The Link Between Food, Childhood Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
For the first time in human history we are experiencing a childhood obesity epidemic. 40% of children are overweight and 2 million children in the US are considered morbidly obese, exceeding the 90th percentile for weight. Even more alarmingly, the current childhood obesity epidemic is giving way to an increase of over 1000% in the cases of type 2, or “adult onset”, diabetes, in children. In the past fifteen years the percentage of new cases of diabetes in children has risen from only 3% of all diabetes cases to over 50%!
On top of that, a new study has found that medications that are taken by adults with Type 2 diabetes are not as effective in children and often stop working altogether after a few years, leaving no option other than increasing the amount of insulin injections, which themselves can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
This is one of many adult diseases that are becoming commonplace in children. According to a colleague who is concerned over the state of children’s health in our society:
I recently spoke at an Emory University conference on childhood type 2 diabetes. I met a pediatric gastroenterologist and wondered what he was doing at a conference on diabetes. He told me he now has 5-year-old patients with cirrhosis from fatty liver caused by years of drinking soda. There has been an over 50% increase in strokes in children aged 5 to 14(8). We are now seeing heart attacks in teenagers, and twenty year olds needing cardiac bypass surgery because obesity and diabetes clogs their arteries.
Are We Making Our Kids Sick?
Are we making our own kids sick? Is there a way to stop this? Diabetes, specifically, is preventable and reversible, but it is not something that can be fixed with medication, health pamphlets or a handful of healthy meals. To address and reverse this disturbing trend will take a series of lifestyle changes for our whole society.
Looking just at the obesity and diabetes issue, take these statistics, for example:
- The average American consumes 54 gallons of soda each year
- The average child in America consumes 34 teaspoons of sugar every day.
Does any doctor or parent honestly think that one can medicate a child out of the results of years of this behavior? Sugar and junk food have been proven to be biologically addictive. That it is acceptable and normal for children to be consuming such a high amount of this substance despite the known health risks associated with it is illogical and absurd, but it continues to be the norm. We need to move beyond setting our children up for a lifetime of sickness and ill-health.
This is not just about “making better choices” or “cutting down” on harmful foods in the diet, nor is it about individual parents taking charge of their own children’s food choices one at a time. In order to address the issue of food and health, our culture needs a complete overhaul of the way we look at food.
According to our colleague, Dr. Mark Hyman:
The food industry has hijacked our taste buds, our brain chemistry, our kitchens, our homes, our schools and our communities. When children have nearly unlimited access to sugar and processed food, when we have 600 calories more per day of sugar calories per person than 30 years ago we have to have an honest accounting of the playing field. The food environment is designed for kids and adults to fail.
Making a Change
Making a change is imperative for everyone, not just those with children. It is important for the future of our culture and society as a whole that Type 2 diabetes as well as childhood obesity are eradicated from the equation. Healthy children are much more likely than sick children to grow into healthy, productive, successful adults. The well-being of our children can increase the health of our communities and our culture as a whole.
There are many approaches to making the changes necessary for making living an unhealthy lifestyle unacceptable. This means fostering health instead of disease. It starts at home, with a healthy diet consisting of fresh and nutritious meals, low in sugar. Breaking the sugar habit is a difficult, but important step to health.
However, there are forces outside the home which encourage the consumption of sugar and junk food, and initiatives that could be undertaken to address these. Some include stopping government subsidies of agricultural products that allow cheap, high-calorie, nutrient-deficient sugars and fats into the marketplace in a more accessible manner than nutritious, wholesome foods; taxing sugar and possibly processed junk food with added sugars to help cover the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of health care costs related to increasing obesity, diabetes and heart disease; banning the marketing of junk foods to children; and funding and supporting community-based initiatives such as community gardens and local farmstands, cooking and nutrition classes and programs to create healthy school lunches.
We have included a list of tips and actions you can take in your own home and community to address this issue and begin making a change, for the sake of our children and our future. Please comment on this article to add your own ideas to the list of tips and steps we can take. This is in our hands!
It starts with food. Tips for a healthier future.
- Eat carrots, not cookies. 100 calories of a vegetable is NOT equal to 100 calories of processed sugars and fats. Healthy snacks are packed with essential vitamins and minerals that you will not find in a snack pack of chips or cookies.
- Lead by example. If you have kids, work with kids or are ever around them, you know that children follow the example of the adults around them. If they see YOU making healthy choices on a regular basis, they will follow suit.
- Shop at your local farmer’s market. You won’t find as many processed foods there and you may even be able to meet the farmer who grows your food. Shopping at a farmer’s market instead of a grocery store will encourage you to purchase and use more fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods high in sugar, fats and preservatives.
- Support a ban on marketing junk food to children. The USA is only 1 of 2 countries who still allow junk food marketers to target children. Contact your legislators and tell them you would support such a ban to ensure a healthy future for our children and our nation.
- Support a ban or reduction of government subsidies of junk food and products high in sugars. Contact your legislators and tell them you would support such a ban to ensure a healthy future for our children and our nation.
- Support healthy school lunches. Even if you don’t have children, contact your local PTO or PTA and Board of Education and tell them you want healthy, nutritious lunches for the children in the school to help ensure a healthy community and a healthy future for the community.
- Reduce sugar consumption in your diet and encourage the same for your family members and friends.
- Get active! Don’t remain sedentary. Move around, exercise, walk, run, play, anything to keep your body active and moving.
- Choose fresh foods over processed foods. Processed foods contain many sugar and chemical additives and usually contain less nutritional content than fresh foods.
- Cook your own meals. You know what goes into the meals you cook, but the same cannot always be said for pre-prepared meals, restaurant meals, fast foods and processed, pre-packaged meals. You can control your sugar, fat and chemical additive intake with ease when you prepare your own meals.
- Change zoning around schools to limit access to fast food and convenience stores. Help make it harder to get that bad food!
- …YOUR TIPS HERE! Don’t forget to comment on the article with YOUR tips for healthy eating and living.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
Livestrong.com: The Link Between Childhood Obesity and Diabetes:
NYT- Obesity-Linked Diabetes in Children Resists Treatment:
Time Magazine: Childhood Obesity and Diabetes
Free E-book-Food Marketing to Children
Nutrition Education Resources for Teaching Children Healthy Eating Habits:
Photo Credits in order of appearance (All Creative Commons on Flickr.com)
- Clare Bloomfield
- Stuart Miles
- Clare Bloomfield
- David Castillo Dominici