Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
The childhood obesity rate–still believed to be a nationwide epidemic–is actually dropping in some major U.S. cities, a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has found. More from The New York Times:
“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.
The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.
The first dips — noted in a September report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — were so surprising that some researchers did not believe them.
Deanna M. Hoelscher, a researcher at the University of Texas, who in 2010 recorded one of the earliest declines — among mostly poor Hispanic fourth graders in the El Paso area — did a double-take. “We reran the numbers a couple of times,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Will you please check that again for me?’ ”
Researchers say they are not sure what is behind the declines. They may be an early sign of a national shift that is visible only in cities that routinely measure the height and weight of schoolchildren. The decline in Los Angeles, for instance, was for fifth, seventh and ninth graders — the grades that are measured each year — between 2005 and 2010. Nor is it clear whether the drops have more to do with fewer obese children entering school or currently enrolled children losing weight. But researchers note that declines occurred in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for a number of years.
Image: Children at school cafeteria, via Shutterstock
Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Children who have televisions in their bedrooms have higher risks of developing health problems including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found. More from NBC News:
“Specifically, youngsters ages 5 to 18 who had TVs in their rooms were up to 2.5 times more likely than others to have bigger waists and more fat mass. Those who watched TV more than five hours a day were at twice the risk for fat around their internal organs, a dangerous precursor for disease.
“It’s really troubling to see these kids with fat around their heart and liver,” said Amanda Staiano, a scientist with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Staiano and her colleagues knew that previous studies had shown a link among bedroom TVs, longer TV viewing and being overweight or obese, which affects two-thirds of U.S. youth. But in a country where 70 percent of kids have TVs in their rooms, according to a 2010 study, Staiano said they wanted to understand exactly where the kids were adding fat, and whether they were at risk for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
“We wanted to see kind of a more precise relationship between TV and health,” said Stainao, who studied 369 children and teens in Louisiana. Her findings are reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
They took the kids’ height, weight and waist measurements, logged their blood pressure, analyzed their blood and examined the fat deposits in their bodies using special scanners, among other exams.
Nearly 66 percent of the young people in the study had TVs in their rooms and about a third watched at least five hours of TV a day. There wasn’t a distinction by age, so even the youngest kids — 5-year-olds — had their own TVs, Staiano said.
Those with bedroom TVs had the higher odds for being in the top tiers of kids with extra belly fat, bigger waists, greater risk of heart disease and diabetes and elevated triglycerides, or fat in their bloodstream.
While Stainano’s study couldn’t say whether bedroom TV and long hours in front of the screen actually causes the extra fat and disease risk, it renews the debate about whether TVs should be allowed in kids’ rooms at all.
The American Academy of Pediatrics frowns on the practice, saying children’s TV viewing should be limited to less than two hours a day, ideally in a central location with parents watching, too.”
Image: Kids watching TV in bed, via Shutterstock
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
At 9 years old, Breanna Bond weighed 186 pounds, a number that had her doctor and her family alike worried for her health in an age of childhood obesity and rampant Type II diabetes that affects an estimated 12.5 million U.S. children. As CNN.com reports, the involvement of the whole family was the key motivating factor that helped Breanna shed 65 pounds:
“Conversations about a child’s weight can be fraught with psychological landmines, says Dr. Denise Wilfley, director of the Weight Management & Eating Disorders Program at Washington University School of Medicine.
“Mainly what we suggest is actually having the whole family take on a healthier lifestyle — for everybody to eat as well as possible, as nutritiously as possible, so the overweight child is not singled out,” she says.
Wilfley encourages parents in her programs to “walk the walk” and be a role model for their children. She talks about food as energy for kids’ bodies — eating better will help them think harder, jump higher, play more.
Her families try to follow the traffic light diet, with green-light foods such as vegetables, yellow-light foods such as lean protein and red-light foods such as sweets or simple carbohydrates.
“We focus a lot on not defining self-worth by the number on the scale,” she says. “The best way to prevent eating disorders is having very healthy eating patterns.”
[Heidi] Bond realized that in order to get [her daughter] Breanna to exercise regularly, they would had to make it a family activity. The Bonds started walking four miles, four days a week, on a trail near their home in Clovis, California.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Bond says. “There were times where she refused to move.” But in the end, “a little tough love to save the rest of their life” was worth it, she says.
It’s best to avoid a power struggle when it comes to exercise and healthy eating, according to Jelalian. She says it’s easy for parents to become the “food police” without getting at the deeper issues. Parents should ask why a child wants a certain food or doesn’t want to work out and problem-solve with them to find a healthy alternative.
She recommends parents give their kids a choice as much as possible — not about being active or not active, but about what activity they want to do.
“It really takes that balance in parenting of being firm — this part is not negotiable, but being warm, caring in how you do that.”
Identifying your child’s motivation for losing weight is key, Wilfley says. Do they want to be able to run faster? Play football? Avoid teasing at school? Combining that goal with incentives such as sleepovers or family outings should help to keep a child motivated.”
Image: Family nature walk, via Shutterstock
Thursday, October 18th, 2012
Children under the age of six should have at least three hours of exercise each day, according to a report written by a consortium of pediatric groups from the U.K., the U.S., and Australia. Boston.com reports on the paper, which was published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine:
The new guidelines are partly in response to the soaring obesity rates among young children. For example, 26.7 percent of US children between the ages of two and five are obese or overweight, researchers Russell Pate and Jennifer O’Neill, of the University of South Carolina, wrote. Plus, studies have shown that young children rarely get the activity they need. According to studies using accelerometers (wristwatch-like devices that measure physical activity), preschool-age kids get only sporadic exercise, with very little of it vigorous. For children under six, experts generally advise a combination of light activity and energetic activity throughout the day.
The experts listed a number of activities that qualify for both the “light” and “energetic” categories, including walking, dancing, skipping rope, and hide-and-seek type games.
Image: Kids playing, via Shutterstock
Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
Nestle and General Mills, which are part of a parent company called Cereal Partners Worldwide and the second-largest cereal producers in the world, have announced a massive new plan to cut the amount of salt and sugar in their cereals…outside of the United States and Canada.
Twenty cereal brands popular with children and teenagers will be part of the initiative, as the companies pledge to cut 24 percent of the sugar and 12 percent of the salt in the products, Reuters reports. The move follows a 2003 program in which the companies increased the nutritional profile of their cereals, including making large cuts in salt and sugar. From Reuters:
CPW Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said the plan builds on efforts started in 2003 to improve the nutritional profile of cereals. The group has cut almost 900 tonnes of salt and more than 9,000 tonnes of sugar from its recipes since then.
“A certain number of moms don’t want their kids to have as much sugar as they do right now, so that is a barrier for some to purchasing breakfast cereal,” Harmening told Reuters at CPW’s new global innovation centre in the Swiss town of Orbe.
The move comes as food and beverage companies seek to preempt tougher regulation due to the global obesity epidemic by offering healthier products or smaller portions.
The World Health Organisation estimated there were over 42 million overweight children under the age of five in 2010. It says obesity in Europe is already responsible for up to 8 percent of health costs and up to 13 percent of deaths.
Image: Cereal, via Shutterstock