Into the Mouths of Babes: the Obesity Problem Revisited.
Dr. Thomas Patavino D.C., MS, F.I.A.M.A

In the past few months, it seems that you can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine without finding an article pointing out the growing problem of obesity in our nation. Behind every “fit into your bathing suit in six weeks” article, or the perfect abdominal workout in 7 minutes a day tagline lays an issue that can’t be ignored; people have difficulty managing their weight. This should come as no surprise to most adults, as many have struggled with this issue or know someone close to them that has had their fair share of battles with carrying unwanted pounds. What might surprise you is that obesity is becoming the norm for America. 61 percent of the population is suffering from obesity, with no immediate signs of reversing this unhealthy trend. The scary thing isn’t how obesity is affecting our adult nation, but rather the children now being affected by this trend. The conservative estimations predict that 16% of children are suffering from obesity. That 16% may seem low when you compare it to the anagram of 61% of adults suffering from this problem, but this is a 48% increase since they collected data 10 years ago. Let me state that again, in 10 short years we have seen nearly a 50% increase in children who are overweight.

The impact of obesity in children often becomes downplayed. It is often thought that children will outgrow their “baby fat” and obesity won’t become a bigger issue. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For starters, we are seeing a huge rise in type 2 diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure in children. These conditions are common problems for adults but not children. Not any more. Furthermore, for the first time in 100 years we have managed to decrease our life expectancy due to obesity. That means that grandchildren are probably not going to live as long as their grandparents or possibly their parents unless there is a reversal in this trend.

Obesity affects children in other ways besides directly impacting their physical health. Esteem issues and depression are often a by-product of obesity. This has been linked to suicidal thoughts and attempts on young lives. Perception of how one sees themselves can become a bigger issue than the excessive weight the child might be carrying. This contributes to the rise we are seeing in eating disorders and the use of weight loss products by children and teens. We have kids going to the mall buying weight loss pills instead of toys and games. Pills containing the caffeine equivalent of 6 cups of coffee promising weight loss entice young minds that long to shed unwanted pounds. These products, although legal, carry great health risks such as increasing the heart rate to unsafe levels. Children and teens struggle enough for acceptance without having to handle the burden and potential dangers of unsafe weight loss methods.

It seems that childhood obesity awareness is gaining some exposure with articles and even a TV show Honey, We’re Killing the Kids, shown on The Learning Channel. Many schools have pulled soda out of the vending machines to do a small part in this crusade to halt the obesity epidemic. I feel for the most part, we are still in the phase of defining the problem rather than providing a solution. Even this article, has served as a source to get people to think about the potential dangers of ignoring what we see before us. The solution is not a simple one. As adults know, weight management is a full time job in itself. Many people emphasize blame rather than putting efforts towards correction. I’m sure many feel that the parents are to blame. In some cases, this may be true, but that doesn’t help anyone involved by reiterating what is already known. I feel the solution lies in education, rather than pointing fingers and complicating the matter.

Education involves recognizing the problem and the willingness to participate in implementing correction. In simpler words, parents should be challenged to help with their children’s problem rather than ignoring the warning signs or allowing declining health habits to escalate. I don’t feel any parent would knowingly put their child in harm’s way. This growing epidemic probably is the result of not being aware when there should have been concern and not knowing how to fix things when it is obvious that there is a weight issue that must be addressed. When they say it “takes a village”, this couldn’t be more true. This problem doesn’t appear to be going away. Many villagers feel they are doing their part by pointing out the problem and offering little help on how to find a remedy. I would like to make sure I am not guilty of that. There are solutions and steps parents and their children can take to battle the obesity issue. Unfortunately, with a problem of this complexity there are no universal answers to solve everyone’s problem. Although many families struggling to manage their weight share common lifestyle patterns and nutritional habits, there will still be unique circumstances that prevent a one-size fits all answer to this problem. With that said, the best forum for providing a solution has to be a two way street of communication rather than a one sided declaration. The problem has been defined and hopefully that has opened eyes to what can no longer be ignored.