Kids and weight control: it's easier when you start 'em young

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

November 2009

Childhood obesity is a fatal disease. That sounds over the top but it's the reason that respected physicians and demographers tell us that the youngest generation will not live as long as their parents, reversing a century-old trend. Obese children face diseases in middle age or earlier that their grandparents didn't suffer from until old age, if at all.

Every adult who keeps up with the media knows by now that type 2 diabetes, a condition that barely existed a century ago, is a leading cause of death and disability. Most are aware that it is showing up in ever younger children. But how many parents realize that high blood pressure, fatty liver and kidney damage in children result from excess body fat?

A major factor in childhood obesity is lack of physical activity but that doesn't explain why babies become overweight or obese in their first year of life. We simply misfeed them. It's easier to encourage an infant to drain the bottle than to drain the breast. Breastfed babies don't gain weight as fast as their formula-fed nurserymates but they are normal. Baby food that comes in jars is almost always sweeter than the fruits and vegetables that moms cook and mash themselves.

Today's toddlers drink juice and sweetened fruit drinks, beverages that replaced water and milk only about 40 years ago. That's when childhood obesity began its upward climb, a four-fold increase since about 1970.

Teenagers average more than one soft drink a day, a couple of hundred calories that don't quell their appetite but that lead to weight gain and contribute to the diabetes epidemic. Today's average twenty-something woman weighs nearly 30 pounds more than her mom did in 1960.

There's plenty that parents can do to limit kids' calorie intake, especially sweets. The easiest is not to put cookies and pastries into the shopping cart. Kids won't eat what you don't buy.

Will they get that stuff from other kids at school or in the cafeteria! Sure, but humans, even young ones, begin to lose their desire for sweets when they are kept out of the diet most of the time.

Don't use sweets as a reward and keep fresh fruit and nuts in plain sight where they're always available.

Share this with other parents so that your kid isn't the only one in the neighborhood who feels deprived!

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.