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May 09, 2012

A big win in the battle against childhood obesity?

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

First, the sad news about America's childhood obesity epidemic: “Poor kids get fat for different reasons than rich kids, and they suffer from it more.”

That's the disheartening message from an LA Observed article by author Greg Critser, who’s written a handful of books about health and science. Critser argues that the biggest influence on children’s diet-related illnesses – diabetes, heart disease, hypertension – is not what they eat now, but their mother’s nutrition and health during pregnancy. In utero nutrition affects an infant’s ability to efficiently process sugars for life, Critser says. Childhood obesity begins before birth.

Equally dispiriting, it’s not that poor families lack access to healthy food. The less recognized but very acute issue is that their sources of income (everything from wages to food stamps and other forms of aid) can be so irregular. “Episodic income … ,” writes Critser “leads to an eat-as-much-as-you-can-now mentality that goes a long way to explaining why poor people are fat.” Suffering financial ups and downs makes families more likely to stretch their food dollars by buying more filling, starchy, and unhealthy foods putting kids' health, yet again, at risk.

Finally, there's soda, which Critser writes, “may also be the single most destructive element in the human diet.” From an evolutionary standpoint, he explains, we’re not equipped to process liquid calories other than breast milk. (Though this WebMD piece seems to negate his evidence, at least in part.)

I’ve written before that schools might be the wrong place to wage the war against childhood obesity, but Critser’s arguments and a promising new study have me rethinking my position. If Critser’s right about episodic income, then schools can be a more stable source of regular, nutritious meals. Soda and sugary drink bans at schools are at least a start.  

On this note, the encouraging news: a new study written up in a Washington Post blog today shows healthy school nutrition rules are making a positive difference. The study shows that California’s strict school nutrition standards (with fat content restrictions and calorie limits for school foods and yes, soda bans) are having the desired effect: Californian teens are eating an average of 158 fewer calories per day than teens in other states.

Researchers have previously estimated that, if children ate just 64 fewer calories each day, the obesity rate would fall 10 percent lower than where it stood in the mid-2000s,” writes WaPo blogger Sarah Kliff. So the 158 calorie reduction is significant – because unlike most school junk-food bans where kids end up eating the same bad foods but don’t get it from the school cafeteria or vending machine, the California state restrictions seem to be working.

If this positive trend continues, would you support California’s school nutrition standards being implemented nationwide?

Comments

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It's idealistic and unreal to think that one healthy school meal a day will change major population trends. What we need is a political overhall. The prejudices; the anti education, pro wealthy - anti minority strategies that have dominated the political scene - has to be voted out of power. Only then can we not only give deprived children a better meal, but give their deprived families better hope for the future.

I just watch the documentary on Obesity in america. It saddens me that our schools do not take outdoor play very seriously. Our children can not function all day on academics if they do not get at least one hour of outdoor activity. If a child has not eaten breakfast how is the school officials expect such great high scores for our children. Overweight children can not stay focus. Sports and gym class needs to be a priority. School officials knows this but they do nothing about it. Having more cheer leader squads, marching bands, swimming the list goes on. I should not have to pay money for a high qualtiy school that offers these gym classes daily and have the best equipment and leave the low income schools in the hole. Our children should not be overweight get rid of those game systems and child molestors and put more playgrounds and basketball hoops for our children to enjoy no excuse!!! you got money to build for stadiums and hotels it cost less to build a nice playground

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