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  -- Child Obesity

Weighing In on Child Obesity
BY JUDY SHEPPS BATTLE

Patricia can't remember a time when she was not overweight.

"I remember kids calling me 'fatty Patty' as early as first grade and how much the teasing hurt. Every day I would try to figure out a reason not to go to school. I could even make myself run a fever.

"Middle school was the worst. Everyone seemed to be pairing off but no boy would look at me socially. The only thing I remember about high school was that my teachers would say I was smart and should be getting much better grades. But I didn't feel smart. I felt fat.

"My whole life centered around losing weight and dreaming of the day when I would be thin like my friends. Mom took me to the doctor and we even went to a weight loss program together. I would lose weight at first and then gain it all back. Friends gave me street pills and advice about how to purge. I once lost about 25 pounds that way and got very sick."

Patricia's concern today is about her son, who is in second grade and overweight.

"I cried when the pediatrician told me Jeff was clinically obese. He has always been big for his age but I thought he would start to outgrow it. I don't want him to suffer in school and be overweight later in life like me. What can I do?"

Children Like Jeff
Jeff is just one of many obese children in our society.

The Centers for Disease Control conservatively estimates about 15 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight or obese a 10 percent increase since the 1970s. These more than 9 million youngsters are at risk of suffering an impaired quality of life high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes and a negative self image that will continue into adulthood.

Recent statistics presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference are even more disturbing:

A child who is obese at age 6 has a 50 percent chance of becoming an obese adult. If that child is still is significantly overweight at age 10, the chances of becoming an obese adult increase to 70 percent. And if one or both parents is overweight, the odds rise to 80 percent.

Although the window of opportunity for diverting children from this unhealthy path is small, and societal pressures to purchase and consume food are great, families can employ strategies to help children achieve a healthy lifestyle. Gaining nutritional information, retraining old habits, and learning to model healthy behavior are a good place to start.

Understanding Obesity
I recently chatted with noted mental health counselor and author Kay Sheppard about the epidemic of childhood obesity in America. She speaks passionately about the role of proper nutrition.

"All obesity is directly related to eating too much and the appalling quality of food available in this country," says Ms. Sheppard. "Processed, refined, high fat foods are masquerading as nutrition when they are, in fact, poisoning our population."

In her best selling books, Food Addiction: The Body Knows and From the First Bite: A Complete Guide to Recovery from Food Addiction, Ms. Sheppard explains how chemicals in food trigger an addictive response in many overweight people.

"There is a physiological, biochemical condition of the body that creates craving for refined carbohydrates. This craving and its underlying biochemistry are comparable to the alcoholic's craving for alcohol. It involves the compulsive pursuit of a mood change by engaging repeatedly in episodes of binge eating, despite adverse consequences."

Her conclusions are dramatic:

"For food addicted kids, some foods can be as addictive as cocaine, alcohol or any other addictive substance."

Unfortunately, much of the marketing of refined carbohydrates and sugar filled foods are aggressively advertised and targeted to children.

Retraining Old Habits
In any given year the average child sees 10,000 food advertisements on television. Nearly 80 percent of commercials during children's programming are for food products    generally, high fat, high sugar food products. And nearly half of American kids between the ages of 8 and 16 are glued to their TV screens for more than two hours a day.

It is not surprising that University of Buffalo researchers found that children who watch the most TV are the fattest, and that prevalence of obesity increases as hours of TV watching increase.

The solution to this visual bombardment is simple: Turn off the tube. Plan opportunities for physical activity, and practice healthy eatingas a family.

One strategy for healthy eating is for families to help children visualize a "healthy plate"; that's a plate half filled with salad and vegetables, one fourth filled with starch (such as rice or potatoes) and the remaining one fourth filled with protein, such as poultry, fish, meat or soy.

Encourage children to "see" their plate before they put food on it. Not only does this teach portion control at home but it also is empowering when eating out, especially at a buffet.

Modeling Healthy Behavior 
The best tool we have to help our obese children is our own behavior.

We cannot ask them to turn off the television when we are watching TV. Nor can we tell them to restrict portions when we make no effort to monitor our own food intake.

We cannot help our kids deal with the shame, anger, and powerlessness of being called "fatty" unless we acknowledge how much name calling hurts everyone.

Healing the wounds of obesity may require the involvement of mental health and/or nutritional counseling for the entire family. Underlying issues of depression, anxiety, and nutritional education can then can be properly addressed to help break the intergenerational cycle of obesity.


Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com.

Copyright 2006 Judy Shepps Battle
This article first appeared in The Princeton Packet, Princeton NJ


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