Stories about: Childhood obesity

Our kids are what we eat

Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report showing a reduction in childhood obesity rates among children 2 to 5. We should acknowledge that encouraging trend.

Still, overall, child obesity rates have seen a gradual increase over the last 14 years, according to the most recent data published by the JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics.

Obviously, we still have lots of work ahead of us—and by us, I mean parents.

Kids learn a lot from their parents’ attitudes and behaviors around eating. For many of us, that might mean we’ve inadvertently passed some of our not-so-great eating habits on to our kids. One morning, my husband mentioned that he’d been consciously giving the kids smaller bowls of cereal for breakfast. They seemed satisfied with the new amount and often finished their portion, rather than leaving excess to throw away. If they wanted more, he’d sprinkle enough in their bowls to appease them, without giving them an additional meal’s worth of food. It made me realize that I, on the other hand, had taken to mindlessly dumping in a bunch of cereal without giving it a second thought. Whoops.

But rather than feeling guilty about what our children may have picked up from us, we should be thankful about how much influence we have over what and how our children eat. It can encourage us to develop a healthier attitude towards our own food habits so we can help make lasting changes in our children. They might not even have to know we’re doing it.

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Anti-obesity programs may need to move beyond schools

Schools have manned the front lines of the battle against childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama has promoted low-cal lunches, fresh produce and more through the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” Now, she hopes to ban junk food and soda marketing in schools. Are these efforts enough to turn the tide?

These healthy initiatives may not be enough to negate the impact of other unhealthy influences in students’ homes and neighborhoods, according to Tracy Richmond, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine.

“Of course, offering healthy food and promoting physical activity are good things. The question is whether these efforts are having the desired impact,” says Richmond, who published a study in January 2014 in PLOS One that sought to determine how a school’s physical activity or nutrition resources might be linked with fifth grade students’ body mass index (BMI).

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As preschool obesity rates dip, Boston Children’s expert suggests feds step to the plate

The scales may not be tipping quite so precipitously for some low-income preschoolers. So says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nineteen states saw small decreases in obesity rates among preschoolers between 2008 and 2011, while rates held steady in another 20 states. Is this cause for celebration, cautious optimism or concern?

Perhaps all of the above, says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital. “The report is a small, but encouraging, sign after nearly half a century of bad news.” The latest data, along with several other reports, suggest the era of continually rising obesity rates may be drawing to a close.

That’s the good news. But most epidemics aren’t halted by a crook in the prevalence curve. In fact, containing the obesity curve will require more muscle from federal decision makers.

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David Ludwig answers TEDMED community questions about childhood obesity

After spending more than 15 years researching evidence-based ways to prevent and treat childhood obesity, David Ludwig, MD, PhD and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital knows that obesity is a complex epidemic that can’t be fought from only one angle.

After TEDMED classified childhood obesity as one of its Top 20 Great Challenges of 2012, the public was invited to submit questions about the state of the epidemic and how we might go about reducing childhood obesity. Of these questions, 10 were selected by TEDMED and posed to Ludwig. Here are his responses.

1. What are the top 10 causes of obesity in children, and which ones can be reduced or prevented?

2. Apart from the genetic component of childhood obesity, what do we know about parents’ roles in influencing their children’s weight?

3. Are there affordable and effective programs to reduce childhood obesity that can be reproduced on a large scale?

4. Should we be concerned that campaigns against childhood obesity might have an unintended negative consequence of actually increasing the risk of eating disorders?

5. Studies reveal extraordinary variances in rates of childhood obesity among different groups, such as some Native Americans and African-American teenage girls. Why is this, and how should we address the issue in a culturally sensitive way?

6. What do we know about the impact of food advertising aimed at children, and how effective has voluntary restraint (on the part of food companies, restaurants, etc.) been in combating any negative effects?

7. Because of the relationship between obesity and the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, today’s children could be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Which elements of society (including but not limited to care providers, citizens, government, business, religious institutions, or any other group) should play a role in combating this problem, and what steps should they take?

8. Kids spend an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of various kinds of screens (phone, TV, computer, video game). Does this play a role in childhood obesity and, regardless, might screens also be enlisted as part of the solution to childhood obesity?

9. How do gender differences and body image issues influence childhood obesity and how should programs to address childhood obesity take these differences into account?

10. Schools have undertaken a number of special initiatives to combat childhood obesity, including: offering healthier lunches; eliminating soda from vending machines; and weighing students, then sending parents “fat” report cards. Do these programs make a difference? What can and should schools do to help their students achieve and maintain a normal weight?

Our approach at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital is as extensive as childhood obesity itself—focusing not only on patient care, but also on clinical research, advocacy and community education, and on developing innovative treatments to effectively address each patient’s individual biology and behavior.

The Center’s clinical arm—The Optimal Weight for Life Program—is one of the largest and most respected childhood obesity clinics in the country, and we’ll continue to fight, treat and prevent obesity until every child is well. Request an appointment at one of our Boston, Waltham or Peabody locations.

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