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The Childhood Obesity Perfect Storm, Part 6

December 8, 2010

Rain Storm

In America, we are so immersed in food, it’s ridiculous. Sure, not everybody can afford it, but it’s out there. Everywhere we turn — in the house, in the school, in the church, in the movie theater — food is staring us in the face. What Dr. Pretlow wants to know is,

How will we make the transition from a culture of highly pleasurable, potentially addicting foods, to which kids are exposed, to a food-for-nutrition based culture?

It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. Changing a whole society is a tall order. It’s difficult enough for even one person to change things in their own life. We’re looking at a typical advice article, called “How to Eat Healthy Snacks to Help Lose Weight,” by Jennifer Glennon, and it includes this advice as Step 1:

Remove any and all snacks that are in your pantry and refrigerator that does not fall into the healthy snacks category. If the unhealthy snacks are not in your house, you will not be tempted to reach for them…

That’s not a bad idea, for a single person who lives alone. But what if you live with a spouse who doesn’t have an obesity problem, and wants to keep junk food around the place? Or an actively sabotaging spouse who feels threatened by your interest in self-improvement? Well, you can always get a divorce and move out.

But what if you’re a child or a teenager, with no control over the contents of the family kitchen? And even if you’re lucky enough to have understanding and cooperative parents who are willing to help by stocking the refrigerator with raw carrots and the cupboard with rice cakes, there is still a big world outside. We talked about the controversy over legislation controlling public schools and their role in warning parents about their children’s incipient obesity problems. Schools do have the responsibility, if they serve food, to make sure that food is nutritious. And they should probably stop allowing vending machines to sell junk food and soda pop.

Still, kids spend only a certain amount of time on the school grounds. The world is full of drugstore chains, supposedly places that promote health, but they are filled to the rafters with junk food. Supermarkets and convenience stores are open around the clock. Here is a comment made by a mom, in response to a previous Childhood Obesity News post, about her son:

He’s not overweight at all, and he doesn’t have much processed food available to him at home. But, now 14, put a dollar in his pocket and he’s at the nearest convenience store buying sugar water. Giant bottles of sugar water. I wish we could limit the volume of crap kids buy at the store without parental supervision.

And, of course, there are the fast food joints. We also mentioned the “geography is destiny” study done at the University of Leeds, which confirmed that kids get fatter if they live or go to school in proximity to Burger Kings and Dairy Queens. Recently, Gloria Goodale reported from the historically significant town of Baldwin Park, California. This is where the very first drive-through fast food restaurant opened in 1948. Now, the city of not even close to 100,000 residents has 17 drive-throughs, and decided not to let any more be built for nine months. Of course, with the economy in the shape it’s in, there might not have been any such business startups planned anyhow. But it’s a nice gesture.

In his presentation, “Why Are Children Overweight?” Dr. Pretlow quotes a teenage girl who weighs 560 pounds and eats at McDonald’s every day (Slide 47). In Overweight: What Kids Say, he includes charts that show how the number of fast food restaurants in America has increased, and how childhood obesity has increased during the same time period. The coincidence is very striking. He would definitely like to see the banishment of fast food outlets from areas near schools, but that’s not likely to happen. Even if such a law were passed tomorrow, there are still thousands of pseudo-food dispensaries that would be grandfathered in.

These establishments are one element of the childhood obesity “perfect storm.” Maybe if everything else was just peachy, and the only problem we had to worry about was the proliferation of fast food joints, the childhood obesity epidemic would not have occurred. But that’s what a “perfect storm” is — a combination of events that create a synergy, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Now, Dr. Pretlow says,

The perfect storm has morphed into a ‘fire storm,’ which will be unbelievably difficult to extinguish — particularly with the food companies continually pouring gasoline on the flames.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How to Eat Healthy Snacks to Help Lose Weight,”, 09/17/08
Source: “Birthplace of the Drive-Thru Bans Them to Curb Obesity,”, 08/02/10
Image by travlinman43, used under its Creative Commons license.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 11:41 AM

    Good morning,

    Thank you for writing this post. I was not aware that the rise of fast food restaurants corresponded with the rise in childhood obesity.

    I found your site when searching for blogs related to children and nutrition. I work with a government program (WeCan = Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition) to get the word out about healthy eating, nutrition, and childhood obesity. What a treat to find your site!

    We created a tool to teach kids about nutritious foods. Would you be interested in sharing it on your blog?

    The tool is called the “Go, Slow, Whoa” widget, and it teaches people about:

    • Go foods (eat almost anytime),
    • Whoa foods (eat sometimes or less often), and
    • Slow foods (eat only once in a while or less often).

    All best,

    • Pat Hartman permalink*
      December 8, 2010 12:27 PM

      Thanks for the tip, Deborah!

  2. December 8, 2010 5:48 PM

    I never had a weight problem as a kid, but I know a lot of kids today are overweight due to insulin resistance, the same prediabetic condition I’ve figured out how to reverse. Its what was causing me to be tired all the time and to have trouble losing weight even though I am in a Masters Swim club so get lots of exercise. When I discovered what was wrong with me and started limiting carb intake and started eating high protein snacks due to hypoglycemia I went from 246 lbs to 190 lbs and am still losing, and still reversing my high blood sugar. I created in order to log my progress and share my information and ideas while getting feedback. I hope its useful to some people who come here. Its not hard to lose weight once you know how.

    Kind Regards,

    • Pat Hartman permalink*
      December 8, 2010 6:36 PM

      Thank you for sharing this inspiring information.

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