Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Thoughts about health, food, and parenting

Janine was a child when her body lost the ability to produce insulin. This is called Type 1 Diabetes.

There is another type of diabetes, where the body doesn't produce enough insulin for the food intake. Our bodies are designed for a certain level of food. Our society is rich enough that most have more than enough to eat. When we eat a lot of food, the beta cells in our pancreas have to produce more insulin. And especially when we eat foods rich in sugars and fats, our pancreas has to run at a higher level than it was designed. Like a car engine, running the pancreas too high, too long, will wear it out. This is type 2 diabetes. The body can still produce insulin, but not enough. Historically this was a problem many adults had in their fifties and beyond. After years of being overweight and eating a bit much, some adults would develop type 2 diabetes.

One of the sad trends in the last couple decades is young adults and even children developing type 2 diabetes. ScienceDaily recently warned of a Coming Epidemic Of Type 2 Diabetes In Young Adults:

In a new article, University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital pediatric endocrinologist Joyce Lee, M.D., M.P.H, warns that the most damaging effects of childhood obesity have yet to surface, and will likely result in an epidemic of type 2 diabetes among young adults, leading to a greater number of diabetes complications, and ultimately, lower life expectancy.
“The full impact of the childhood obesity epidemic has yet to be seen because it can take up to 10 years or longer for obese individuals to develop type 2 diabetes,” says Lee, a member of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at Mott. “Children who are obese today are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as young adults.”


Some things in life are unavoidable. For the most part, these are trials that we just need to endure.

I wonder though if more people suffer from avoidable tragedies. Too often we make poor choices. Too often we don't think about the consequences. Covey has a line about when we pick up one end of a stick we pick up the other end of the stick. We can make choices, but once we've made a choice we are stuck with the consequences.

The huge increase of obese children who will suffer for the rest of their lives is an avoidable tragedy.

What are factors which contribute to this trend? Lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits are the obvious "cause" but it is more than just that.

In the United States, McDonald's is the source of 10 percent of family meals according to expert Harry Balzer of the NPD Group. Contrast this to Janine's experience as a child where her family ate out once a year.

The fast food trend is closely related to the changes in family structure. The increase of single parent homes and working mothers has left us with a generation of children at risk. Children who spend time home alone are more likely to eat to entertain and comfort themselves. (They are also more likely to drink and use drugs, but that's another post.)

Parents of both sexes are spending an average of ten or twelve hours less per week with their children than when they did in 1960 according to Journal of the American Medical Association study published in the New Yorker. Parents can't teach their children healthy eating and an active lifestyle if the don't spend much time with their children.

Children spend more of their leisure time in front of a TV or computer than every before. Not surprisingly, obesity rates increase with TV viewing.

School also plays a part in the modern day tragedy. This study out of New Hampshire notes the detrimental effect of school of physical fitness.

This study measured fitness levels and found that 88% of children can meet the minimum fitness level upon entering school. Only 47% of children in their second year of school achieve the minimum fitness levels for the same fitness tests. At the age of ten, when an aerobic capacity and recovery test is also administered, only 22% of the children in NH can achieve the minimum fitness levels, and as the students age, the percentage of children achieving these minimum levels continues to fall.

Regardless what is going on in society or at school, ultimately the responsibility to raise healthy children lies with the parents. And if the parents don't do their duty, their children will face a shortened life span and lifetime of weight related disabilites.

Technorati tags: parenting, children


ChristineMM said...

Another thing is the increase of putting kids into organized sports (at age three and up) instead of just letting them play outside and riding bikes. Those organized activities often have little physical exercise such as all the bench sitting at Little League, standing in the field waiting to maybe catch a ball. Add on commute time to the field and back. Instead ponder two full hours of outdoor play on bikes, running, playing kid games and such. Which is better for physical fitness? Which is more fun?

Yet which do today's parents value more? Which do the parents think will help their child get into a better clique or be popular at school? Which is supposedly going to help them get into an Ivy school?

Many of today's parents of young children were raised in a time when they got the most exercise at a gym or health club. They seem to make an easy transition to putting kids into organized sports for exercise then being more passive and sedentary in the off-sports time--just like they do.

Also I think corn syrup is an issue regarding obesity. THe increase also in snacks that have high glycemic levels (granola bars with puffed rice in them) may contribute to obesity.

Henry Cate said...

You make some great points. I agree that many children today don't get their own time, time to play and be a child.