Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Missing the Most Important Factor in Childhood Obesity

Yesterday the Daily Mail included an article, Eight factors for childhood obesity, that detailed the findings from a recent study published in the British Journal of Medicine. The study "involved 8,234 youngsters aged seven, plus a further sample of 909 children who were taking part in a large UK study. The children's height and weight were measured and their body mass index - a measure of weight in relation to height - was calculated. The researchers then considered a range of factors which might increase the risk of obesity."

The findings included the following factors that correlated with an increased risk of obesity by age seven:
  • Birth weight
  • Obesity in one or both parents
  • More than eight hours spent watching TV a week at the age of three
  • A short amount of sleep - less than 10.5 hours a night at the age of three
  • Size in early life - measured at eight and 18 months
  • Rapid weight gain in the first year of life
  • Rapid catch-up growth between birth and two years of age
  • Early development of body fatness in pre-school years - before the age at which body fat should be increasing (at the age of 5-6)

What's missing?

Have you seen how kids eat today?

Why is diet - what is probably the biggest influence in risk of obesity - not on the list?

It most certainly is a factor - a big one at that. We know this.

Yet, it is not included here.

With the exception, perhaps, of time spent watching television, every factor listed is closely tied to diet - and the case can even be made that links more television time to diet with that additional time spent watching television providing more time to snack in front of the TV.

I don't know how overall diet - foods eaten, quality of those foods, nutrient-density of the diet - failed to make the list. So, here I'm saying it - a nutritionally bankrupt diet in childhood is a significant risk factor for obesity.

Children eat what we feed them - they are not "decision makers" about their diet. If they're offered french fries and soda - guess what? - they're going to consume them willingly. If they're offered instead broccoli florets with dip and water, they might not be all that happy initially with the change, but if they're hungry, they'll consume them willingly too.

When I'm out with my son, who is just 14-months old, I can't tell you how often his eating habits draw the attention of nearby parents who also have small children. Just last week we were shopping at the nearby mall and stopped in the food court for a bite to eat.

Now you may be thinking - the food court? - what could she have possibly found that was not junk food at the food court?

Two quick stops was all it took. First the barbque place for a side of vegetables - the steamed broccoli, red peppers, onions and green beans looked good. Second stop, the salad place for a grilled chicken caesar salad sans the croutons and a bottle of spring water.

At our table, as my son feasted on grilled chicken breast, broccoli, red peppers and green beans along with enjoying his sippy cup of water, and I was enjoying my salad and the remaining chicken, another mom sitting at the next table with her toddler commented that "wow, my son will only eat french fries" as she handed him another one.

For me, moments like this are opportunities - not for judgement, but for education.

So I said that the easiest way to get a child to eat vegetables and things like chicken is to only offer those foods. That her son might protest at first, which is understandable, but she might want to try it and see since I thought she might be surprised how quickly her son will adapt to the change - children of that age simply won't starve themselves, at some point, when they're hungry they will eat the food you give them, even when it's not french fries.

I often write here in my blog about ways parents can make changes in their childrens' diet because it really is so important. Our children are the future and we're letting them down every time we capitulate to what has become "normal" in society - fast food dinners, quick stops at the mini-mart for sodas, packaged processed foods making up the majority of our diet.

This radical change in our eating habits is less than one generation old - most under 30-year-olds will be hard pressed to remember eating out as frequently, eating as much fast food, eating processed & packaged foods as staples, snacking as frequently, drinking as much soda and sweetened beverages, consuming as much junk food, and eating in cars as much as we do today.

Yet, many accept - dare I say, embrace - the changes as normal and even needed in our fast-paced society. As adults we've changed how we eat - for the worse - and we're passing these bad habits to children younger and younger each year.

Too many do not cringe when they see a toddler with a baby bottle filled with soda, instead it's seen as cute.

Too many are not alarmed when a baby is given french fries at the local fast food restaurant, instead it's viewed as giving the baby a "vegetable" and not a food devoid of nutritional value that may be harmful given the fact it contains damaged fats and/or trans-fats.

Too many are quick to give small children bites of donuts, cookies and candy because that's what they're snacking on and the child wants some too.

Today we even buy stollers, car seats and other children's items with built in cup holders and feeding trays! What message is this sending babies and small children?

For those who read this who are parents, or may soon be parents, please think about your child's future and how the decisions you make about what and how you feed your child will have a lasting impact on their health and well-being in the long-term! You are the "decision maker" about what your child eats - use that power of influence and position of authority early and often while they're young to ensure they eat a nutrient-dense diet that is rich with vegetables and other good, nutritious food instead of worthless junk food.


  1. I agree 100% with your observation. In addition to the poor food choices, the lack of physical activity is adding to the problem. Children of today are sitting still far too much. Playing outside, exploring nature and other outdoor activities have been replaced with Playstation, TV and fast-food. And I'm not talking about soccer practice twice a week, it takes much more then that. I'm talking about regular, daily activity outside. Where is the joy in being outside? What about physical activity in school?


  2. Let us be realistic. Whose responsibility is it to teach children proper eating habits? Their parents. Parents are not doing their jobs in many of these cases.

  3. Yes, very true! Parents are 100% responsible for their children's diet. It is amazing how terrible the average person eats. It is one thing eating poor food yourself, but when you have kids you are responsible for establishing good eating habits in your children.


  4. Parents are the most important factor in childhood obesity!! Parents need to pay attention and keep their kids from becoming obese!