Whose truth about childhood obesity?

It’s no secret Americans have been getting fatter — and the future’s not so bright when children are getting fatter, at younger ages.  I’m looking into why, and what should be done.

A lot of solutions have been proposed.  Some are promoted by trusted sources.  But they may miss the mark, even if they’re good ideas for overall health.

  • Couch potatoes and too much TV?  This may seem like common sense, but there’s pretty decent data that “sedentary behavior” has not changed over the past 30 years.  So, promoting exercise and walkable communities — while good for overall health — may do very little to slow the rise of obesity rates.
  • Poverty?  There’s a lot of data showing that the more poor you are, the more likely you are to be overweight.  But why?  Adam Drewnowski at the University of Washington says it’s because of simple food economics.  It’s cheaper to buy a filling meal that’s unhealthy than it is to buy a healthy one.  Think dollar meals and junk food.  Sodas.  They’re full of calories, but low in nutritional value.  That’s his argument.  But, is that what’s really happening?
  • Too much food?  Many nutritionists argue it’s all about calories and consumption.  We’re eating on average more calories per day than we did 50 years ago.  Their story says, in the 1980’s some agricultural policies changed and food got really cheap.  Now, the temptation to eat is everywhere, all the time.  And, since the ingredients are cheap, portions got bigger.
  • Processed vs. whole foods? This is related to the ideas above.  And this has become a trendy way to frame the problem.  If we could only get more people, and especially poor people, to have “healthier food choices,” they would choose the delicious fruits and vegetables and whole grains.  Then, they’d lose weight.  I haven’t seen any good scientific evidence that demonstrates this, but it’s seen a logical conclusion to draw from other research about nutrition.

I’m still exploring these questions. If you know of scientific studies that support/undermine any of these arguments, please share them.   If there’s a better theory missing from this list, share that, too.

7 thoughts on “Whose truth about childhood obesity?

  1. Thanks for the link, Julie. This is an interesting article. The researchers quoted suggest that the rise in early childhood obesity may have different causes (such as hormone-mimicking chemicals in the environment) than the rise in adult obesity.

  2. Hi Keith,


    Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a “research synthesis” report out today (Tuesday) looking at the claim that food insecurity is associated with childhood obesity.

    LINK: http://www.rwjf.org/childhoodobesity/product.jsp?id=62668&cid=xem-emc-ca

    Here’s how the Foundation summarizes the report’s findings:

    “Food Insecurity and Risk for Obesity Among Children and Families: Is There a Relationship?” was prepared by Nicole Larson and Mary Story of Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Key results highlighted in the synthesis include:

    Although a few studies have found that children living in food-insecure households are more likely to be obese than children who have adequate food access, most studies have found no evidence of a direct relationship.

    Women who experience food insecurity are more likely to be obese than women who are food secure. But it is unclear whether food insecurity promotes weight gain over time. Research among men has not consistently shown a relationship between food insecurity and increased weight.

    Research does not suggest that use of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits promotes obesity among children.

    Few studies have examined whether there is a relationship between participation in other food and nutrition assistance programs and risk for obesity in youths. However, there is little evidence that participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program increases risk for obesity.

  3. Hi, nice post! I really like your post about obesity.
    It is time that people really pay attention to their body.

    Keep the good work!

  4. Obesity needs to be tackled from the diet front but also from the exercise front.
    People needs to understand that just as much that cardio burns calories, lifting weight and increasing muscle size should increase metabolism. Muscle cells burns more calories than fat cells.

  5. Thanks for this interesting post. The problem of rising obesity seems so multi-faceted and would benefit from being tackled from various perspectives. Speaking specifically to the last point about ensuring that people have healthier options from which to choose–unfortunately, simply having the option to choose a healthy food and knowing that the healthier option is optimal, are not enough. If the unhealthier option is cheaper, and if the person has limited financial resources, they will likely purchase the unhealthier option. I do tend to side with Dr. Drewnoski in that economics do play a significant role. Economics, coupled with the fact that unhealthier options tend to taste better and be more calorie-dense (though clearly not nutrient-dense), further compounded by the fact that, psychologically, we are not “long-term” thinkers and tend to seek instant-gratification, all make for even the most rational individuals making sub-optimal and unhealthy choices. Here is a link to a great New York Times op-ed by Loewenstein & Ubel (psychologists with decision-making expertise): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/15/opinion/15loewenstein.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

    Thanks again for the interesting post!

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