Posts Tagged ‘
Childhood Obesity ’
Friday, June 15th, 2012
A new paper (just published online in Child Development) reports that kids who are obese have lower math scores over a 6-year period. Here are the essentials.
Why is this study important? It focused on over 6,000 kids, tracking them from entry into kindergarten through 5th grade. Data were collected from kids, parents, and teachers. Math performance was assessed directly via testing. These are all strengths that improve confidence in the results.
What did they find? They focused on 3 groups of kids: 1) a group that was obese at entry into kindergarten; 2) a group that became obese over time; and 3) a group that was never classified as obese. Both the obese group and the group they became obese showed lower math performance over time – at 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades. These results held up after accounting for a number of other factors (individual and family) that could have contributed to the results.
Why would obesity influence math performance? The study also examined other factors that were shown to help explain the results. Especially important were concurrent emotional problems (internalizing symptoms) in the obese group and the group that became obese. These early signs of symptoms of depression and anxiety are known to impact academic performance, and it may be that the kids with weight issues become more withdrawn in the classroom. This was especially evident for girls, as they were also reported to show lower levels of interpersonal skills in school – which again partly explained the link between childhood obesity and lower math performance.
What’s the take-home message? Childhood obesity is known to carry a number of health risks that increase in the school years. Some studies – including this new one – suggest that it impacts kids’ academic and emotional functioning. The chain of events may be that as kids who suffer from obesity become more socially and emotionally withdrawn over time, this also leads to less engagement in the classroom. This is not the first study to observe a link between childhood obesity and academic performance, so it’s beginning to look like this may be a real phenomenon. Other factors – not considered in this study – may also be important. For example, the authors of the paper speculate that sleep problems may play a role as well, as they are linked with both obesity and academic performance. What’s troubling here is that the effects are observed during such critical learning years – from kindergarten through 5th grade. Children who suffer from obesity not only need intervention in order to prevent long-term health problems – it may be that they could profit from emotional support to help ensure that they stay engaged both socially and academically in school.
Math Homework Via Shutterstock.com
Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
We all know that obesity rates in youth are way too high and increasing. We all know that obesity in youth is associated with the onset of type 2 diabetes. And now new research – you can click here to read the report – is showing that the initial course of treatment for type 2 diabetes in obese youth only helps about half of the kids – suggesting many will go on to need insulin therapy before they reach adulthood.
What’s especially sobering is that this study was very well conducted. It used the most highly supported medication regimen for the early stages of type 2 diabetes along with psychological intervention designed to change lifestyles. The research protocol attempted to secure adherence to the interventions. The youth were carefully studied and monitored over time. Yet despite all this, in only half of the cases did the medication regimen achieve “glycemic control” – and that the psychological component did not produce additional benefit. Again – it bears repeating – the net result is that half of these kids will likely need insulin therapy in just a few years.
While it’s clear that researchers will continue to try to come up with more effective treatments for the early stages of type 2 diabetes in obese youth, this study provides yet another reason for parents to take prevention seriously in childhood. There are no magic bullets here – we all need to struggle with a number of environmental trends and pressures that promote the development of obesity in youth. So here are the logical places to start:
None of this is easy. It’s really not. Especially given the day to day challenges we all face as parents. But trying to be vigilant about your child’s nutrition, exercise, and sleep is the best pathway to trying to prevent obesity and the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Definition of insulin via Shutterstock.com
Saturday, March 31st, 2012
Here we go again – another parent makes a big splash with outrageous claims about her parenting methods. This time it’s that Vogue article about one mother’s reaction to hearing that her daughter was obese – which turned out to be a pathologically inconsistent set of messages and dietary practices. I have three reactions to all this.
First, IF the claims are true, then I agree with the take offered by my fellow Parents.com blogger Heather Morgan Shott. Heather tackles this issue much better than I could.
Second, IF this story was embellished, then I suggest in the future articles of this nature come with a warning label that says: “The truth has been stretched – and then some – in order to gain viewer’s eyes, make their blood boil, and give them something juicy to talk about.” This is especially relevant since the author of the Vogue article has a deal in place to expand her thoughts in a book. I don’t know if you recall what transpired when the Tiger Mom book came out early last year, but the sequence was roughly this: 1) the most outrageous quotes from the book were used to publicize it, 2) the author then suggested that those lines were clearly not to be taken literally, and 3) then it was suggested that the book was really just a memoir and not an endorsement of any type of unhealthy or damaging parenting practices. When all was said and done, we could look to recent research for some sanity, as it demonstrates what we would expect: 1) parents who push their kids really hard to achieve success without providing warmth, love and support place their kids at risk for depression and other not so great outcomes, and 2) it is possible to set high standards for your kids and help them be achievement oriented and actually act in a loving and supportive way at the same time. So to me the simple warning label suggested above would certainly help me figure out what the real message is the next time a SHOCKING book or article comes out.
Third, rather than focus more on this Vogue article, I’d love to hear real stories about real parents who are digging deep and trying hard to do the best for their kids. It’s not easy getting the balance right with respect to body image and health these days: we’re stuck between a multitude of social forces which, on the one hand, promote obesity, and, on the other hand, push kids toward eating disorders. Many parents struggle with their own histories of eating issues and body image concerns, and they are hopefully finding ways to promote realistic healthy eating habits and corresponding physical and cognitive pathways to positive self-esteem. I’d love to hear stories about how real parents handle these challenges. So consider this an invitation to share your story about how you balance all these concerns and what obstacles you face – we need to focus on REAL parenting rather than SHOCK parenting.
Image of shocked women via Shutterstock.com
Categories: Behavior, Health, Parenting, Red-Hot Parenting, Stories | Tags: 7 year old on a diet, body image, Childhood Obesity, eating disorders, nutrition, obesity, shock parenting, Tiger Mom, Vogue
Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
A stunning new paper (published online in the journal Pediatrics) focuses on a troubling trend – many toddlers in child care (preschool, nursery school, other organized child care) devote very little time to physical activity – and provides some surprising reasons why this may be the case. Bear in mind that this study is especially relevant to the vast majority of parents of preschool aged kids, as 75% of 3-5 year-olds in the US are in some form of child care. Here’s an overview of the paper, focusing on: some startling statistics; public health concerns; research questions asked; findings; and take-home messages.
Some startling statistics:
The study provides a persuasive literature review that suggests the following:
- Even after accounting for naps and meal times, somewhere between 70-83% of the daily activities for kids in child care are sedentary
- On average, only 2-3% of daily time in child care is devoted to vigorous activities
Public Health Concerns:
The lack of physical activity – meaning good old-fashioned running around and playing – is troubling for the following reasons:
Given these concerns, the researchers conducted focus group interviews with 49 child care providers (the study took place in Ohio) drawn from a variety of child care centers (both urban and suburban). They designed these focus groups to ask open-ended (qualitative) questions to get at the child care providers’ perceptions of the reasons why toddlers aren’t playing in child care these days. Note they acknowledge that there can be big differences across different child care centers (some may indeed have lots of playtime built into the typical day) – but their focus was to find out what might be the barriers preventing playtime from the perspective of the child care providers.
The researchers extracted 3 big reasons that physical activity is discouraged in child care settings. They are:
- Concerns about safety. Parents express concerns to the child care providers about the possibility that their kids may get hurt and some directly ask that their kids not be permitted on playground equipment. The child care providers suggest that the state has provided overly strict standards that has resulted in boring, unchallenging playground equipment that toddlers don’t want to use. As a result, kids end up seeking out equipment that is designed for older kids – and in fact poses dangers to them.
- Economic issues. Lack of funding does not permit spaces devoted to physical activity – especially dedicated indoor areas that can be used year-round. In part, this reflects a lack of appreciation for the importance of physical activity in the preschool years.
- Emphasis on academics. Child care providers suggest that many parents ask that kids’ spend the bulk of their time doing pre-academic work (such as learning shapes, colors, and pre-reading skills) and “not just running around” – parents also want physical activity to be overtly tied to academic lessons and learning.
As the authors of this paper suggest, many toddlers spend full days in child care during the preschool years – meaning that this is the primary daily opportunity for physical activity for lots of kids. Yet there is, on average, a ridiculously small amount of time devoted to physical activity. So I see two especially important take-home messages for parents.
- Parents should be encouraged to partner with their kids’ child care center to make sure that the playgrounds are age-appropriate – neither too babyish nor too challenging. They should also be reassured that their kids should be doing lots of physical activity that involves age-appropriate risk. Look, nobody wants to think about their kids getting hurt, and it’s tough if you are not there to supervise them. But …. kids need to play and to take some appropriate physical risks. That’s true throughout development. This issue is complicated, and also touches on the realities of budgets these days in child care centers – but clearly a change in thinking needs to happen to get back to appreciating and promoting the importance of devoted space for physical activity (both indoors and outdoors).
- Parents also need to be told explicitly that the preschool years are a critical developmental period for learning all kinds of things – but that much of this learning happens experientially during play. This is where cognitive, emotional, and social development all come together. I would suspect that nearly anyone who studies development would agree that preschoolers need a whole lot of balance between physical activity, play, and “academics.” And despite all the pressures on parents to want their kids to be precocious academically, it is imperative to understand that your child’s brain will develop best via this balance – this has been shown to be the case over decades of research.
There’s a real bottom line here. If you want to promote the optimal development and health of your toddler, make sure they have plenty of time for free play and physical activity. Convince yourself that this will be as important – if not more so – than the “academics” they are learning during the preschool years. And do what you can to make sure they get it.
Image of happy child on playground via Shutterstock.com
Wednesday, January 4th, 2012
I was contacted by a journalist yesterday to comment on a series of television and print ads in Georgia featuring overweight children. These adds are part of an ongoing campaign by the non-profit organization Strong4Life and you can click here to view some. A number of kids are shown discussing their weight in stark terms – for example, one boy asks his mom “Why am I fat?” Other campaign slogans used by this group include “Warning: It’s Hard To Be A Little Girl If You’re Not”. Overall, the ad campaign focuses on the problems experienced by overweight and obese kids, which include risk for diabetes as well as being targets of bullying.
The purpose of these ads is straightforward – the idea is to make people in Georgia aware of the childhood obesity epidemic (as the organization states that nearly 40% of kids in Georgia are considered to be overweight or obese). And a little bit of shock value certainly does get people’s attention. But the issue being debated is whether these ads achieve anything useful – and in fact if they actually do harm by promoting stereotypes of overweight kids.
Having watched the videos, I don’t see much information value in them. Childhood obesity is a public health problem with multiple causes. Yes, parents have the ultimate responsibility to raise their kids to be healthy. But given that a third of the adults in the US are obese – as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – don’t we have a broader issue that goes beyond finger pointing and rhetoric? Don’t we owe parents and kids more information and real advice to lead healthier lives? Shouldn’t we also think beyond parenting and take on the very real issue of the contributing factor of school lunches in many communities? And shouldn’t we also acknowledge the very real role that genetics plays in this equation? (By the way, I’m planning a blog post on that topic in the very near future).
It’s very important that parents – and all of us concerned with public health – understand the very real physical and social risks experienced by overweight and obese kids. But, c’mon, simple scare tactics and dramatizations might grab someone’s attention for just a few seconds, and worse, serve as a platform for continuing stereotypes. How about presenting the grim statistics and realities of the obesity epidemic – those are scary enough on their own – along with a hopeful message that there are ways to combat this? After all, isn’t the broader goal to motivate parents to make changes in their lifestyle and hook them up with real resources to help them do this?
Image of the word diabetes courtesy of Shutterstock.com