Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard plenty of healthcare experts stressing the importance of eating healthy food like fresh fruits and vegetables. The message may sound a little repetitive at times, but it’s important advice; whole, unprocessed foods are not only good for our bodies, but for our waistlines too. And as obesity continues to dramatically affect the health of millions of Americans, it’s clear that more of us need pay closer attention to what the experts are saying.
But for many Americans, the shift towards eating healthy food isn’t so easy. Adding more greens to the grocery list is good advice, but it’s easier said than done for a lot of people. The high cost and limited availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in some areas makes them practically unobtainable to a substantial portion of the population.
“Please pass the vegetables!” may be a scarcely-heard phrase from kids sitting around the dinner table, but the sentiment is becoming more common as adolescents and teens explore vegetarianism.
While very recent and consistent data on the number of vegetarians in the United States is hard to come by, it’s generally estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that one in 200 American children under 18 is a vegetarian (that number reflects mostly teenagers, who have more control over their diets). This increase begs the questions: What does this mean for young vegetarians’ overall health? And how does it impact family life?
Understandably, parents may fear that it’s harder for vegetarian kids to eat a balanced diet and fit in socially. Some vegetarians replace meat with unhealthful sweets and carbohydrates, rather than vegetables and plant-based proteins, and there are news stories about high school vegetarians being teased for their different eating habits.
For David Ludwig, MD, PhD, one of health’s most fundamental truths can be traced back to a 2,000-year-old quote from Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine: “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.”
It’s a simple but powerful philosophy, and when combined with current research in obesity prevention, it’s one of the cornerstones of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Clinic. “Hippocrates was right, nutrition really is the foundation for health and well-being,” says Ludwig. “He understood that intuitively, without access to the modern science and technology.”
Founded by Ludwig in 1996, OWL is a multidisciplinary clinic with a staff that includes physicians, nurses, dietitians and experts in child behavior. With Ludwig at the helm, OWL has spent the past decade and a half researching childhood obesity while serving over 1,500 patients a year, making it one of the largest and most respected childhood obesity clinics in America. Now, thanks to a $7 million grant provided by the New Balance Foundation, Ludwig and his team will be able to expand their clinical research, patient care and community health programs. The newly created New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center will bring Ludwig’s message to even more children and communities struggling with weight issues.
Since he was 8 years old, Ludwig has been captivated by the inner workings of the human body. By the time he finished the fourth grade he had read every physiology book on the shelves of his local library.
That fascination stayed with him throughout his education. When he began his pediatric endocrinology fellowship at Children’s, he focused his studies on diet and weight, researching how brain function affects body size, as well as the role genetics plays in why some people become obese and others do not.
But with childhood obesity already reaching epidemic status by the mid-1990s, Ludwig felt a more preventive approach was needed to remedy the mounting health problems that overweight children would face in the future.
“Our genes, though important, haven’t caused the epidemic—so we need to look to the environment for the answers,” he says.
How much does breastfeeding cost? How much money can be saved? In today’s health reform climate, it’s always about the bottom line. So for those of us who have for years championed breastfeeding as one of the best choices moms can make for the health of their children, a new study by Dr. Melissa Bartick and Arnold Reinhold in this week’s journal Pediatrics provides the financial data to support the choice to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of a child’s life.