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Lowering Childhood Obesity through Education and Awareness

Our culture is struggling with a problem that will undoubtedly affect our lives for many years to come. Obesity. In our small town we are seeing the daily changes in our childrenís bodies, activity, sleep, well being and attention. What is the root cause of our struggle? Do we understand how to fight this disorder? So far the answer is no!

I could dazzle you with a litany of statistics about obesity and its effects on the development of disease and ultimately death in our American population. I do not think that it is necessary. Suffice it to say that the experts think and are correct to believe that todayís 10 -30 year old people are going to be the first generation of Americans to not out live their parents. Take a look around our town? What do you see? Unfortunately, I see an increasing number of overweight and unhealthy children. The increase in disease onset and severity from asthma, to ADHD, to diabetes in our loved ones and friends is in large part due to poor food choices and lack of activity. Obesity is a marker of these poor decisions.

Since 1999, nine short years, we at Salisbury Pediatrics have had to develop a separate clinic set aside for the management of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes mellitus and other related disorders. We are working diligently to stem the tide and try to restore balance in these children. Unfortunately, it is increasingly obvious to us that we are losing and that we need help. The help has to come at home and at our public institutions.

We continue to allow a daily choice of a pizza, a burger, French fries and other non nutritious foods to be served to our children in our schools, daycares and hospitals. All of these places are designed to spawn the mental and physical growth of our children. Why do we as a populace sanction a known health hazard? We take cigarettes out of the public arena because of the health risk yet permit an equally dangerous hazard to exist. It does not make sense.

What is the solution? I recently spoke to group of educators and health conscious public servants to propose a beginning solution. It is a multi pronged approach that starts in our public institutions and finishes at home. I will devote the remainder of this article to this cause.

First, one of the leading causes of obesity is the consumption of saturated fatty foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar laden beverages. We should not offer tater tots, pizza, French fries, corn or wheat flour based snacks on a daily basis. Do we really think that a child is going to choose green beans over fries? Will they choose water over high fructose juice? Will they choose baked chicken or fish if fried is an option? Probably not. It is imperative that the lunch line at school is filled with ONLY healthy options. Let them choose unhealthy options on occasion at home. We should not tell a child that these foods are healthy and ok by providing them EVERYDAY.

Likewise, after a significant bout with pneumonia, a child should not be fed low quality foods. The bodies repair mechanisms will be impaired without adequate nutrients. Our hospitals need to lead by example. Provide ONLY healthy food options in the cafeteria. Rowan Regional Medical Center is in the process of looking into these recommendations. This is how the world changes – one player at a time.

Second, we need to educate parents on how to eat. Michael Pollan wrote an excellent book called the Omnivores dilemma. Read it. Learn about the current state of our food industry. Our meats are of poor nutritional value because we feed our cattle grains and pump them full of hormones that keep these animals pregnant for an unnatural amount of time. Our vegetables and fruits are laden with chemical pesticides that can not be healthy for us. Our government subsidizes the production of soy and corn which helps produce the cheap low quality foods that our children ingest, like soda, juice, oil for fryers, feed for the cattle and so on. Why not subsidize the production of vegetables and fruits? They are known to be healthy. Instead we go to the grocery store and see that soda is relatively the same price as it was many years ago, yet a red bell pepper is 3.50$. Where is the logic! We need to demand a change in food policy.

Simple eating advice can be attained with a one to two page handout. Eating more vegetables and fruits is job number 1. Reducing meat consumption is 2. Eliminate soy oil and corn oil from daily consumption. Eliminate high fructose corn syrup which will likely turn out to dramatically effect the onset of insulin resistance known as type II diabetes mellitus. Reduce processed food intake, especially refined carbohydrates like chips, cakes, pop tarts, white bread, and potato based foods and on. Increase fiber intake with beans, whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Generally, try to eat more like a person of 60 years ago when meals were homemade, colorful, balanced and healthy.

Third, where did physical education go? Exercise is necessary for mental and physical health. We should mandate daily activity at school. In the hospital, one of the first things that I want out of a healing ill patient is a walk around the ward. Movement is health and vigor. Prolonged sedentary behaviors, TV, computer games, etc all promote weight gain and disease. Give our kids a chance to burn of physical and mental energy and come back to class focused.

I have devoted my life to the health and wellness of our children and would ask that you begin by demanding healthier food at our learning institutions both public and private. Until our lunch lines change, pack your childís lunch with healthy food. Explain to them that food is life and their body is running on low octane gas when they eat poor quality food. Try and plan ahead for ball games and outings as to avoid the obligatory trip to the fast food restaurant. Pack water, trail mix, sandwiches, fruit, and vegetables and so on.

A great mantra for health is Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants by Micael Pollan.

If this article resonates with you, send me a postcard with your name and I will put it on a petition for promoting the above ideals in school and other public institutions that serve our children.

Dr. Christopher J Magryta
Salisbury Pediatric Associates
129 Woodson Street
Salisbury, NC 28144

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