Archive for the ‘
Obesity ’ Category
Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
From television to cell phones, iPads, and social media, media use has become a key part of most people’s lives in recent years. For many (myself included, I hate to admit), cell phones and other devices have practically become appendages—and our use of them somewhat addictive. As reported recently in the New York Times article, Baby’s First iPhone App, even toddlers are getting in on the act by playing with their parents’ devices—and in some cases, getting their own as a birthday or holiday gift!
In a follow up to a 2011 survey by the same name, Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013 was conducted between May 20 and June 12, 2013 with 1,463 parents of children age 8 and under. According to the survey, children’s access to mobile media devices is dramatically higher than it was two years ago. In fact, the survey reveals a fivefold increase in ownership of some type of “smart” mobile device. Whereas only 8% of families reported they owned one in 2011, a whopping 40% report they owned one in 2013. And while only about half of the children had access to a device in 2011, three quarters have access in 2013.
The survey also finds that children between the ages of 0 and 8 spend an average 1 hour and 55 minutes in front of a screen—that’s 21 minutes less than in 2011. But while total screen time decreased, time spent using mobile devices like cell phones and iPads is just about triple what it was in 2011. Thirty eight percent of children used mobile devices to play games, watch videos, or use apps in 2011; that number jumped to 72% of children 2013. And while only 10% of children under the age of 2 used a mobile device for media in 2011, that number has jumped to 38% in 2013.
According to the survey, TV is still at the center of kids’ media lives. Of the 1 hour and 55 minutes spent in front of any screen, 57 minutes is spent in front of a TV screen. The remaining 68 minutes is spent watching DVDs, using computers, playing video games and using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Older kids spend substantially more time in front of screens. According to the 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend about 7.5 hours a daily watching TV and movies, and using computers, video games and cell phones.
Of course technology use can’t be all bad—and it can have its perks. And of course we all know how much fun it can be as well! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), media literacy and prosocial uses of media—traditional forms like TV and “new media” like cell phones, iPads, and social media—may enhance knowledge, connectedness, and health. But the APA also says media contribute substantially to various risks and health problems and that children and teenagers learn from, and may be negatively influenced by, the media.
For example, there’s evidence that screen time (TV time in particular) can interfere with sleep and contribute to the development of obesity among children. A new study of almost 3,000 Australian children followed from 4- to 5-years-of-age until 8- to 9-years-of-age found that short sleep duration at 4- to 5-years-of-age was significantly associated with higher body mass index at 8- to 9-years-of-age. Researchers suggested that this result was due, at least in part, to increased TV viewing at 6- to 7-years-of-age.
A previous study published in Appetite surveyed the parents of more than 9,000 Australian children about their children’s eating and TV viewing habits. Researchers found that those who watched TV were more likely to gain weight, and individuals who were heavier were also more likely to watch TV. They concluded that sedentary behaviors—particularly when paired with unhealthy dietary habits—significantly increase the risk for excessive weight gain in early childhood, and that it’s important to have interventions to help parents help their young children develop healthy TV viewing and eating habits.
Technology is here to stay, and as I often say when talking to other parents—whether they’re friends, family, or Parents readers—we need to learn as we go since there’s no handbook for how to raise children to use technology in a way that enhances—rather than sabotages—their physical and emotional health. To provide some guidance, a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics called Children, Adolescents, and the Media suggests the following recommendations for parents:
- Parents can model effective “media diets” to help their children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.
- Make a family media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.
- Limit entertainment screen time to less than 1 or 2 hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to follow and implement the above guidelines in my home. I’ll report how it goes in a future Scoop on Food post. Please email me if you’d like to join in and keep in touch with me along the way.
Check out these 10 guilt-free apps for preschoolers. Then, find out if your little one is too sick for school by taking our quiz.
For more information, check out Kids & the Media by the American Psychological Association.
Image of baby boy with cell phone via Shutterstock.
Add a Comment
Friday, October 11th, 2013
The Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is smiling wide today. That’s because McDonald’s has decided to phase out listing soda on the Happy Meal section on menu boards.
As described in my recent Scoop on Food post, Will Fast Food Ever Be Health Food?, McDonald’s pledged to—among other things—offer a choice of water, milk, or juice instead of soda as the beverage of choice in kids’ Happy Meals. This pledge was the outgrowth of a partnership the fast food giant recently created with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation designed to help families make informed choices in the context of balanced lifestyles. Despite the promise, CSPI detectives noticed in the fine print of the agreement that soda could still be listed as an option on Happy Meal menu boards.
Known to not let such transgressions go unnoticed, a press release by CSPI’s Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan accused both McDonald’s and the Alliance of misleading the public and the media. In the press release, the CSPI also vowed to monitor the fast food chain’s practices. They’d even consider suing McDonald’s if it found soft drinks were mentioned in the Happy Meal section of menu boards or if employees offered soft drinks as an option with kids’ meals.
Fortunately, the CSPI won’t be calling a lawyer to sue McDonald’s anytime soon. In a new statement , CSPI explains that after discussing concerns with McDonald’s, its CEO agreed that listing soda on the Happy Meal section of menu boards wasn’t consistent with McDonald’s commitment.
We all know Americans guzzle down lots of soda and other sugary beverages. A new study published in American Journal of Preventive Health suggests that we may even consume more calories from added sugars in beverages than previously thought. The study estimated that Americans aged 2 and older consumed 171 calories (about 8% of total daily calories) per day from added sugars in sugar-sweetened beverages; soda, fruit drinks, tea, coffee, coffee, energy/sports drinks, and flavored milks were the top sources. Extra calories from soda can be a problem not only because they provide few nutrients, but because they leave less room in the diet for nutrient-rich foods and beverages that are needed in adequate supply to help kids grow.
To add insult to injury, a recent analysis of 32 studies—including 20 in children—published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (including soda) promotes weight gain in both children and adults.
Although soda will still be widely available, not having it promoted directly to kids and having other options at fast food restaurants will likely move us in a better direction when it comes to feeding kids. It may even help kids consume fewer calories and more nutrients depending on what beverage they choose in place of soda when they have fast food. If this initiative leads other fast food companies to follow suit—as encouraged by CSPI—this baby step may become a broad step to help kids improve their diet and reap the subsequent benefits.
Image of no soda zone via shutterstock.
Add a Comment
Wednesday, September 18th, 2013
For many children, heading back to school elicits a variety of feelings—both good and bad. Although hitting the books and performing well in class, on the ball field, or while engaging in other pursuits are often top of mind for most kids, those who are overweight or obese may have other concerns. According to a study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, weight-based bullying accounts for 40% of reported teasing in adolescence. In a 2013 review on weight discrimination and bullying, researchers suggest that overweight and obese youth are often victimized, teased, and bullied; that in turn can contribute to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, poor academic and other adverse outcomes. Between that and the fact that many schools across the country now disseminate report cards that include information about Body Mass Index (BMI), both parents and their kids are likely to have questions and concerns—many that they cannot intuitively answer.
To help parents feel more comfortable with their children when answering questions or addressing concerns about body weight and health, a research-based guide called “Weigh In: Talking to Your Children About Weight and Health” was created. This free, online tool created by the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance—a collaboration of consumer, provider, government, labor, business, health insurers and quality-of-care organizations that combats obesity—and experts provides parents with the language with which to answer some of the weight and health-related questions their kids aged 7 to 11 may ask. Whether they’re confused about what a BMI is, don’t know how to handle weight-related bullying, or don’t understand why people in the same family can have such different bodies, the resource provides an empowering tool for parents to use.
For those who want to bring the conversation into the classroom or group setting, there’s an accompanying Weigh In Discussion Toolkit.
No child should have to endure being bullied for any reason—let alone his or her weight, body shape or size. Even I felt bullied as a teenage girl when a nasty boy said I had thunder thighs. It still stings when I think about it. But while parents, educators, and healthcare providers cannot prevent children from being bullied about their bodies or their weight, they can help them develop the tools and confidence to better handle such situations and still feel good about themselves whatever their shape, size, or weight.
Modeling healthy food and fitness habits, taking about appearance in a positive rather than judgmental way, focusing on aspects other than appearance, and showing kids what’s in it for them to eat well and be active—better performance at school or when playing sports or pursuing other activities that interest them—can help kids nourish and feel good about their bodies. Of course it’s more challenging to teach kids to dismiss or ignore hurtful things others may say or do to them. But if parents and those who work with children band together to support—and at the same time, enlighten—children about how to care for, think about, and advocate for themselves and others, and how to treat others, this will hopefully help us create a kinder, more accepting generation that comes in all shapes and sizes.
Image of two young girls bullying other young girl outside via Shutterstock.
Add a Comment
Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
We all know rates of overweight and obesity among children are high in this country But is it the job of schools—or should they even have the right—to tell parents that their kids don’t make the grade when it comes to their weight?
A report this week by ABC News discussed a growing trend in which schools calculate each student’s Body Mass Index—a measure of weight and height—and essentially share with parents whether their children weigh too much, weigh too little, or are just right. According to the ABC News report, schools across 19 states currently provide BMI report cards to parents.
Using BMI to gauge the state of a child’s weight costs little and is easy to do. And even though BMI doesn’t directly measure body fat, it does correlate with it—children with high BMIs usually (but not always) have high body fat levels. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend using BMI to screen children between the ages of 2 and 19 for overweight, obesity, healthy weight, or underweight. And clearly, several schools are jumping on the bandwagon with the intent to reduce overweight and obesity among children.
One expert who supports the measure is David Katz, MD, Editor in Chief of Childhood Obesity journal and Founding Director of Yale University Prevention Research Center. He says, “Whether or not knowledge is power-ignorance is certainly disempowering. We can’t even begin to fix what we don’t know is broken. With both obesity and type 2 diabetes widespread among our children, there is something broken in our culture. Parents need to know when the threat of obesity has overtaken their children.” And while Katz supports the measure, he urges caution when it comes to addressing the issue with parents. He says, “We want to inform and empower, not blame and shame! In this obesigenic environment of ours, parents are not ‘to blame’ for the weight gain to which kids are almost universally vulnerable. But we can all share in the responsibility to address this problem, if we are empowered to do so. That begins with knowing the problem exists.”
But not everyone supports schools doling out BMI report cards. According to Jennifer Ashton, MD, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor, “Though well-intentioned I am sure, the concept of reporting kids’ BMI on school report cards has the real potential to do more harm than good. By exacerbating children’s already sensitive self-image, making them feel more self-conscious and opening them up to stigma and possible bullying, defining BMI as overweight without offering real help does little to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.” Ashton also points out that the BMI percentiles are dynamic in childhood, do not account for muscle mass and other physiologic issues, and are likely not the ideal way to screen for obesity. Although she urges schools should take the lead in providing healthy food options and daily physical education opportunities for kids, Ashton feels that the obesity problem is best managed by medical professionals and trained nutrition professionals like registered dietitians. She adds, “Leave the academics to the schools, the medicine to the health care providers, and keep parents as quarterbacks for the entire team.”
Yoni Freedhoff, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottowa, is also concerned about the impact BMI report cards can have on children and families. According to Freedhoff, “To date there simply isn’t a proven, reproducible, evidence-based, response for concerned parents to implement. As a consequence I have no doubt many well intentioned parents, upon receipt of a scarlet BMI letter, will put their children on strict diets, turn their kitchens into battle grounds, lecture their kids about “personal responsibility,” and suck the joy out of exercise by making it a mandatory because you need to lose weight activity. In so doing they will erode their children’s self esteem, their relationships with food, further deflate their body images, and in turn increase their risk of developing eating disorders and potentially putting them on a lifelong course of yo-yo dieting.” For schools to improve the health and weights of their students, Freedhoff suggests they serve healthful foods in their cafeterias, ditch vending machines, reform their nutrition curricula, bring back home economics, and make it mandatory for kids to learn to cook nourishing meals from fresh whole ingredients. He adds, “BMI report cards are simply a means for schools to pass the buck.”
What’s your opinion? Do you say yay or nay to a BMI report card?
Image of morbidly obese child, extreme underweight child, and average weight child on scale via Shutterstock.
Add a Comment
Friday, August 9th, 2013
In a recent Parents.com post, I asked whether or not the childhood obesity trend could be reversed. While there’s no simple answer to this question, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that we’re moving in the right direction—at least among low-income preschoolers.
In the CDC study, researchers looked at the weights and heights of an estimated 11.6 million 2- to 4-year-old children from 43 states and territories in the U.S. between 2008-2011. Although 3 out of the 43 states and territories for which data was obtained saw an increased obesity rate, 19 saw a small but significant decline in obesity prevalence.
Despite this glimmer of hope in the war against obesity, an estimated 1 in 8 preschoolers is currently obese. And weighing more than they should—even when they’re toddlers—puts children at increased risk for a variety of diet-related diseases and conditions ranging from high blood pressure to type 2 diabetes to heart disease.
For many, it’s intuitive to try to help children—especially when they’re young and impressionable—to help them develop healthy food and eating habits and attitudes.But not everyone agrees that treating obesity during early childhood will have much of a beneficial health effect over the long-term.
To determine whether or not widespread, intensive efforts designed to treat obesity in young children is worth it from a financial perspective, a study from researchers at Stanford Business School looked at 40 years of health data and the results of childhood obesity treatment efforts. They conclude that head-on obesity treatment in children may have little impact on reducing obesity-related illness when those children become adults. The researchers argue that many obese children slim down without any special treatment, and that even if treated successfully when they’re young, many will become obese again by the time they’re 30- or 40-years-old.
The Stanford researchers do, however, suggest that focusing intensive treatment efforts on obese children who are 16 and older (rather than on younger children), providing better nutrition, better playgrounds, and better fitness centers in schools, and creating public efforts to reduce junk food intake among all children (not just obese ones) are more cost-effective—and effective—strategies to reduce obesity-related illness.
No matter what, guiding kids of all ages to move in a more healthful direction when it comes to food choices, and eating and physical activity habits, will not only help them grow and develop into more healthful body weights, but feel better—both physically and emotionally. And as awareness of the need to help raise a healthier generation grows, so to do federal initiatives aimed at reversing the obesity trend and educating children about nutritious food and fitness habits. One such program, launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, is Let’s Move. The CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) funds programs in 25 states to address obesity and other chronic diseases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also recently announced it awarded $5 million in total in grants to 4 universities to develop childhood obesity intervention programs. The not-for-profit Turn the Tide Foundation empowers individuals and families to achieve sustainable weight control and robust good health through a variety of programs. And I am honored to serve on the Advisory Board of Live Light Live Right, an obesity prevention program in Brooklyn, New York that serves low-income children.
In a follow up to their 2012 report that identified key goal areas and strategies for obesity prevention, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released the new report, Evaluating Obesity Prevention Efforts: A Plan for Measuring Progress. In it, the IOM lays out a framework to guide and evaluate obesity prevention efforts and improve their overall impact. Having programs to temper the obesity problem and making such programs accountable is certainly a win-win strategy when it comes to raising healthier kids.
There’s no one solution or answer to the childhood obesity epidemic. That’s why we all need to band together to help kids of all ages grow into more healthful body weights. We need to work together to create home, community, and school environments that provide nutritious foods that are available in smaller (or at least more appropriate) portions. We need to make neighborhoods safe for kids—and families—to get the daily physical activity and exercise they need. And we need to empower kids by teaching them where food comes from, how to read food labels, how to cook, how to be mindful when they eat, and how to enjoy nutritious food more often and more than nutrient-poor foods and beverages. We need more nutritious foods to be marketed and sold to kids, and we need to reduce the widespread marketing and advertisement of high-calorie, nutrient-poor, foods and beverages on television and elsewhere. We need to all work together to instill healthful habits in kids and to model the habits we want to see them emulate. Most importantly, we need to impress upon kids how making better food and lifestyle choices will help them not only look and feel better, but prime them to be more likely to achieve their goals, whether in the classroom or on the playing field. We need to teach them what’s in it for them, and do so with love and support and without judgment.
Image of the little girl eating on the table via Shutterstock.
Add a Comment