Tag Archives: childhood overweight

Life expectancy has fallen in hundreds of US counties

In my 2005 book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat, I published this the then shocking statement, “If we don’t get a handle on (childhood obesity), this generation of kids coming up will have a shorter life span than their parents. That’s scandalous!” Now, we’re seeing some data indicating this unfortunate prediction may indeed be happening. Continue reading

Burning the midnight oil may lead to weight gain

‘Night owls’ take in an average of 248 more calories per day, a recent study found. As such, folks who consistently stay up late may be putting themselves at higher odds for weight gain and obesity. Continue reading

Kids who sleep less gain more weight

If kids get fewer hours of sleep, they may start packing on the pounds, researchers say in a new study. In fact, each additional hour of sleep per night was associated with a 63% reduction in body mass index (BMI) for children age 3 to 7 years. Continue reading

Family meals reduce risk of children being overweight

The CNN “Eatocracy” blog reports, “A study in the journal Pediatrics finds that children and adolescents who share meals with their families at least three times per week are less likely to be overweight, eat unhealthy foods or be at risk for eating disorders.” Continue reading

Many overweight mothers, children underestimate their actual weight

If parents falsely think that their children are normal weight, when in fact they are overweight or obese, then they are unlikely to do anything to correct the situation. Now there are some data that show parents how bad the situation is. Continue reading

Type 2 diabetes appearing more often in kids

In my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat, I warn that the childhood obesity epidemic was leading to dramatic increases in the number of kids with diabetes and cardiovascular disease and could shorten their life expectancy. Now we’re beginning to see this come true. Continue reading

Younger children with regular sleep schedules less likely to be obese, research suggests

If you hate enforcing bedtime with your kids, here’s another good reason why you should. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that younger children who get more regular sleep are less likely to be obese. Continue reading

Insufficient, irregular sleep associated with childhood obesity

In my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat, I made the then startling claim that childhood obesity was associated with a lack of sleep. And, in a clinical study, we showed that families who make wise nutrition choices, activity choices, AND increase the amount of sleep children get, can prevent or treat childhood obesity.

Since the publication of the book, study after study (many reviewed in this blog) have demonstrated the association between poor sleep or inadequate sleep and childhood obesity. Now, a new study suggests that sleeping in on the weekend may help children fight obesity. Here are some details from HealthDay News:

Too little sleep puts kids at risk of obesity and other health conditions, but “catch-up” sleep on weekends and holidays can mitigate the effects of weekday sleep deprivation, researchers say.

“In the United States, the sleep of our children is clearly not enough,” said lead researcher Dr. David Gozal, chair of pediatrics at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago.

Gozal’s team monitored the sleep patterns of 308 children for a week and compared their sleep patterns with their body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement that takes into account height and weight. The children, who were 4 to 10 years old, averaged eight hours of sleep a night.

“This is way lower than the recommended amount of sleep that kids should get, which is about 9.5 to 10 hours at this age,” Gozal said.

Among the children who got the recommended amount of sleep, the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems was nil, Gozal said.

“But, as the amount of sleep became shorter and the regularity of sleep became less organized, the risk for obesity increased,” he said.

“Kids who had the shortest sleep and had a more disorganized sleep schedule had more than a fourfold increase in the risk of being obese,” he noted.

These children also had increased risk for cardiovascular problems and pre-diabetes, Gozal said.

However, if these children consistently slept longer on weekends to compensate, the risk for obesity and metabolic problems was reduced to a 2.8-fold increase. “It did not normalize it. It’s still a risk but not as much as keeping your crazy short sleep schedule even during weekends,” Gozal said.

It is this combination of less sleep and irregular sleep that appears to result in metabolic problems, such as high blood sugar, Gozal said.

The report is published online Jan. 24 in advance of print publication in the journal Pediatrics.

Gozal says that other studies have shown that inadequate sleep has biological effects, including high blood sugar and cravings for sweet and high-fat foods. Insufficient sleep also makes it harder to lose weight, he said.

“All this would suggest that sleep is an important regulator of metabolism,” Gozal said. “If we abuse our sleep by not sleeping enough, then we are likely to pay the price by being heavy and being at risk for cardiovascular and all the other metabolic complications,” he said.

Children are sleeping less for various reasons, Gozal said. Busy family schedules and electronic media — cell phones, computers and TV — interfere with healthy bedtime routines. The result is that sleep suffers, he said, noting that while bedtime can be extended, we still have to get up at the same time.

“Children should follow a regular [sleep] schedule,” Gozal said. “Follow the rule of sleep and you will be happy,” he urged.

Frederick J. Zimmerman, of the department of health services at the University of California Los Angeles, said the study largely confirms earlier research that found inadequate sleep is a risk factor for obesity among children.

The new research offers a “tantalizing suggestion that sleep that is inadequate both in duration and in consistency may have adverse metabolic effects,” he added. However, it does not explain why obesity and sleep are related, Zimmerman said.

“It could be that obesity causes disturbed sleep or that inadequate sleep increases the risk of obesity. It could also be that a third factor, such as nighttime television, may lead both to obesity and to poor sleep,” he said.

Despite these uncertainties, the consensus is that parents should create an environment in which children can consistently get adequate, restful sleep, Zimmerman said.

“As difficult as it is for parents to consistently enforce early bedtimes, it may still be one of the easiest ways to promote happy, healthy children,” he added.

So, watch the clock, these experts say. The study found that parents tend to overestimate the amount of sleep their kids get, usually by 60 to 90 minutes, Gozal said.

More information

For more information on children and sleep, visit the Nemours Foundation. Or, purchase a copy of my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. It’s on sale at my website. The hardcover is on sale for $3.99 here, and the soft cover for $1.99 here (plus shipping).

First Lady, Wal-Mart to fight childhood obesity

Here’s a shout out to Mrs. Obama. News reports say that the First Lady and Wal-Mart have forged an agreement geared at preventing childhood obesity. Media sources generally characterized the move as a victory for Mrs. Obama’s signature campaign and I would agree.

ABC World News reported, First Lady Michelle Obama “announced that Wal-Mart, which sells more groceries than any market in America, is going to change what’s on its shelves.”

On the CBS Evening News the First Lady was shown saying, “I am thrilled about Wal-Mart’s new nutrition charter.”

NBC Nightly News said that Mrs. Obama “has announced she’s working with the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which promised today to cut prices on fresh fruits and vegetables and to reduce fats, sugars, salt, eliminate transfats in some of its own store brands by the year 2015.”

The AP reports, “Wal-Mart … says it will reformulate thousands of products to make them healthier and push its suppliers to do the same, joining first lady Michelle Obama’s effort to combat childhood obesity. The first lady accompanied Wal-Mart executives Thursday as they announced the effort in Washington.”

Wal-Mart “plans to reduce sodium and added sugars in some items, build stores in poor areas that don’t already have grocery stores, reduce prices on produce and develop a logo for healthier items.”

The Washington Post reports, “Just a few years ago, President Obama refused to shop at Wal-Mart. But his wife now has other ideas.”

The First Lady said, “When I see a company like Wal-Mart launch an initiative like this, I feel more hopeful than ever before. … We can improve how we make and sell food in this country.”

If your family is wrestling with childhood or overweight, consider ordering a copy of book I’ve written specifically to help you and your family: SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. You can find them on sale at my book Web site. The hard cover is available for $3.99 (plus shipping) here, and the soft cover for $1.99 here.

SSK cover

Fast-food restaurants target U.S. kids, study shows

Fast-food restaurants are stepping up efforts to market themselves and unhealthy food products to children and toddlers with television ads, websites, and even their own menus, researchers have found. They’re saying efforts by the industry to regulate itself have failed and are urging government officials at all levels to declare children a protected group and stop marketing efforts that are fueling child obesity, a serious U.S. health problem. Here are more details from Reuters Health:

“What we found in the marketing data is a staggering amount of fast-food advertising that starts when children are as young as 2 years old,” Jennifer Harris, of the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity in Connecticut, told a telephone briefing.

Harris and colleagues spent a year studying 12 big fast-food chains, analyzed the calories, fat, sugar and sodium in menu items and kids’ meal combinations, and studied what children and teens ordered.

The report, available here, finds the industry spent more than $4.2 billion in 2009 on marketing and advertising on television, the Internet, social media sites and mobile applications.

“Despite pledges to improve their marketing practices, fast food companies seem to be stepping up their efforts to target kids,” Harris said. “Today, preschoolers see 21 percent more fast food ads on TV than they saw in 2003, and somewhat older children see 34 percent more.”

McDonald’s Corp has 13 websites, attracting 365,000 unique child visitors under 12 every month. One, ronald.com, specifically targets preschoolers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says two-thirds of American adults and 15 percent of children are overweight or obese. In some states, the childhood obesity rate is above 30 percent.

HEALTHIER CHOICES

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, spearheading an administration initiative on child obesity, has urged food manufacturers to re-package food so that it is healthier for kids. In 2007, McDonald’s and other large U.S. food and drink companies pledged to adopt stricter controls on advertising to children under 12.

“Most restaurants will say that they have added healthier choices to their menus in recent years,” Yale’s Marlene Schwartz, who worked on the study, told the briefing. “In most cases you have to work very hard to get a healthy side or drink in a fast-food restaurant,” Schwartz said. “You have to know it exists and you have to ask for it.”

Burger King in a statement said it “has strengthened its commitment in this area since 2007 by enhancing its nutrition criteria for advertised Kids Meals,” including lowered sodium.

For tips on helping your family and children make wise nutrition choices, consider ordering a copy of my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. It’s on sale for $1.99 (85% savings, $11 off) at my online bookstore here.

SuperSized Kids - .161 MB JPEG copy

Overweight Children Are Affected More By Stress

American kids are really stressed out — not least of all overweight and obese kids, according to a new survey from the American Psychological Association. The report found that children who are overweight or obese feel particularly stressed, more so than their normal-weighted peers. And such stress has a lasting impact on other lifestyle behaviors that negatively affect overweight kids’ health.

Below I have some of the details from a report in Time. If, however, your kids are overweight or obese, you may want to pick up a copy of my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. The book is currently on sale in HARDCOVER for $4.99 here (save $18) and in SOFTCOVER for $1.99 here (save $11). The book is chock-full of ways you, as a parent, can help your children make wise decisions about activity, nutrition, and sleep.  

If you have children or teens who are overweight, NOW is the time to make some changes. And, my book has an 8-week plan your family can put into action to start the New Year. The reason to do so is that to NOT act is to doom your kids to a shorter life with lower quality.

The new report, “Stress in America 2010,” found that the majority of Americans continue to live with moderate to high levels of stress, and while they know this isn’t healthy, they say they face obstacles that prevent them from managing or reducing their stress. They also acknowledge that they have trouble adopting other healthy behaviors like eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. (More here on Study: Parent-Only Education Helps Children Lose Weight)

The effects of all of that appears to be trickling down to their families, particularly in households with overweight or obese parents. Obese parents were more likely than normal-weight parents to have overweight kids, and parents with overweight kids were less likely to report often or always eating healthy foods, compared with parents of thin children. What’s more, thin parents said they engaged in physical activity with their families more often than fat parents.

Along with the tendency toward unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, fat parents and fat children shared higher levels of stress.

For instance, while 31% of overweight children reported worrying about their lives, only 14% of their healthy weighted counterparts did the same.

When researchers asked about specific symptoms of stress and depression, the rates of positive responses in overweight children went up and stayed higher than in normal-weight kids: overweight children were more likely than children of healthy weight to have trouble:

  • sleeping at night (48% vs. 33%),
  • feel angry or get into fights (22% vs. 13%),
  • experience headaches (43% vs. 28%) or
  • feel listless and like they didn’t want to do anything (34% vs. 21%).

Further, children who believed they were overweight were more likely to report a parent who was “always” or often stressed out in the past month (39% vs. 30%). (More here on Do Parents Discriminate Against Their Own Chubby Children?)

Although the majority of parents didn’t their kids were affected by their stress, 91% of all children surveyed said they could tell when a parent was upset about something, and could perceive their emotional distress when they argued, complained or acted worried.

Nearly half of “tween” children aged 8 to 12  and one-third of teens aged 13 to 17 reported feeling sad in response to a parent’s distress, while large proportions also felt worried or frustrated. And while 86% of tweens said they felt comfortable talking to their parents about stressful situations, only 50% had done so in the previous month.

Additional survey data suggested that while overweight kids feel more stress, stress can also lead to additional weight gain.

Most of the children interviewed said they used sedentary activities to manage their stress:

  • 36% of tweens and 66% of teens listened to music,
  • 56% of tweens and 41% of teens played video games, and
  • 34% of tweens and 30% of teens watched TV.
  • Further, 48% of overweight teens and tweens reported disordered eating (either too much or too little) when stressed out, compared with only 16% of children at a healthy weight. (More here on Study: Fast-Food Ads Target Kids with Unhealthy Food, and It Works)

With nearly 1 in 5 children in America being overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, managing stress as part of a total weight-control plan can only help.

For more data on stress in America, see the full report here.

Adolescent obesity associated with risk of severe obesity in adulthood

Like many physicians who care for children and teens, I’m acutely aware of and concerned about the epidemic, the tsunami, of childhood overweight and obesity. Because of that, I headed a research project at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Florida, that resulted in the book SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. The book is currently on sale in HARDCOVER for $4.99 here (save $18) and in SOFTCOVER for $1.99 here (save $11).

SuperSized Kids - .161 MB JPEG copy

If you have children or teens who are overweight, NOW is the time to make some changes. And, my book has an 8-week plan your family can put into action to start the New Year. The reason to do so is that to NOT act is to doom your kids to a shorter life with lower quality.

USA Today reports, “Heavy teenagers are often destined for skyrocketing weight gain in their 20s,” according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. After reviewing “national data on the height and weight records of almost 9,000 people ages 12 to 21 who were followed for 13 years,” researchers found that “about half of obese teenage girls and about a third of obese teen boys become severely obese by the time they are 30 — meaning they are 80 to 100 pounds over a healthy weight.”

“By the time they reach their late 20s to early 30s, people who were obese between 12 and 21 are more than seven times more likely than normal-weight or overweight peers to develop severe obesity — defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 40 or more,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The result not only confers profound health risks for teens whose excess weight follows them and accelerates into adulthood, it also spells a looming public health disaster in a country where almost one in five adolescents is obese, experts say.”

The CNN “The Chart” blog reported, “The researchers also found that [among] teens who were overweight but not obese when the study started, more than 15 percent of the girls and six percent of the boys went on to become severely obese adults.” In particular, “overweight African-American girls were more likely than their white peers to bump up to the highest weight category.”

HealthDay reported, “Severe obesity … heightens the risk for a number of health complications, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, and arthritis. In addition, people who are severely obese can expect significant reductions in life expectancy, according to background information in the study.”

In light of the finding that “teens who were obese at the beginning of the study were 16 times more likely to become severely obese adults compared to normal-weight or overweight teens,” study author Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, of the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, stated, “This is really setting these kids up to have significant health challenges later in life.”

According to a report from WebMD, “Gordon-Larsen tells parents of all children to ‘keep an eye on the weight gain.'”

Gordon-Larsen suggested that “parents have a goal of ‘keeping a healthy household.’ That means focusing on healthy food options and building physical activity into the day, encouraging kids to walk more and move more.”

Parents called upon to be role models in helping to fight childhood obesity. In a related article, USA Today reports that “obesity is proving to be a heavy burden for the nation’s kids and teens,” as evidenced by “a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that heavy teens often gain a lot more weight in their 20s,” many of whom go on to become “morbidly obese … by their early 30s.”

Dietitians point out that children watch what their parents each, and that “getting healthier should be a family affair.”

To that end, parents should consider having meals together as a family as often as possible, not keeping soda and an array of snacks at home, becoming more physically active as a family unit, and encouraging the kids to take part in planning healthy meals.

You can find hundreds of practical tips on helping your kids in my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. It’s on sale, so get one today and make a life-long difference with your children and their health.

Letter from Professor about the Family Physician Academy and Coke

In a past blog of mine (Partnership Between Family Physicians and Coca-Cola Poses Ethical Problem) I wrote, “What does my national academy of family physicians, the AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians), and Coca-Cola have in common? The common sense answer should be, ‘Nothing.’ The actual answer is, ‘$500,000.’ Ouch!”

Now, the family medicine professor I featured in the previous blog has written the following to me. I’d be interested in your take, dear reader, on this issue:

Dear Walt,

Partnership Between Family Physicians and Coca-Cola Poses Ethical Problem

As a fellow family physician, I am sure you know about the AAFP’s decision to accept money from Coca Cola to develop “health education materials” regarding beverages, hydration and sweeteners on familydoctor.org.

True to their word, they have done this. What disturbs me most, now, is that the AAFP has allowed Coke to post (an article) The Lowdown about Low Calorie Sweeteners.

This biased monograph does not address the fact that low-calorie beverages, although they may not contribute as much to obesity or tooth decay, nonetheless fill up the stomach, displacing milk and healthier foods in the diet.

There are additional concerns that hyperintensely sweeteners (1000x sweeter than sugar) may alter children’s palates to favor extremely sweet tastes over less sweet (fruit) or unsweet (vegetable) foods.

Thus, even if sweeteners are weight neutral – o  even if they promote modest weight loss – o er the long term they may contribute to poor dietary intake.

(Another) interesting factoid is that in rats, saccharine has been shown to be preferred over cocaine even among cocaine addicted rats.

Finally, the monograph is not evidence based, does not include search items; study design evaluation; strength of evidence; or stength of recommendaiton.

Since the AAFP’s own journal (AFP, for which you used to write) now requires this approach in review articles, it borders on shady ethics to for the AAFP to paid off, essentially, to bypass their own standards

Anyway, you can spread these ideas far and wide. Public shame might have a slim chance of working.

Sincerely,

John Spangler, MD, MPH

Professor of Family Medicine

Wake Forest University School of Medicine



Should some kids take fish oil supplements?

This last April I blogged on the topic, “Should Kids take Fish Oil Supplements?” and concluded, “… most kids don’t need fish oil supplements.” However, for overweight teens with high blood pressure, there may be a different story.

Should Kids take Fish Oil Supplements?

Reuters Health is reporting that fish oil supplements could lower blood pressure in slightly overweight teenage kids. A new study is suggesting that their hearts may reap the benefits years later.

“Starting with a healthy diet and keeping it throughout life may provide better protection than waiting until later when you are more at risk,” senior researcher Dr. Lotte Lauritzen of Copenhagen University in Denmark noted in an email to Reuters Health.

Fish oil has been shown to help lower blood pressure in adults with high blood pressure and to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. Lauritzen and colleagues wondered if fish oil’s benefits might be seen during the rapid growth period of adolescence.

She and her team recruited about 80 slightly overweight Danish boys between the ages of 13 and 15, and randomly divided them into two groups:

  • one received daily doses of fish oil (1.5 grams, or as much as one and a half soft gels) and
  • the other equivalent amounts of vegetable oil (the placebo).

The oils were infused in bread, masking any fishy taste and blinding the kids to their assigned group.

After the 16-week study, the researchers noted that the kids consuming fish oil-laced bread had 3.8 mm Hg lower systolic pressure (the top reading) and 2.6 mm Hg lower diastolic pressure (the bottom reading), compared to the placebo group.

In adults, a drop in blood pressure of 3 mm Hg corresponds to at least a 15 percent reduction in the risk of stroke, they point out.

Blood pressure in early life has been shown to track into adulthood, with children and adolescents with high blood pressure more likely to suffer from high blood pressure later in life.

This happens either by diet and exercise habits carried over time, or a “programing” that takes place in the body, the researchers explain in The Journal of Pediatrics. Most of the boys in the current study had blood pressure within the normal range.

The researchers also evaluated other heart disease risk factors, including blood sugar levels, insulin and cholesterol. While they found a slight change in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and non-HDL cholesterol — both were higher in the fish oil group — no other differences emerged.

“I don’t think that the fact that the other were not significant means that fish oil doesn’t benefit them,” Natalie Riediger, a PhD student at the University of Manitoba in Canada and lead researcher on a recent review of fish oil’s role in health and disease, told Reuters Health in an email.

Riediger explains that the study used a more “realistic” dose of fish oil than studies that may have found changes in more risk factors. “I don’t think it’s practical for people to consume 10 capsules per day as described in other studies,” she said.

Also, the vegetable oil used in the placebo bread contained a small amount of the same heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that were in the fish oil, which may have weakened the resulting differences between the two groups

Regardless, the influence on blood pressure alone may confirm Lauritzen’s hunch: cardiovascular function is susceptible to fish oil’s effects during growth spurts. “There’s something going on,” she said. “And more research is needed.”

Her advice for now: “Give children good food habits early, including a taste for fish.”

Amen.

Horror Show = Movie Popcorn = 3 Burgers + 12 Pats of Butter

According to a report from Fox News, “The food at movie theaters is scarier than ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’ a frightening new study reveals.”

The double-features of artery-clogging tubs of fatty-fried popcorn and sugary, super-sized drinks — not to mention high-calorie candy — is nothing short of a health hazard, according to a study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest called, “‘Two Thumbs Down’ for Movie Theater Popcorn.”

The CSPI sent food from three national theater chains to a lab and found they may have to soon start installing extra-wide seats.

The worst offender, the study found, was Regal Cinemas, where a medium popcorn contains 1,200 calories oozing with coconut oil and saturated fat.

The lab calorie counts were higher than claimed by Regal. The company said its medium popcorn has 720 calories.

“Oh, well. What’s an extra 200 to 500 calories when your snack hovers around the 1,000 calorie mark? They don’t call them tubs for nothing,” the study said.

The analysis doesn’t include the buttery-like soybean oil topping that packs on an additional 200 calories. A medium, 44-ounce soda at Regal includes 400 calories and 26 teaspoons of sugar.

A medium popcorn and soda pack on 1,610 calories. That’s like eating six scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, four bacon strips and four sausage links.

“Suggestion: Move your cardiologist’s phone number to your speed-dial before the lights go down,” said Jayne Hurley, the group’s senior nutritionist.

My suggestion? Just bring healthy snacks from home and enjoy them as you enjoy the movie.

The food at movie theaters is scarier than “Nightmare on Elm Street,” a frightening new study reveals.
The double-features of artery-clogging tubs of fatty-fried popcorn and sugary, super-sized drinks — not to mention high-calorie candy — is nothing short of a health hazard, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
It sent food from three national theater chains to a lab and found they may have to soon start installing extra-wide seats.
The worst offender, the study found, was Regal Cinemas, where a medium popcorn contains 1,200 calories oozing with coconut oil and saturated fat.
The lab calorie counts were higher than claimed by Regal. The company said its medium popcorn has 720 calories.
“Oh, well. What’s an extra 200 to 500 calories when your snack hovers around the 1,000 calorie mark? They don’t call them tubs for nothing,” the study said.
The analysis doesn’t include the buttery-like soybean oil topping that packs on an additional 200 calories. A medium, 44-ounce soda at Regal includes 400 calories and 26 teaspoons of sugar.
A medium popcorn and soda pack on 1,610 calories. That’s like eating six scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, four bacon strips and four sausage links.
“Suggestion: Move your cardiologist’s phone number to your speed-dial before the lights go down,” said Jayne Hurley, the group’s senior nutritionist.

Partnership Between Family Physicians and Coca-Cola Poses Ethical Problem

What does my national academy of family physicians, the AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) and Coca-Cola have in common? The common sense answer should be, “Nothing.” The actual answer is, “$500,000.” Ouch!

Here’s the story and an opinion about this type of relationship from a family physician that was posted on the ABC News web site:

The American Academy of Family Physicians announced this month that it has received a $500,000 donation from Coca-Cola as part of their Consumer Alliance Program.

In theory, this program seeks “to develop robust new programs and educational materials” to help patients and health care providers make “better choices … to achieve a healthy lifestyle.”

According to its Consumer Alliance Web site, the Academy recognizes the “significant influence” that corporations have over consumer choices in seeking to make decisions about diet and other health behaviors.

The chief scientific and regulatory officer of the Coca-Cola Company stated that “[o]ur partnership [with AAFP and FamilyDoctor.org] will help provide Americans with credible information on beverages and enable consumers to make informed decisions about what they drink based on individual need.”

It is hard for me, as a family physician, to see the “individual need” to drink high fructose corn syrup. This might be an individual desire. It might be an individual choice. But there is no “need” here.

The Academy proudly presents its “Sweetener Education Program” using language eerily similar to Coca-Cola’s: “to help consumers make informed decisions about certain natural and artificial sweeteners.”

Contrary to what Coke and the AAFP contend, the “informed decision” seems pretty straightforward.

According to a study by the University of North Carolina in 2004, high fructose corn syrup alters the body metabolism in such a way as to increase weight relative to other sugars.

Based on this type of evidence, the American Heart Association put out a statement in September noting that intake of all types of sugars has increased dramatically over the past decade. Consumption is 22 teaspoons per day on average, and a whopping 34 teaspoons per day among adolescents.

For adolescents, that’s 170 grams — 6 ounces — or about ¾ of a cup! Can you imagine sitting down and eating, teaspoon by teaspoon, all that sugar?

The AHA recommends that calories from sugar intake by Americans be cut down by 70 percent. In addition to these studies, however, there is the very real epidemic of overweight and obesity in the United States. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of American adults are overweight, one-third are obese, and 6 percent are very obese.

The CDC has an astounding graphic depicting state-by-state and year-by-year how overweight and obesity have increased over the past decade.

Indeed, excess weight is now the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, responsible for approximately 300,000 deaths — or 17 percent of all deaths according to a report in JAMA.

In this context, I am extremely disappointed in the American Academy of Family Physician’s decision to accept funding from Coca-Cola to help patients “make informed decisions … about sweeteners.”

As if there were a decision to make.

Americans must cut down on sugar intake, especially high fructose corn syrup sweeteners found in soft drinks. I am a family physician and counsel my patients daily about diet, exercise and weight management. My Academy’s decision to partner with Coca-Cola sends exactly the wrong message to my patients at exactly the wrong time.

I have also received funding from the National Cancer Institute to train medical students in weight management counseling. So I know firsthand, how little we as physicians know about diet and exercise — and how to counsel patients regarding these health behaviors.

It does not help me as a teacher of family medicine to have Coca-Cola as the resource of health information for both patients and family doctors.

Many of us in family medicine feel we cannot defend this situation. In fact, a good number of family physicians have quit the Academy because of this decision.

If you struggle with your weight,

  • try cutting out about 500 calories a day.
  • Increase your physical activity; walking is an excellent choice.
  • The CDC has excellent resources to help you make the “informed decisions” you need to make in order to control your weight.
  • You do not have to starve yourself or train for a triathlon to be healthy.

But it would definitely help to cut out soft drinks.

And it would help if the American Academy of Family Physicians to give the $500,000 donation back in recognition of the terrible health message this sends to our nation.

Forgoing that money would be an excellent informed decision, indeed.

Kids’ cereals: 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber than adults’

USA TODAY
A new study confirms what savvy consumers have long suspected: Most breakfast cereals advertised to kids are chockfull of sugar and low on fiber.
In fact, cereals marketed to kids have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than those aimed at adults, according to the report from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
SURVEY: Fiber-rich cereals that finally meet taste test
PARENTS: Help kids maintain a healthy diet without a hefty cost
Researchers analyzed the content of popular cereals using a nutrient profiling system and reviewed data on how cereals are marketed to kids. Findings released over the weekend:
•The least nutritious cereals are often the most heavily marketed to children. Among them: Reese’s Puffs, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap’n Crunch.
•The major cereal companies have products that received good nutrition marks, but not many of those are advertised to children.
•Companies have dropped the average sugar content of kids’ cereals, from 3½ teaspoons to 3 teaspoons of sugar a serving.
•The average preschooler sees 642 TV cereal ads a year; most are for types with the worst nutrition ratings. Cereal companies spend more than $156 million a year marketing to children.
•Cereal companies have websites that are wildly popular with children such as the millsberry.com site from General Mills.
•Some of the products with the poorest nutrition ratings have health claims on the boxes.
Cereal companies have made pledges to self-regulate, but those promises “have not shielded kids from the barrage of messages” to eat the least healthful products, the report says.
“Industry self-regulation is an abject failure,” says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center. “The worst cereals are being marketed very heavily to children.” He presents the analysis today in Washington at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society.
But the industry says it already addresses this issue. “Kellogg has a global standard that determines how and what products are marketed to children under 12,” says company spokeswoman Kris Charles. Products that didn’t meet the criteria either have been reformulated or are no longer marketed to kids under 12, she says.
And General Mills spokeswoman Heidi Geller says that kids who eat cereal more frequently, including presweetened cereals, “tend to weigh less than kids who eat cereal less frequently — and they are better nourished.”
In a related study, Yale researchers tracked 89 children, ages 5 to 12, who made their own breakfasts at summer camps. Kids were given either a box of sweetened cereal such as Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops and Cocoa Pebbles, or a box of a low-sugar cereal such as Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Rice Krispies. They could take as much as they wanted of cereal, milk, sugar, orange juice, bananas and strawberries. Results:
•Kids given the low-sugar cereal ate about one serving or one cup. A serving varied from ¾ cup to 1 ¼ cup depending on the weight of the product.
•Those eating the high-sugar type ate two servings or about two cups.
•Children rated the taste of both types equally high.
•Kids eating the low-sugar brands added some sugar but still ate about half as much sugar and far fewer calories than the other kids and were more likely to put fruit on top.
“Part of getting kids to eat more fruit at breakfast is not having it compete with Froot Loops or another high-sugar cereal,” says Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center.
The report is at CerealFacts.org.
In my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat I discuss the nutritional risks of most breakfast cereals for children. Now, another study is confirming my contention: Most breakfast cereals advertised to kids are chockfull of sugar and low on fiber. In fact, cereals marketed to kids have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than those aimed at adults. Continue reading

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Study backs up Dr. Walt’s recommendations: No harm seen in telling parent child is overweight

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My Take? Continue reading

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My Take? Continue reading