Tackling Childhood Obesity

There are few topics that paralyze me the way childhood obesity does. I know…I’m not supposed to “take it home.” As a clinician, it is my job to be just that…clinical. But how can I, when I am facing a 70-pound second grader and a parent that doesn’t know where to begin?

The unique daily lives of our children–a day of shared responsibility–create a difficult situation for tackling this large problem. Parents believe that schools should correct it between 8-3, Monday through Friday; schools wonder why parents don’t do more to create an active and healthful home. Then, of course, there is the problem of money.

Much is discussed about the social impact of the recession, however, little is focused solely on how it impacts our children. Greater stress at home and rise in double income households has led to less time for the planning, purchasing and creating of wholesome meals, which makes it harder (but not impossible) to nourish our kids. Reduced funding for school programs, a tighter curriculum and less staff make it harder for schools too…hard, but not impossible.

Here’s the thing–obesity currently costs us around $147 million a year, and the rate of diabetes has doubled over the last 30 years. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 17% of children ages 2-19 are obese. Since today’s obese child is very possibly tomorrow’s diabetic, the rate of diabetes is unlikely to turn around any time soon. So there you have it…now you know why this overwhelming problem stops me in my tracks.

Are you ready for the most puzzling part? WE CAN PREVENT IT…the whole thing, from the obesity to the development of environmentally-influenced, type 2 diabetes. We can prevent it all if we commit to making a change. This is where shared responsibility forces us all to examine our approach and our own weaknesses on the topic.

I wish that we faced childhood obesity the same way we protect children from cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and other dangers. When it comes to monitoring diet and encouraging enough physical activity (by the way, the “ideal” is 60 minutes daily for children and adolescents), we struggle. Possibly it’s because many of us are not doing so well with our own food choices and exercise.

Mighty Jump
Mighty Jump / David Goehring / CC BY 2.0

Calorie is a four-letter word. Instead, I strongly encourage you to introduce helpful, reflective language in your home such as, “Am I really hungry right now?” or “How full am I beginning to feel?” or the very important “What does my body need?” Teaching our children to slow down and pay attention to their eating pattern will change them forever. Teaching them to diet and worry about food or instilling feelings of guilt about certain foods is not likely to help and may just hurt them…forever.

I implore you to remember that the goal is to be at peace with a variety of foods. I am personally going through this right now. My daughter has been asking (and asking) for a particular sugar cereal. While I don’t approve it as a choice to start her day, I certainly don’t want to make a bigger deal about this product. Instead, I bought the small, single serving portion and will use it as her next ice cream topping or as part of an otherwise wholesome trail mix. I’m finding the middle ground, properly positioning the product to encourage an understanding of the role of different foods and teaching what makes a wholesome breakfast. We are all happy.

Please just begin somewhere. Invite your children into the kitchen and cook with them. Ask them to go for a walk with you. Bring them to the grocery store and try something new. Lastly, remember that as much as we feel like we are competing with many other factors we remain the number one influence over our children. Now that’s empowering.

About our Consulting Dietitian

Allison Stowell MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian and a working mom of two. Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.

She also runs a successful private practice with offices in Danbury, CT, Bedford Hills, NY and Mahopac, NY. Since 2007, Allison has also worked with the grocer, Hannaford Brothers Corporation, as a Nutrition Coordinator. She provides complementary nutrition classes and tours, community workshops and one-on-one shopping experiences at their Carmel, NY location.

She joins the Guiding Stars team to help people in a number of sectors (grocery, hospitals, schools and universities) to understand how to use the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation program to make healthier food choices.

Allison lives in Connecticut with her husband, two small children and her dog, Chase.