Truly happy meals

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2007

"Just one more bite!" If you haven't said it, you've heard it. It makes the Happy Meal something you'll find at McDonald's but not in most households.

Human mothers are probably hard-wired to urge their children to fill up at every meal in case dad and the guys come home empty-handed from today's hunt. A couple of hundred thousand years ago that made sense. Now that dads no longer come home empty-handed from the grocery store (although they usually buy the wrong item or something that wasn't even on the list) there's no reason to push that last morsel on the kid. Anyway, there's probably a week's worth of food in the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer if you're snowed in.

Urging a child to eat more isn't a good thing for one major reason: the child quickly learns to disregard the body's cues to stop eating when he or she is full. Social factors quickly override that satiety signal. That didn't matter as much when the average American diet consisted of whole-grain bread and cereal, grass-fed lean beef and vegetables from the family's garden. Those foods had fewer calories per plateful than they do now. Today's meals consist largely of refined flour, fatty meat and french fries or some other form of naked potato.

The loving inclination to overfeed our children has spawned a surge in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes that is genuinely alarming. Childhood obesity levels are more than 4 times greater in 2007 than they were in 1970, climbing from 3.9 percent to 17 percent. Type 2 diabetes is rising among children by about one percent a year and bringing complications such as kidney failure and blindness before the age of 30.

It's never too early to put a child on the right path to avoiding obesity and now there's proof that early intervention is what we need. Researchers looking at very young children found that in 2001, 6 percent of infants younger than 6 months, 9 percent of infants aged 6-12 months and 12 percent of those between 12 and 24 months were obese!

(N.B.: In the interest of not stigmatizing children and upsetting their parents, the government refers to obese children as "overweight" and those who are overweight as "at risk of overweight." It's no surprise that mothers of obese children do not perceive them as such; the government reinforces that attitude with its PC terminology.) Don't buy into the idea that they'll lose that weight when they begin to walk and become more active. Infants that gain weight rapidly in the first four months are likely to become overweight adults.

Children that are breastfed are less likely to become obese at any age. New growth charts are being developed that use breastfed children as the norm for comparison, not formula-(over)fed infants. Mother's should resist the temptation to urge a baby to take the last ounce of formula in the bottle. Babies do know when to stop.

There's a simple rule for the older child: mom decides what to serve, the child decides how much to eat. How's that for a happy meal?

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.