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The Childhood Obesity Perfect Storm, Part 4

December 1, 2010

The best thing one can do

We have talked before about the “perfect storm” that Dr. Pretlow identifies as the cause of the childhood obesity epidemic. It’s a witch’s brew of at least five elements: the high-tech production of hedonic foods; their availability to kids; the increased stress kids are dealing with; the ubiquitous marketing of comfort foods; and the decreased tendency of kids to do anything that involves physical exertion.

None of these conditions alone could have done so much damage, and even some combination of two or three of them would not have been able to raise such havoc. But when they all pile up together — Voila! It’s the perfect storm. For a succinct overview of the problem, see Slides 42-49 in “Why Are Children Overweight?” (the presentation Dr. Pretlow took on the road to London).

Today, we’re looking at the availability angle. Hyperpalatable foods can be addictive, so they are as dangerous to the health of children as other addictive substances, like tobacco or alcohol. Dr. Pretlow feels that the main difference is the limitless availability of unhealthy pseudo-foods. Sad to say, schools are very much to blame for making hedonic foods readily available. We wouldn’t serve up cigarettes or booze in the school cafeteria or from vending machines on the school grounds. How does junk food get a free pass?

But, say, we all vote for strict regulations in every state, banning soda pop and sugary treats from every school in the nation, and strictly curtailing the amount of fat, sugar, and starches in school lunches. How far are we willing to go? Are we willing to hire lunch police, to check the brown bags that kids bring from home, to make sure they’re not smuggling in contraband foods?

Actually, lunch from home is healthier. That conclusion was arrived at by a study of middle school students conducted by the University of Michigan earlier this year, and described by Dr. Elizabeth Jackson to reporter Charlene Laino of WebMD Health News.

Kids who eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, partly because of their tendency to eat more servings per day of fatty meats like fried chicken or hot dogs. They are also more likely to have higher levels of “bad” cholesterol. At the same time, the school-lunch eaters are less likely to eat fruit and vegetables. And, by strange coincidence, Laino says,

The school-lunch kids also were less likely to participate in active sports like basketball, moderate exercise like walking, or team sports than their home-fed counterparts. And they spent more time watching TV, playing video games, and using computers outside of school.

Then, there is the cupcake controversy, typical of the kind of problem that regulatory attempts always run up against. Over the past few months, reports have come in from various school districts where the banning of birthday cupcakes from grade schools has been considered.

Tammy Mayrend, who writes about parenting for, is a mother who has always enjoyed making cupcakes from scratch, for her children to share with their classmates. She questions the overall impact on the child obesity epidemic that could be achieved by such a ban. This is how Mayrend feels about it:

My opinion is that children only get to be kids for a short window of time. Since the focus on birthdays lessens as the years pass, why not let them have their cake and eat it while they are young and solve the issue with more time outdoors, exercising and parents teaching their children to make better choices overall, with less processed foods and lots of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “School Lunches Linked to Kid’s Obesity,”, 03/15/10
Source: “Will banning cupcakes in schools for birthday celebrations solve childhood obesity?,”, 11/19/10
Image by Krikit, used under its Creative Commons license.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bill permalink
    December 1, 2010 10:00 PM

    When I was a kid, the only thing they would vend at our HS was apples, and the cafeteria got them banned because they considered it “competition”, which was asinine, since the cafeteria was not for profit and run by the school, along with the vending machines. The apples were about the only healthy, edible thing you could buy at that place, being as that was back in the day when you bought apples from amy of the local small orchards in town. The food was crap, rejected prison food served in cardboard trays that the yellow oily liquid on the canned vegetables soaked through and left grease spots on the tables. There was no soda available, ya had yer milk, and if you were one of the spoiled rich kids, ya had yer chocolate milk, and they did have ice cream bars. Is school food really any worse than it’s ever been? They hollered a lot about health and nutrition and obesity in the 60s when Kennedy was president too, and nothing much changed that I can see, except that now it’s corporations serving up unhealthy crap that at least tastes good, whereas in my day the crap was inedible.

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