Why are children obese? In a single word: sugar. In three words: too much sugar. While it is easy to scoff at this problem or laugh it off, the truth is our world’s health and future depends on our children. Right now – more than ever before in recorded history – children are alarmingly obese. The statistics are astronomically high and unprecedented. To start with, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. That is not acceptable if we hope to survive as a species on this planet.
Now, more than ever before, children are eating foods from packages, vending machines, and drinking soda like it was water. And though the effects of malnutrition and disease on adults are bad, developing bodies and brains are hit doubly hard by poor nutritional choices. By 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
If you are a parent, you need to pay close attention to the rest of this article. You are ultimately the one with the most power here and getting up a few minutes earlier to pack your child a lunch can be the difference between your child being healthy and your child becoming obese.
Where is all this obesity coming from? Well, quite simply, the answer is poor diets, which are not only not Paleo but they hardly contain any real food at all. Research has shown that food and beverage advertising has a big influence on children’s eating behavior. Disturbingly, major corporations play both sides of the fence by spending millions on “family friendly” advertising while at the same time zeroing in on vulnerable children to get them hooked on their sugary products for the rest of their lives. These food companies also target low-income families.
One of the most important ways in which a poor-quality diet can do severe harm to children is that a lack of nutrient-dense foods may lead to nutrient deficiencies. These nutrient deficiencies (besides other issues) have been associated with mental health issues. The children then may be consuming brain-rewarding, poor-quality foods, as a way to self-medicate. It is truly a vicious cycle.
Perhaps the biggest disservice you can do for your child is to stunt their brain’s development by letting them eat a poor diet. A healthy diet is so important for your health throughout life, but it is most important when your body and brain are still growing. In fact, the preschool years alone are a time of rapid brain development. This is why DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is added to every infant formula. Your brain requires it to properly grow.
With advertising, other parents’ negligence and your child’s constant whining all stacked up against you, the best course of action is to make healthy meals for yourself and your children. If they see you eating it, they will be more likely to eat it themselves. The added bonus here is that you will likely stick to your diet as well. In addition, you won’t have to make two sets of food or buy lots of junk food for the kids. Instead, you will be maximizing their health and brain development.
As stated by researchers from Yale University, obesity is now a major global problem and we cannot afford a repeat of the tobacco industry, where their public image and their private company goals were completely contradictory. We all now recognize how bad smoking is for health. The public is only starting to come around to the fact that the processed food industry is utilizing the same tactics, targeting the same vulnerable populations and sells a product that is just as addictive.
From my experience working with lots of clients from different income brackets, different jobs, different family responsibilities, and different ways of living, I’ve come to realize that most parents do not do nearly enough to help their children learn the importance of nutrition. This usually comes from the fact that the parents themselves do not know how to eat well. A bit scary, isn’t it?
Parents also do not exercise. So guess what their children also do not do? That’s right, they don’t exercise either. Children learn largely by mimicking – what you do, they do. Eating in front of the computer or with the television on is another big problem that you should help train your child not to do. Besides the data that shows they will simply eat more calories by consuming meals in front of the television, they will also be exposed to a barrage of endless television advertisements for junk food, fast food, and candy.
Here’s another simple way to think about things. Why do you think McDonald’s offers toys with their children’s meals? Is it to add value to their product? Publicly, that may be their answer. But in reality, they add the toy as an incentive, a way to get your child to request that meal, thereby bringing increased sales to McDonald’s.
What people really don’t think about here is that they are introducing hyper-palatable foods to children when they are most vulnerable and conditioning them to crave these foods for the rest of their lives. Whether this is based on emotional nostalgia or a simple addiction, the end result is the same. The end result is profit for McDonald’s as well as a lifelong “heavy user.” The term “heavy user” is how big tobacco executives referred to their frequent smokers.
Would it disturb you to know that “heavy users” is how big soda companies also refer to their most frequent soda drinkers? It should disturb you, and that nomenclature is indeed a reality. Twenty percent of big soda companies’ clients yield 80 percent of their profits. And just like tobacco – the goal is to hook them when they’re young. But even more disturbingly, food marketers are not restricted by or privy to any real regulations. This means they can market toys and soda to kids who are very, very young. This is why children are overweight.
Another huge problem that I personally see on a near-daily basis is rewarding children with food! This is never a good idea! The best course of action is to not even keep that kind of food in the house. If someone eats the last bit of candy, don’t buy more. Don’t keep buying bags of potato chips as soon as someone polishes off the crumbs at the bottom of the bag. Don’t buy this kind of “food” at the store and never use candy as a reward. Ideally you would use much healthier options, like allowing your children to go outside and play if they finish their homework. See how subtle changes can greatly influence your children’s health in the short and long term?
Conversely, don’t punish your children by denying them food. This can set them up for a lifetime of food-related issues and will lead them to associate food and taste with good and bad behavior. Not good. And if you need to remember only one thing from this entire article, it is to not let your children drink soda. Soda consumption among youth has become a public health crisis, and energy drinks (as well as sports drinks) have only added to this problem. Remember that these “sports drinks” are just soda without the carbonation. Do not give them to your children, even if they are exercising. They don’t need sugar – they need nutrients.
Children are overeating calories but undereating nutrients. This is the absolute worst-case scenario, and results in the current state we have now – an army of overweight kids. Their brains are suffering too, since lower IQ and obesity have been linked over and over again in the scientific literature. This is a scary but very real, statistic.
In conclusion, children are obese for a few simple reasons. The bad news is these reasons are now embedded into the very fabric of our society and have been accepted as “normal.” Keep in mind that they are anything but “normal”. Our society, our average person, our average reference point for data is now overweight and sick. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. When it comes to your child’s life, there may not be a single more important thing you can do than to feed them an extremely healthy diet. Their brain power, physical shape, mood and happiness will all be increased as a result.
In contrast, a poor diet will help to destroy all of these things and will be literally weighing down their chances of success. In a world where we are continuously growing in population density, children are competing more and more for jobs, as well as getting into good colleges. Give them the best chance – feed them well.