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February 21, 2012
By Jacque Wilson
Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in CNN’s series exploring the issues surrounding childhood obesity.
(CNN) — Lyn McDonald is doing everything right.
After losing more than 80 pounds, she taught her kids how to control their portion sizes, shop at the farmers market, eat vegetables with every meal and avoid a lot of sugar.
Her efforts are working. At a time when approximately one-third of American children are overweight or obese, McDonald’s kids are at healthy weights.
So why is every day still a struggle for the blogger and mother of five?
‘Hard to be a little girl if you’re not’ School kids have easy access to snacks
“I have had to deal with teachers who hand out Skittles, candy bars, lollipops and giant frosted sugar cookies to the children in class … before 10 a.m.,” McDonald says. “I think this is setting kids up for failure and un-teaching the healthy habits I have instilled.”
The fact that doughnuts and cupcakes are given out as a reward after soccer practice or dance class is a paradoxical hurdle in the fight against childhood obesity. As doctors and parents struggle to encourage healthy behaviors, our sugar-filled, sedentary surroundings resist every step.
Think about it, says Dr. Stephen Daniels, chief pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Every day kids are exposed to advertising about fast food instead of home-cooked meals. They’re surrounded by vending and soda machines at school. They have hundreds of channels on TV, own three video game systems and live in neighborhoods that were built without sidewalks.
February 10, 2012
By Paula Rothstein
The National School Lunch Program announced its decision to raise nutrition standards for school children across the United States. This is the first implemented change to the program in 15 years. Led by First Lady Michelle Obama, the claimed goal of her “Let’s Move” campaign is to curb the rise in obesity in school-aged children. However, nothing contained in these changes would have any significant effect on obesity. In fact, some of the changes – such as the change from whole milk to skim milk and from butter to margarine – are arguably counter-productive.
When considered in total, the recommended changes are quite small for a problem that threatens the health of children and the complex trap of obesity. Unfortunately, the food industry has its fingerprints all over each of these new “nutrition” standards. For example, tomato paste on pizza is considered to be a vegetable while french fries remain a staple. Sure, there are more vegetables being introduced and that is all well and good, even a long-time coming, so kudos to Michelle Obama for her efforts.
It is clear, however, that the government still operates under the illusion that consuming fat makes you fat. Consider the recommendations dealing with dairy. The government’s premise is this: Dairy is good for children; however, the fat content is a problem. This is simply not true. Yet removing fat from a child’s diet is at the core of nearly every change in the new standards.
Setting aside the generally accepted idea in the natural health community that milk is an excellent source of nutrition for a baby calf, if humans are going to consume it, whole milk is the optimal choice. The reason is simple: Our bodies are less able to digest the protein or absorb calcium and vitamins A and D from milk without the fat contained therein.
As for the panel’s focus on saturated fats, science has now revealed these fats actually raise good cholesterol levels. And, seriously, are we actually going to transition children to margarine – which is one molecule away from being plastic – and call it a dietary improvement?
We live in a culture that depends on “fast food” style dining, sugar-laden soft drinks and fruit juices (instead of pure water), chemically processed foods, and dairy and meat that are full of antibiotics and growth hormones. Most often these meals are being consumed in front of a television set. At issue is the “more is always better than less” mentality that permeates our modern lives.
April 12th, 2011
By: Liz Goodwin
Students who attend Chicago’s Little Village Academy public school get nothing but nutritional tough love during their lunch period each day. The students can either eat the cafeteria food–or go hungry. Only students with allergies are allowed to bring a homemade lunch to school, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” principal Elsa CarmonaÂ told the paper of the years-old policy. “It’s about … the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke.”
But students said they would rather bring their own lunch to school in the time-honored tradition of the brown paper bag. “They’re afraid that we’ll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won’t be as good as what they give us at school,” student Yesenia Gutierrez told the paper. “It’s really lame.”
The story has attracted hundreds of comments so far. One commenter, who says her children attend a different Chicago public school, writes, “I can accept if they want to ban soda, but to tell me I can’t send a lunch with my child. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????”
For parents whose kids do not qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, the $2.25 daily cafeteria price can also tally more than a homemade lunch. “We don’t spend anywhere close to that on my son’s daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk,” Northwestern education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach told the paper in an email. She told The Lookout parents at her child’s public school would be upset if they tried to ban homemade lunches.
“I think that lots of parents at least at my child’s school do think that what they pack is more nutritious [than school lunches],” she said. A Chicago public school teacher started a blog to protest the city’s school lunches, and last year the schools tightened their nutrition standards for cafeteria-served school lunches. Every lunch must contain whole grains, only reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise are offered as condiments, and the meals must feature a different vegetable each day. Meal providers also must reduce sodium content by 5 percent annually. About 86 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced price school lunches because their families live close to the poverty line.
Change in Chicago’s school cafeterias feeds into a larger effort to combat the country’s childhood obesity epidemic. About a third of America’s kids are overweight or obese, and since children consume at least 30 percent of their calories while in school, making lunches healthier is seen as one way to counter that problem. Poorer kids are also more likely to be obese or overweight than middle class kids, and to consume a bigger proportion of their calories while at school. Forty-four percent of American kids living below the poverty line are obese or overweight, according to a 2010 study published in Health Affairs.
While we haven’t been able to track down another school that bans homemade lunches outright, many smaller food battles have been playing out in cafeterias across the country. As principals try to counter obesity in their schools, healthy intentions can come across as overreach, occasionally sparking parent and student anger.
Alabama parents protested a school’s rule that barred students from bringing any drinks from home, as ice water was provided at lunch. East Syracuse, New York schools have outlawed cupcakes and other desserts. And schools around the country have kicked out chocolate milk and soda vending machines. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin even showed up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with dozens of cookies to express her disdain for a debate in the state about recommending teachers limit the number of times per month the sugary treats are eaten in classroom birthday celebrations.
Tucson, Arizona’s Children’s Success Academy allows home-packed lunches–but only if nothing in them contains white flour, refined sugar, or other “processed” foods, the Arizona Republic reported in a story last year. The school has no cafeteria, so some parents told the paper they struggled to find foods to pack that meet the restrictions. Many schools ban fast food or other take-out meals.
Soon, cafeteria offerings across the country will all be healthier, whether students like it or not. Last year’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, calls for higher nutritional standards to serve the 32 million kids who eat lunch every day at school (most of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunches through a federal government program). For the first time, the USDA will set calorie limits for school lunches, and will recommend they contain more vegetables and whole grains, and less salt, USA Today reports. French fries should be replaced by vegetables and fruit, the guidelines say.
The bill also calls for stricter food safety checks on cafeteria food.
(UPDATE: An earlier version of this story was illustrated by an AP photo of a student’s lunch in Gleed, Washington, which was labelled as such but some readers complained was misleading. To see a photo of a sample lunch served at Chicago’s Little Village Academy, click here.)
February 18th, 2011
By: Jayashree Pakhare
Well, there appears to be both a link between fast food and obesity and fast food and obesity in children. Some of these links are large serving sizes, low fiber content, and increased content of fat, sugar and salt in most fast foods. Also, since kids are usually out running and playing together, lack of exercise does not seem to be a link in most kids. Studies have also shown that there has been a dramatic increase of the number of times per day and per week that families eat out since the 1950′s. Therefore, it is conceivable that fast food causes obesity.
Fast food and obesity-a link?
The first step is to decide: is there a link between fast food and obesity at all? Yes, there are several things about fast food that contribute to obesity in children. First, there are the large serving sizes that are easy to note. In recent years most fast food restaurants have come out with “super-size” portions of burgers, fries. In addition there are “pizza by the slice” restaurants, where one slice is almost the size of a plate.
Studies on what children eat and where they get it have shown that children got anywhere from 29-38% of their food from fast food sources. This adds up to approximately 6 pounds a year. This taken out to its extreme: a child from age 5-15 can gain an amazing 60 pounds, and that is a lot for someone who for most of that time is less than 5foot tall and should only weigh 100lbs (at 5ft) or even less. This shows that fast food restaurants are responsible for at least some of the overweight kids in our society.
More than just obese kids
The fast food industry does need to realize that there are other effects of fast food than just obesity. While anyone, but especially overweight children, are eating burgers, fries, pizza and coke products they are not getting the nutritious food that they need. Instead, they are getting empty calories. Calories, which have no nutritional value, are setting themselves up for diabetes, heart problems and other fatal disorders. This also leads to the stark realization that if this poor nutrition in our obese children.
Fast food in school
Since the late 70′s, schools have been offering fast food type meals in place of the regular school lunches. These schools report over 15,000 items sold each week, especially to those from higher income level families. In addition there are those teenagers that who work for the fast food restaurants and eat there at least one meal during their work schedule.
Advertising and obese children
Advertising, including television ads, billboards, and other advertising, including toys in boxed meals, has had an effect upon children as never before. Children these days are growing up with low concern for their health and more concern for what tastes good.
Without enough parental supervision, these kids grow up with little nutritional discretion and usually these kids grow into adults with both weight and health problems as well as teaching another generation that it is ok to waste money on unhealthy foods. So it is not only the young people of our generation that are being affected by the fast food industry, it is going to have an effect for generations to come, if something isn’t done about the consumption of fast food.
It’s up to us!
As is expected the fast food industry is not going to think it possible to suddenly change its direction after years of offering poor food choices. It will have to come from the consumer demanding healthier food choices. Our vote comes with where we shop and what we buy. Our children and grandchildren will grow up with weight and other health problems if they continue eating the fast food.
We can read all the studies that show links between fast food and obesity and fast food and obesity in children. We can look on as medical science proves that fast food causes obesity, but if we, as consumers do nothing and continue to feed these foods to our children, the health problems that will be the end result will be our own fault.
February 4th, 2011
By: Agence France-Presse
The more mothers work during their children’s lifetimes, the more likely their kids are to be overweight or obese, according to a US study published on Friday.
Researchers from American University in Washington, Cornell University in New York state and the University of Chicago studied data on more than 900 elementary- and middle-school-aged children in 10 US cities.
They found that the total number of years the children’s mothers worked had a cumulative influence on their children’s body mass index (BMI) — the weight to height ratio used to measure if a person is overweight or obese.
“Every period of time (averaging 5.3 months) a mother was employed was associated with an increase in her child?s BMI of 10 percent of a standard deviation,” says the study which was published in the journal Child Development.
“For a child of average height, this is equivalent to a gain in weight of nearly one pound (half a kilogram) every five months above and beyond what would typically be gained as a child ages.”
The findings were strongest among sixth graders, the oldest children for whom data was studied. Sixth graders are typically 11 years old.
Changes in the children’s physical activity, time spent unsupervised or watching television did not explain the link between maternal employment and children’s BMI, the study says.
Moreover, a mother working odd hours or overnight was not significantly associated with their children’s BMI.
The researchers were unable to clearly explain the findings but theorized that because working mothers have little time to shop for healthy food and prepare meals, they and their children eat more fast- and packaged foods, which tend to be high in fat and calories.
Childhood obesity in the United States has tripled in 30 years.
Today, one in three US kids is overweight or obese, meaning they are more likely than their normal-weight counterparts to grow up to be obese adults and suffer from obesity-related conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease.
Childhood obesity has also been linked to “behavior and academic problems in adolescence and adulthood,” said the lead author of the study Taryn Morrissey, assistant professor in public administration and policy at American University, calling for healthy foods to be made more accessible to working families.
“Given that more than 70 percent of US mothers with young children work, the importance of providing support to these families is clear,” the study says.
December 7th, 2010
By: S.L. Baker
Why are American kids so often overweight and even downright fat to the point many are developing type 2 diabetes, a disease that used to be unheard of except among middle-aged folks? Is it all due to junk food diets and lack of exercise? Those factors no doubt contribute to the epidemic of childhood obesity, but now scientists have found another reason why countless youngsters may be too chubby — a lack of vitamin D.
Research by University of Michigan (U-M) scientists just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that kids who were deficient in vitamin D accumulated fat around the waist and gained weight more rapidly than youngsters who got enough vitamin D. The finding of abdominal fat accumulation is especially important because this central fat can cause a so-called apple shaped body — a body type linked to increased risks of not only type 2 diabetes but other chronic conditions later in life, including cardiovascular disease.
For their study, epidemiologist Eduardo Villamor, associate professor at the U-M School of Public Health and senior author of the study, teamed up with colleagues at the National University of Colombia. The research (which began when Villamor was at Harvard) recruited 479 school children between the ages of 5 and 12 from Bogota, Colombia, in 2006. The youngsters were followed over the course of approximately 30 months.
Vitamin D levels were measured from blood samples taken at the beginning of the study. Of all the children tested, 10 percent were vitamin D deficient, and another 46 percent of kids had insufficient amounts of the vitamin in their blood (which indicated they were at risk of becoming deficient). Then, over time, the scientists looked for a link between the children’s vitamin D levels and changes in three indicators of body fat: body mass index, waist circumference and subscapular-to-triceps skin fold ratio.
“We found that the kids with the lowest vitamin D levels at the beginning tended to gain weight faster than the kids with higher levels,” Villamor said in a statement to the media. He also pointed out that the youngsters with the lowest vitamin D levels had the most dramatic increases in central body fat. What’s more, a lack of vitamin D was associated with slower growth in height among girls, although this was not found to be true in boys.
“Interestingly, Bogota, Colombia, is in a subtropical zone where one may not expect to find a lot of vitamin D deficiency since the assumption is that sunlight is abundant there, but there could be many reasons people in subtropical climates may not get enough sun exposure,” Villamor added. In fact, earlier studies have shown that people in other subtropical areas, including Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Costa Rica, may also be at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
“Our findings suggest that low vitamin D status may put children at risk of obesity,” Diane Gilbert-Diamond, Villamor’s former Harvard student who is now at Dartmouth Medical School and was first author of the study, said in the press statement. “This is significant because vitamin D insufficiency is highly prevalent across the globe and childhood obesity rates are dramatically increasing worldwide.”
In addition to getting adequate sun exposure, other sources of vitamin D include fortified foods and supplements. Villamor pointed out that not only may vitamin D possibly curb obesity in youngsters, but vitamin D supplementation has been shown to prevent some viral infections in school-age children, too.
November 3rd, 2010
By: Sharon Bernstein
San Francisco’s board of supervisors has voted, by a veto-proof margin, to ban most of McDonald’s Happy Meals as they are now served in the restaurants.
The measure will make San Francisco the first major city in the country to forbid restaurants from offering a free toy with meals that contain more than set levels of calories, sugar and fat.
The ordinance would also require restaurants to provide fruits and vegetables with all meals for children that come with toys.
“We’re part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the measure. “From San Francisco to New York City, the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country is making our kids sick, particularly kids from low income neighborhoods, at an alarming rate. It’s a survival issue and a day-to-day issue.”
Just after the vote, McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said, “We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision. It’s not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for.”
The ban, already enacted in a similar measure by Santa Clara County, was opposed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was vying to be lieutenant governor in Tuesday’s election. But because the measure was passed by eight votes — one more than needed to override a veto — his opposition doesn’t matter unless one of the supervisors changes his or her mind after the promised veto.
Under the ordinance, scheduled to take effect in December 2011, restaurants may include a toy with a meal if the food and drink combined contain fewer than 600 calories, and if less than 35% of the calories come from fat.
Over the last few weeks, the proposed ban caused a stir online and on cable television, with supporters arguing that it would help protect children from obesity, and opponents seeing it as the latest example of the nanny state gone wild.
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose swing vote provided the veto-proof majority, said critics should not dismiss the legislation as a nutty effort by San Franciscans. “I do believe the industry is going to take note of this. I don’t care how much they say, ‘It’s San Francisco, they’re wacked out there.’ ”
Proud, the McDonald’s spokeswoman, said the city was out of step with the mainstream on the issue.
“Public opinion continues to be overwhelmingly against this misguided legislation,” she said. “Parents tell us it’s their right and responsibility — not the government’s — to make their own decisions and to choose what’s right for their children.”
McDonald’s is not the only fast-food chain to offer toys with children’s meals, but because it is so prominent the company has become a key face of opposition to the ban.
Daniel Conway, spokesman for the California Restaurant Assn., bemoaned the ordinance’s passage and contrasted it with San Franciscans’ exuberant feelings after the Giants won the world series on Monday night.
“One day you’re world champions, and the next day, no toys for you,” Conway said.
He said the industry could respond in a number of ways to the ordinance. Some might continue to include toys but charge separately for them. Others might reformulate their meals so that they comply with the law. Restaurants might also simply stop offering children’s meals altogether, he said.
Proud said the company does offer more healthful menu options, including apple slices that can be ordered with kids’ meals instead of French fries.
The vote was held the same day that McDonald’s reintroduced nationwide its McRib sandwich, a pressed pork patty that gets half its calories from fat and has a cult-like legion of fans.
Mar said it would lead the fast-food giant and other restaurants to provide more healthful food for kids. The ban, he said, was crucial to the fight against childhood obesity and the illnesses that go along with it, including diabetes and the risk of heart problems and stroke. The cost of fighting those diseases, he said, will be in the billions.
“It’s astronomical how much it’s going to cost if we don’t address it,” Mar said. “It’s incredible the crisis that’s going to hit us.”
October 6th, 2010
By: Jonathan Berr
In June, the Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI) threatened to sue McDonald’s (MCD) over the use of toys to promote Happy Meals. Now, it looks like it will finally happen.
CSPI had originally threatened to file suit against the world’s largest restaurant chain by July. That timeline proved too optimistic to given the complexities of the case, according to Stephen Gardner, the organization’s litigation director.
“Everything takes longer than I think because I am an optimist,” he says in an interview. “It could be next week (when it will be filed), but it’s more likely to be the week after.”
The conflict between McDonald’s and CSPI centers around childhood obesity rates, which have more than tripled over the past 30 years, Some argue that McDonald’s and other purveyors of cheap, calorie-rich food bear some of the blame, an argument the fast-food chain rejects.
A Matter of Rights
McDonald’s, which is fighting an effort in San Francisco to ban Happy Meal toys, has said that CSPI’s claims are without merit. Chief Executive Jim Skinner wrote to the advocacy group in July saying that most consumers have no problems with how Happy Meals are marketed. “Parents, in particular, strongly believe that they have the right and responsibility to decide what’s best for their children, not CSPI,” he writes. “It’s that simple.”
According to Gardner, McDonald’s is using the Happy Meal toys, which often promote movies, to deceptively market unhealthy food to children, who in turn beg their parents to take them to the restaurant. CSPI, he says, is trying to assist parents, not usurp their authority.
“Kids under the age of eight do not understand that they are being advertised to,” Gardner says.”It’s without question that it’s detrimental to kids.”
The home of the Golden Arches is fighting against Happy Meal critics in California as well. Officials in Santa Clara voted in April to ban McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants from providing promotional toys. A similar measure is pending before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which would prevent chains from “putting toys in children’s meals unless they include fruits and vegetables and don’t have too many unhealthy calories,” according to the Associated Press.
No surprisingly, McDonald’s sees things differently.
“As we have previously stated, we will continue to work with city officials to identify a solution to the very important topic of childhood obesity,” says Danya Proud, a company spokesperson, in a statement. “Even with the amendments the supervisors have made, this proposal is not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for.”
Investors don’t appear to be too worried about the controversy. Shares of McDonald’s are up more than 21% this year. Gardener says he isn’t aware of other local governments demanding action on Happy Meal toys.
September 20, 2010
By: Nancy Walsh
Researchers have found a possible link between infection with a strain of cold virus and the development of childhood obesity.
Among a group of 124 children, antibodies to adenovirus 36 were detected in 22 percent of those who were obese, compared with only 7 percent of those whose weight was in the normal range, according to Dr. Charles Gabbert of the University of California San Diego and colleagues.
Mean weight in those who carried antibodies to the virus was 92.9 kg, compared with 69.1 kg in those who were antibody-negative, the researchers reported in the October issue of Pediatrics.
During the past three decades, the prevalence of obesity among young people has tripled, reaching 17 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Although consumption of excess calories and inadequate exercise are associated with obesity, other etiologic factors also may contribute.
While adenoviruses are most commonly associated with infections of the upper respiratory tract and the intestines, adenovirus 36 has been found in fat tissue in animal models.
In addition, an association between obesity and antibody positivity has been seen in adults.
To see if this virus also might influence body weight in children, Gabbert and colleagues studied 70 boys and 54 girls ages 8 to 18 years.
More than half of the patients were classified as obese, with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for age.
Using a serum neutralization assay, the researchers detected neutralizing antibodies to adenovirus 36 in 15 percent of the entire cohort.
Antibody positivity was associated with older age (15.4 years versus 13.1 years), but not with sex, race or ethnicity.
Median BMI was higher in children who carried the antibodies (33.7 kg/m2 versus 25.4 kg/m2), and obese children who were antibody-positive weighed on average 16.1 kg more than the obese children who were antibody-negative.
Other possible explanations for the association of obesity with antibodies to adenovirus 36 could be obesity-related immune dysfunction, making the children more susceptible to infection and to persistence of the infection, the researchers suggested.
Obese children can be severely ostracized and stigmatized. “The possibility that excess weight gain in some children may be attributable to a viral infection could alter the public debate and perceptions regarding childhood obesity,” the researchers wrote.
The possibility also exists that obese children who carry these antibodies may respond differently to weight-loss treatments and could require more intensive interventions.
Strengths of this study include the large and diverse sample size and the rigorous method of performing the antibody assay, the authors noted. Weaknesses include the cross-sectional design, which does not allow for conclusions about causality, and the lack of information about the timing of infection.
“Longitudinal data are needed to elucidate more thoroughly the role of [adenovirus] 36 exposure in human obesity,” the researchers concluded.