shampoos, conditioners, soaps, deodorants, all laden with hazardous chemicals.

I think I am becoming a hippie. LOL
And I am A-OK with that. I would love to someday live as naturally as possible, sustainable living and all that. Just as long as I can still have my camera, my phone and my computer. LMAO! Those I cannot give up!

The key is education. People need to educate themselves. Unfortunately, too many people simply do not care.

Posted by: Jen at March 19, 2010 12:18 PM

We are in a downward spiral. The changes I think we need will never happen. I think HFCS should be outlawed. But it is not a change most Americans would like to see. We are accustomed to super cheap, convenient foods. Our food supply should be of higher quality, and it should cost more. We would eat less because we couldn't afford to eat entire bags of potato chips and 6 cans of soda per day.

Also, I believe that they should tax the SHIT out of gasoline. I think it should cost $6 per gallon. People would drive less. People would live nearer cities, and use public transportation. We would (with a lot of time) stop suburban sprawl. People would shop locally, and walk to the stores they use. "Mom and Pop" shops would stand a chance. Shipping of freight would cost so much that retail stores would carry locally grown food and locally produced goods. Small farmers and manufacturers would stand a chance.

I don't think that anyone will ever convince people that they should walk to the store because it's good for them. Or that they should take a bus simply to reduce their carbon footprint. You have to hit 'em where it hurts. Money.

Huh. I never thought of it before, but rather than outlawing HFCS, they should just tax the shit out of it, too. It's not just soda and candy. It's bread. Salad dressing. Many foods we buy. What if bread with HFCS cost twice what fresh bakery bread cost? If bread currently costs $2/loaf for processed, HFCS filled standard white/wheat bread, and $4 for a fresh loaf of bread baked in your grocery store or local bakery, what if the HFCS bread cost $6? No one would buy it! Our grocery bills would go up and our appetites would go down.

And THAT'S my idea for a solution.

Posted by: Sabrina at March 20, 2010 7:04 AM

First of all, remember the cliche about lies, damned lies, and statistics. You were very cool about bothering to get some research in, but research on huge aggregates of people doesn't necessarily help people make individual changes. I'm a university-educated person who drinks -- about two beers a week. So if someone doing a survey says "Do you drink?" I'll say "yes", but even a teetotaler can't tell me I'm an alkie for it (although of course some would try).

I find it interesting that a lot of the above comments mention grocery store reform. I hope the supermarkets are listening. A few years ago I went to a dietician who asked me why, since I claimed to like fruit and veg so much, I never seemed to eat it. At my next grocery shop it became obvious -- my supermarket's produce section was horrible. The solution was to shop somewhere else (luckily I had the choice) so there was real food available to buy.

Posted by: Kat at March 20, 2010 10:12 AM

I'm going to attempt to through a lot of things back at you - hopefully in some sort of sensible order.

First I'm going to state the obvious - As parents we need to step up and set an example for our kids. It is too easy to stop at McDonalds for a Happy Meal (which in my opinion is almost too much food for an adult!!) We need to start making home cooked meals. We need to teach our children to cook these home made meals, and we need to make better choices at the grocery store.

A couple of years ago we cut out to HUGE snack items in our house. Fruit Snacks (one of the WORST things for your kid) and Juice boxes. I'll make Kool-Aid on occasion or if we get a sitter for a night, but its such a treat when they get it that they really appreciate it. My oldest prefers Carrots to candy - my youngest would rather put peanut butter on her crackers. My Middle one.. well.. Yeah she has a sweet tooth.. but still she'll eat an apple or a piece of sweet fruit if she can't convince us that a piece of candy truely is a healthy snack.

Now I'm not saying that we're food Nazi's in this house. We almost always have a jar of candy, or a pan of brownies, or a bucket of ice cream in the house. But they are for special occasions.

As far as excercise/TV Time/video games ..
We have our days where we all veg out in front of the TV. Who doesn't - really? We try to keep our activity levels up. As a family we attend a Martial Arts class twice a week. We take the dog for walks across town - sometimes a few times a day. If the weather is nice we're always outside.

The girls get their video gaming out of their systems on Saturday mornings before my husband and I get up for the day. They like to play - but this arrangement has worked out well.. Since none of them have a TV in their rooms or in any play room - they have no choice but to use the TV in the family room. Which gets taken over by me once I'm up for the day (and I usually just turn it off and turn on the radio.. Thank goodness for DVR!)

They do have a computer that is loaded up with their games, but it doesn't get much use anymore since it doesn't have a connection to the Internet - and since Webkinz is their thing right now we use that as their reward for doing their chores, etc ..

So yeah - we're not exteremly fit people, but we make a point to have a decent amount of activity in our daily lives. We don't eat like health nuts, but we try to make healthy decisions around the house. What we are doing now will hopefully help our kids make good healthy decisions as they get older.

~on a side note as far as cost effectiveness ~ a homecooked meal is actually more cost effective than it is to go out to eat, or even get something pre-packaged/processed from the grocery store. And you get leftovers!!

Posted by: molly at March 22, 2010 2:39 PM

This is such a complex issue- I'm late on commenting but i enjoyed this post and reading all the comments.

In many ways I am fortunate to live in a city where i don't need a car. I am also fortunate that I have never struggled with my weight. By lifestyle and necessity we walk everywhere or take public transportation. If I don't take delivery I walk to and from the store and get only what I can carry. It definitely makes a difference.

Many of the dietary attitudes and habits are cultural. The lady who used to take care of my daughter fed her the diet of their house- white rice, white bread, starch starch starch. It was part of a particular cultural diet.

The pediatrician told me to watch daughter's weight. I told the lady over and over not to keep feeding her all the crap. I told her what the doctor said, she thought I was crazy. I brought food, which went uneaten. My daughter developed severe constipation problems, so I started bringing fiber bars for her in the morning. They thought I was crazy and I had her on a "diet".

Finally, after one Friday where i came home to find my daughter chowing down on bread, having another long talk with her caretaker, and then again on Monday the same thing, I took her out of that woman's care.

Since daughter has been in preschool the entire weight and poop issues stopped completely because of the dietary change.

Sometimes it isn't just the parents' fault- although we are never off the hook where our children are concerned. Living healthy is something that takes effort in today's society. In many ways you have to go against the mainstream flow to do it. Time and resources are limited, as parents we are stretched way too thin. Everything in our culture pushes the fast and unhealthy. That's the problem.

I do normally cook simple meals, we never go for fast food, no soda or any of that stuff. When we go out on day trips I pack our food and skip out on the unhealthy "kid-friendly" junk. We don't eat meat, have mostly whole grains, I make my own bread from scratch, limit junk food, no TV (DVD and Netflix only- no advertising!), all of it but the fact is that my child is out of my care for most of the day during the week.

She starts Kindergarten in September and I am scared shitless.

I can do my best to support healthy habits but it has to be supported from outside the home as well.

How do you talk to Mia about being (mostly) vegetarian? So far I haven't really talked to my daughter about it, she just goes by example, lifestyle, and they support it at her school. But I don't think she really "gets" it or thinks about it. I don't want to be Nazi-Mama about it, but I still want to enforce it as best as I can.

Posted by: jessica at March 23, 2010 11:24 AM