Don't let your kids grow up average

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2010

A popular motivational speaker used to tell his audience that average meant that you were the best of the worst and the worst of the best. That was meant to rock the complacency of his audience and it should do the same for our attitude about health.

The average American is overweight, gets no meaningful exercise, takes in less than half of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables and eats junk food on most days of the week. The average 65-year-old takes 3 prescription medications every day, is either diabetic or prediabetic, has abnormally high blood pressure and has at least 3 markers of coronary artery disease. The average teenager drinks a little more than 2 sugary soft drinks a day and watches TV or plays video games at least 4 hours a day — and cannot meet the physical requirements for entry into the U.S. Army.

Average is a deadly disease and as more of our children reach that undistinguished status they will do what almost no generation has done before them — live fewer years than their parents did. It's not quite correct to say that they are following in their parents' footsteps because their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers did not have what today's children have in abundance: tools of the sedentary lifestyle and foods that are directly or indirectly manufactured from raw materials to which the human body is poorly adapted.

There is no frantic rush to keep our children from entering middle age with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis, but there should be. These three diseases are tightly intertwined in ways that previous generations of physicians could not imagine.

In the Bogalusa Heart Study, which has been measuring the health of thousands of children in rural Louisiana since 1973, overweight pre-adolescents with prediabetes had lower bone mass than normal, putting them at higher risk of fracture decades later. The skyrocketing increase of type 2 diabetes in children is blamed on overweight and inactivity. The researchers in Bogalusa found that children in 2009 averaged 15 to 17 pounds heavier than their 1973 counterparts. Complications of diabetes occur faster in children, probably because of rapid formation and re-formation of blood vessels that are damaged by high blood sugar levels.

It's possible to reverse these deadly trends in a single generation but that won't happen until we stop being content with raising average kids.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.