Cutting Edge: Fighting The Fat. Childhood Obesity Epidemic. Causes and Solutions.

Walk to Prevent Childhood Obesity“Childhood obesity in the past 25 years has more than tripled and the incidence of childhood diabetes has increased tenfold.  What’s more alarming is that 70% of obese adolescents retain their overweight condition into adulthood.” These statistics were revealed on the medical special, Cutting Edge: Fighting Fat, one of three prime-time health specials produced by the Gannett Broadcasting, airing across the country. Hosted by Julie Nelson, the program does an in-depth, investigative report on the obesity epidemic in America and the report would not be complete without addressing our new epidemic of childhood obesity.  “…the childhood obesity epidemic is a perfect storm of a variety of very unfortunate changes in society, the massive invasion of junk food throughout all aspects of a child’s life.  At the same time the systematic loss of the opportunities to lead a physically active lifestyle…”

These are the words of David Ludwig, M.D., PhD, Director of The Obesity Program at Children’s Hospital Boston.  Julie tells us that Dr. David Ludwig was dubbed an “Obesity Warrior” by Time magazine.

“…until we can in effect detoxify our environment to support children’s health, we need to address the epidemic one family at a time.  And that is the mission of the OWL Program….”

And over the last 20 years, Dr. David Ludwig, has provided care to thousands of overweight and obese children and their families at OWLOWL stands for “Optimal Weight for Life.”  The program is a multi-disciplinary clinic involving doctors, dietitians, psychologists and social workers recognizing obesity has many causes.

The OWL program involves the entire family to support the children’s efforts to lose weight and improve their health.  Parents learn how important it is to be good role models for their kids and success in this program depends on family changes.  Changes like getting rid of the junk food in the house and families joining health clubs together.

For some families making these changes are more difficult.  Suzanne Rostler, M.S., R.D., Clinical Nutrition Specialist and Registered Dietitian at OWL helps families focus on the fundamentals of weight loss. She explains that often, when you learn about a child’s diet you find that it is the diet of the entire family.  So the entire family comes in, they get weighed and measured and then they start seeing providers.  Typically they will see a medical provider like Dr. Ludwig who will take a complete medical history to see if there are any underlying medical conditions that might effect weight gain like hypothyroidism, which can lead to slow growth and weight gain.

Children will also see a behaviorist who figures out strategies for implementing recommended dietary changes.

Julie Cappella, PSYD,  Lead Behavioral Medicine Specialist, Children’s Hospital Boston, says that very often overweight children have very low self-esteem and that is why they gave in to a cycle of over eating to take care of themselves and then can’t break the cycle.  So she find ways to help children break this destructive cycle.  She tries to help children take on the responsibility of their part in their own obesity and helps them develop lifestyle routines and tools that will help them in making positive decisions about what they eat and what they don’t eat.  Learning what are healthy food choices is a critical part to beating their obesity problem.  And the importance of fitting exercise into their schedule. Adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media!

But Nutrionist, Suzanne Rostler says that a child cannot succeed without the help of the family.  The most important thing a parent can do for an overweight child is to “keep a safe food environment.”  That means getting all the junk food out of the house, the sugary juices and soda, and processed snack foods and cookies that kids like to eat.  It can be a challenge for every member of the family but the results can last a lifetime.  Changes that are made in childhood will yield benefits throughout the child’s entire life.

Julie Nelson points out that most families, unfortunately, cannot participate in programs such as OWL. Of course eating well can be a challenge and sacrifice in these economic times when many families are finding it hard to make ends meet.  Here are some common sense tips to help your child develop healthy eating habits that are affordable.

  • Eat foods that provide adequate nutrition like whole real foods like fruits, whole grain breads, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and lean meats.
  • Limit your child’s consumption of sugary snacks and beverages.
  • Get rid of and don’t buy calorie rich junk foods. Save those treats for special occasions.
  • Very important. Make sure your child spends time moving and actively playing so they can burn whatever calories they take in. (Even better, plan regular family exercise activites like long walks and hikes, biking, playing ball, throwing Frisbees, and even walking the dog. Rover would love that!)

Learn other strategies that will help you and your children make food and diet changes toward a healthier family. (even baby step changes are good!) .

You may want to use a free online nutrient calculator such as The The will calculate your BMI and your Recommended Daily Allowances(RDA) for over 30 nutrients, for each of your family members, by age and gender.  Spend some time on the site and do several food searches. You will quickly learn what food choices give you and your loved ones the most “Nutrient Bang for Your Buck!”
Related Sites:

Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program at Children’s Hospital Boston

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – Childhood Obesity

The Nutrient Calculator and BMI

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