Thursday, September 14, 2006

Childhood Obesity Doesn't Need More Money, But Better Education

Dr. Koplan lobbies for more funds to reverse childhood obesity rates

The barrage of bad news regarding childhood obesity continues with this Associated Press story about a new report released this week by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) detailing a gloomy forecast for America's youngsters and their ever-increasing weight problem.

In the report from IOM's Committee on Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity entitled "Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: How Do We Measure Up?," the panel looked at childhood obesity to see if any progress had been made over the past two years regarding turning the tide towards further weight increases by children as the trend has been. What they found is that the problem is getting worse despite attempts on the federal government level to implement pro-active ways to combat it.

One of the key findings of the IOM panel was that one out of every five children in the United States will likely become obese by the year 2010, just three years from now. Because of this, the experts at IOM who participated in this report lament the seeming lack of funding for programs that have been implemented to help combat childhood obesity.

Lead panelist Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, former U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director, chairman of the IOM Committee on Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity and the current vice president of Academic Health Affairs at Woodruff Health Sciences Center at the Atlanta-based Emory University, said he is encouraged by the number of initiatives that have been sprouting up in pockets across the country to help reduce childhood obesity, but admits they still don't know which programs are working the best to help kids lose weight and get healthy.

Dr. Koplan added that a task force needs to be created to determine the best methods for bringing about the necessary changes that need to happen and that national health leaders need to step up to the plate to help with this "major health problem."

"Is this as important as stockpiling antibiotics or buying vaccines? I think it is," Dr. Koplan exclaimed. "It's of a different nature than acute infectious threats, but it needs to be taken just as seriously."

Absolutely, Dr. Koplan! But why do we expect childhood obesity rates to change when the same old recommendations that have been used for the past three decades have remained unchanged? There are many reasons why childhood obesity has not gotten any better, not the least of which is our government's lack of acknowledging that we have a problem in the first place.

However, even if they do fess up to the fact that our kids are getting fatter and fatter, all we get from our government is another gimmicky answer like the Kid's Food Pyramid that doesn't translate into sound nutritional advice for children to adhere to. Kids these days are bombarded with junk food ads but it is the parents who need to take ownership for this problem and responsibility for their children's eating and fitness routine.

Dr. Koplan is right to be concerned about the issue of childhood obesity because he knows the problems that lie ahead for those children who cannot manage their weight heading into adulthood. A recent Harvard study revealed the startling news that children who are obese at the age of 18 were much more likely to die prematurely as early as in their 30's! EEEK! This is EXTREMELY serious and real changes need to be implemented as soon as possible. And, no, giving our kids weighted toys is NOT the answer!

But neither is throwing more money at the problem. I disagree with Dr. Koplan on this point because pumping more tax dollars into programs that are dubious at best will do nothing but waste the funds that are supposed to be helping educate kids about proper nutrition and fitness. Pointing fingers at budget cuts certainly does not address the root cause of the problem.

This issue reminds me of the subject of education spending. People get in such a tizzy when you talk about cutting funding for schools and education. BUT YOU CAN'T DO THAT, IT'S FOR OUR CHILDREN! Um, yes, it is for the children which is important, but there are ways to better maximize the use of those funds in a manner that will produce better results with less burden on the taxpayers.

And the same goes for childhood obesity. Increasing the budget for programs like VERB, a $59 million government marketing campaign in 2005 to make exercise look "cool" to tweens, is unrealistic to sustain over the long-term without a measureable difference in childhood obesity rates. Nevertheless, the IOM panel said the withdrawal of funding for VERB shows the lack of "commitment to obesity prevention within government."

Oh please, no it doesn't. It simply means the government is wanting to get more bang for the buck with the tax dollars spent on such programs and they didn't see that happening. If childhood obesity was cut in half because of VERB, you better believe they'd be lined up with the funding quicker than you could say "Skinny Jimmy!"

But Dr. Koplan contends that the VERB program was working well enough and that the funding was pulled from it prematurely.

Now, the CDC is urging state and local governments to take the lesson learned from VERB to apply in every area of the country to see if childhood obesity rates can come down any at all. The story also cites a school snack program pushing more fruits and vegetables that has been implemented in 14 states, but again whines that there just isn't enough money to get the word out.

WAH WAH WAH! If the people who truly cared about childhood obesity would simply stop their bellyaching just long enough to realize how ignorant they sound asking for more money to address a problem they themselves even admit they don't know the answer to, then perhaps they would start to see there are viable and effective solutions to help curb childhood obesity that exist right under their noses.

Here are just a few of my suggestions:

First, parents need to stop turning a blind eye to their child's obesity problem. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by the mother and father of that obese child, even if it means they need to do something about their own weight problem.

Second, we need to stop fooling kids into thinking they have to eat a low-fat diet to be healthy. With the negative effect of sugar and refined carbohydrates on our bodies, it's certainly not a bad idea to get children used to eating a controlled-carb diet with nutritious meals loaded with essential nutrients their growing bodies need without the excessive amounts of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and just plain junk food that they are stuffing in their mouths these days.

Third, while many believe a 100 percent obesity rate is inevitable in America, it doesn't have to be if each individual family unit does what it has to do to bring about lifestyle changes that need to happen within themselves. Why wait on a government education program to tell your kid how to eat and exercise right when YOU CAN DO IT RIGHT NOW?!

This most certainly isn't the end of this discussion about childhood obesity, but rather a starting point that government and health leaders in the United States should be focusing their attention on rather than the next great "cool" ad campaign. Please stop bemoaing about how things aren't changing quickly enough and start looking at why the advice we've been spoon-fed for generations has been such a miserable bust! Therein lies the coveted answer to the childhood obesity crisis that could be reversed in very short order if we would enact meaningful changes like the ones I have suggested.

I remain hopeful, but realize the chances of this are slim to none.

You can e-mail Dr. Jeffrey Koplan at

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Blogger Mary said...

I agree that parents need to amend their own diets in order to get their kids to eat healthier. We also need to stop insisting on eating til their plate is clean, or praising our kids for doing "such a good job eating all of their food". Why do we do this? I watch my mother-in-law do it constantly, insisting that the kids "eat just one more bite" of each thing before they can have their dessert. Wait a minute? Dessert? Oh yeah, she can't not have dessert, and in turn trained my overweight husband to be the same way, and now she is training her grandchildren the same way. So let me get this straight, they are probably already full from dinner, then she tells them to eat more before dessert, so by now they are exploding, but just keep on eating so they can get that chocolately goodness? The woman has been on a diet for 60 years, and is passing the same fate on to her kids and grandkids. Why don't we just let kids eat what they feel they need to. They won't starve themselves, will they? And lets make "dessert" a thing of the past. We don't need to follow each of our meals with a tasty treat. Why not wait until later, when we might need something to nibble between meals? And then, lets make it some berries, or carrots. Sorry. Venting. I just had dinner at the in-laws last night, and it was driving me nuts! :)

9/15/2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger kesmadia said...

I have a way to help solve the problem and save money too. WALK TO SCHOOL seriously. i live in a rural area w/wide side walks on all main streets yet every kid is bused to school What the heck, when i was a kid i walked .75-1 mi each way (and this was without real sidewalks)

9/15/2006 3:52 PM  
Blogger LindaLCforLife said...

When I was a kid I never exercised, exercise wasn't emphasized back in the 50s, yet childhood obesity was rare when I was in school then and even in the 60s. I remember the occasional 1 or 2 chubby kids in my classes. When I got home from school, bussed or driven, I sat on the couch and watched TV, didn't do chores, didn't participate in sports either. I was never allowed to have a bicycle. I was pretty much just like all the other kids in my area, didn't have a weight problem and neither did they. I don't believe the exercise bull*&*x#. The difference was I didn't grow up on all the garbage kids eat today. They ate a lot more fat and protein back then and lot less carbs. Since then I've seen the changes take place in the supermarkets with the high carb, sugar, white flour, processed junk food and fast food places gone up everywhere right in front of my eyes. They built the first McDonalds in the city I grew up in when I was about 10 or so. I ate there maybe twice a year. Just put 2 and 2 together. How hard is it.

9/15/2006 5:34 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

This is why acculturation concerning diet is a very serious and very difficult remedy to solve. Assuming that the mainstream buys into the idea of "low-carb", which I highly doubt, it would take a generation, if not more, before things may improve.

It's like smoking. There's been a concerted effort since the 70's to change the smoking habits of Americans. It didn't happen overnight, and eventually the children of the children who grew up around heavy smoking have a different view of smoking than say the way smoking was viewed in the 40's and 50's.

9/15/2006 6:02 PM  

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