Thursday, September 13, 2007

C is For Cookie, but P is For Parent and O Stands for OBESITY


Recently, in the news as listed on the ABC News website, it is reported that Sesame Street Workshop is now promoting their ‘Healthy Habits’ program in order to combat epidemic cases of childhood obesity. By introducing this new found health awareness, they hope to better educate children on the benefits of eating healthy and making proper food selections. In fact, they are going so far as to change everyone’s beloved Muppet, Cookie Monster by reducing his cookie intake (think reduced Atkins Diet). Coincidentally, Cookie Monster has changed his tune from ‘C is for Cookie’ to ‘Cookie is a Sometimes Snack’. Sacrilege you say? Think again.

I was born the year Sesame Street debuted and grew up with this entertaining children’s program and as I aged and finally had my own children; now they too watch this program with extreme satisfaction. Though Cookie Monster was not my favorite (I was always partial to Grover), I did enjoy watching this cookie eating monster howl about his love for a chocolate chip cookie. Haven’t we all done this at one time or another? To be honest though, I was a 3-year old cookie monster as well, but it was not because of the show or because of our furry blue friend. For that old habit, I can and will blame my own parents. Luckily for me and my brothers and sisters, our family is blessed with good genes and lean bodies, so really the cookies never had a negative effect on my health or weight, just my parents’ patience during my 10 o’clock pm fits as well as it should as again I mention, they were to blame for my nighttime sugar rush.

Frankly, I believe the producers of Sesame Street are doing a fine job and I do believe they have very good intentions with regard to encouraging a better awareness for children’s health. Unfortunately, the parents of these children are typically not around to watch these programs and enforce it, and they are the one’s bringing the food into the house and feeding it to their children. I feel it is a parent’s responsibility, not a TV show and certainly not a TV show character’s duty to teach the overall benefits of leading and eating a healthy lifestyle. After all, we have to blame the parents for the steady rise in childhood obesity cases not Sesame Street.

Obesity on the rise

According to the CDC statistics, approximately 30.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are overweight and 15.3 percent are obese. For adolescents (ages 12 to 19), 30.4 percent are overweight and 15.5 percent are obese.

In addition, the prevalence of obesity quadrupled over 25 years among boys and girls, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1
Increase in Obesity Prevalence (%)
Among U.S. Children (Ages 6 to 11)

Time Period............Boys........Girls
1999 to 2000..........16............14.5
1988 to 1994..........11.6.........11
1971 to 1974...........4.3............3.6

Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Ogden et. al. JAMA. 2002;288:1728-1732.

Also, obesity prevalence more than doubled over 25 years among adolescent males and females, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2
Increase in Obesity Prevalence (%)
Among U.S. Adolescents (Ages 12 to 19)

Time Period...............Males.......Females
1999 to 2000.............15.5.........15.5
1988 to 1994.............11.3...........9.7
1971 to 1974...............6.1...........6.2

Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Ogden et. al. JAMA. 2002;288:1728-1732.

Now as you can see, this is a crisis for our youth which eventually will result in a cluster of so many different ailments such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, asthma and others that will finally lead to Syndrome X.

What is Syndrome X?

Syndrome X or the Metabolic Syndrome X is best described by Dr. Stephen Holt, MD in his book Combat Syndrome X, Y and Z... as affecting:

‘…approximately 70 million Americans have a condition called the metabolic syndrome or Syndrome X. The simplest definition of Syndrome X, then, is the variable combination of obesity, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, all linked by resistance to the hormone insulin’.

Some high risk factors as described in the same article are: diabetes mellitus, insulin resistance, hypertension, high blood fats which may lead to moderate risk factors such as heart disease, stroke, arthritis and many others.

Also, according to an article on the CBS News website, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that revealed "the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome increased with the severity of obesity and reached 50 percent in severely obese youngsters".

Contributing factors but NOT the cause

Sugar and white flours:
I am not advocating a low carbohydrate diet for children, but I do believe that children should reduce their sugar intake (especially foods with added sugars) and try to eliminate white flours. There are good and bad carbohydrates
Good sources of carbohydrates are: whole-grain cereals, brown rice, whole-grain breads, fruits and vegetables. Check out for more detailed information

Fast Food:
In minimal amounts, anything is fine for the body (and mind) but when weekly and even daily, these burgers and fries loaded with fillers and artificial ingredients can cause deadly health problems for adults, let alone children. Certainly, as indicated, the availability of fast food restaurants in your child’s area (especially around schools) and the dollars spent yearly do reveal that fast food restaurants are not only popular but almost impossible to avoid. Consider this quote from Bill Phillips, author of Eating for Life:

‘Make no mistake, the fast-food-frenzied lifestyle is costing us, big time. Consider the fact that in 1970, Americans spent $6 billion on fast food. This year, over $138 billion! (That's over a 2,000 percent increase in just over 30 years.) Since 1970, the number of fast-food burger drive-thrus has increased from about 2,000 to over 25,000. (That's an increase of over 1,000 percent.) Shocking really. Sickening too; literally and figuratively.’

This quote alone is the most telling of how fast food has invaded our daily lives.

Single parent homes or homes where both parents work:
Since the early 70’s through today, divorce has and still is a huge factor usually leaving one parent by themselves to run the household. Obviously, while Mom (usually) or Dad are working, the kids are either home alone or with a sitter and you can trust that their nutritional means are not being met. This includes unwed mothers who live alone with their children.

TV as the babysitter:
This includes other items such as video games or movies. Trust me, I am not being hypocritical and certainly I am not blaming TV or video games, but when they are misused or abused to act as a babysitter it will lead to long periods of inactivity.

Where do we go from here?

It is really hard to determine and due to the varied lifestyles of homes across the world, you cannot paint this one with a generic answer. Regardless of the number of parents or the hours at work they keep, we can make subtle changes that will allow our children the best possible chance at good health.

This includes:

Promoting exercise
All children should be running and playing and though video games and TV are fun, they should be kept to a minimum. Remember, less TV inspires creativity while encouraging kids to take part in activities.

Reduction of sugar and white flours
I am not saying that children should go on the Atkins Diet or any type of diet, there are too many necessary ingredients found in all types of food. However, like TV, sugars and white flours should be kept to a minimum.
A real pet peeve of mine is when I see parents fill up a ‘sippy cup’ or bottle with soda and I especially enjoy it when they say, ‘its diet soda’, as if the aspartame (wood alcohol in its purest form) is actually a beneficial ingredient.

Sesame Street has it right and so should you. Educating good health to anyone (and please do not underestimate children) not only teaches but also encourages children to be their very best.

Snacks should NOT be rewards or pacifiers
Giving your child a snack because they are sad or are throwing a fit sends the wrong message, one that they will carry into adulthood.

Final thoughts

Look, for anyone to say that obesity in children is not a problem means simply that they are either not educated on the subject or they refuse to accept that they are making poor choices for their children. In the long run, ignoring the possibility for positive changes will result badly for your child. An obese child with poor eating habits will eventually turn into an obese AND unhealthy adult with poor eating habits. Does anyone want to complain about the rising costs of healthcare today? Imagine what it will be like thirty years from now when all of these obese children are now sickly adults under medical care for any number of the ailments discussed in this post (especially diabetes, a real silent killer).

Our responsibility as parents is to nurture and educate our children to help prepare them for adulthood and this includes leading them down a healthy avenue. We all may not have the ideal schedule or home scenario, but day to day subtle changes combined with education and awareness can go a long way and yes, a cookie is a sometimes snack.

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