Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Child Obesity & Health Issues are Environment Issues

In a great piece of analysis for Salon Magazine, Tara Haelle uncovers three significant health studies which indicate that childhood obesity is mostly related to the environment in which kids live, as opposed to issues of genetics or exercise habits.  Notably, environments that emphasize low quality foods contribute to weight and health issues despite a kid's exercise and visual media habits.

“We are raising our children in a world that is vastly different than it was 40 or 50 years ago,” says Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity doctor and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.”
“This is a lot more complicated than ‘eat less, exercise more,’” Freedhoff says. “If weight management or childhood obesity prevention and treatment were intuitive, we’d have a lot of skinny kids running around.” Freedhoff himself is developing a program for families that focuses on “redrafting” kids’ and families’ environments, starting with more home cooking. “Every parent would die for their child, but most won’t cook for their children on a consistent basis with whole ingredients,” he says.
But Freedhoff also says the problem of increasing childhood obesity cannot be tackled by parents alone. He suggests starting with changes within school boards, sports teams, PTAs and others who already care about kids. “What I’m amazed by is the constant use of fast food to pacify children and reward children—there is no event too small for candy or fast food.” There are many places communities could start: making school lunches healthier, ditching vending machines and access to fast food inside schools, not celebrating sports wins at fast food joints, and ending the use of candy or fast food as rewards, such as “pizza days” and other unhealthy food-themed school events, to name a few. “People don’t appreciate that parents are around children a minority of their days,” he says, so it really will take a village to turn back the clock in terms of kids’ environments. “If we had a time machine, it would be the world’s best weight-loss program,” Freedhoff says. “It’s the world that has changed, not people.”
This is a very treatable problem that is un-recognized by far too many parents and educators.  It's time to end the downplaying of food quality and environment in the health of children.  Teachers must stop thinking "food parties" and candy rewards are no big deal.  They are a significant factor in the health of our children.

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