Childhood Obesity: Our Kids Are In Danger!

As part of my preparation for my integrative-medicine boards, I’ve been doing some research about childhood obesityThe results of this research have been pretty scary!

Childhood obesity is a very common problem.  According to the CDC’s website, obesity rates among children age 2-19 has been stable at about 17%.  The good news is that obesity in kids age 2-5 has gone DOWN.  Black and Hispanic kids have higher obesity rates than white kids, as do kids from lower-socioeconomic-status families.

Why have obesity rates gone down among preschoolers?  No one is quite sure, but it’s possible that awareness campaigns targeting parents of preschoolers have been successful. 

Why should we care about obesity among kids and teenagers?  The scary fact is that obesity raises the rate of a large number of diseases.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver, cirrhosis and cancer are among the diseases associated with overweight and obesity.

Our kids’ generation is the first in known history to have a SHORTER life expectancy than their parents.  Yikes!

So how do we help our kids?  The first thing parents need to do is learn how to create healthy habits for THEMSELVES.  Our kids learn their habits by watching their parents.  You can’t teach your kids skills that you yourself don’t know.  And TELLING your kids they should turn the TV off, go exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, manage stress, and tend to their spiritual life is not nearly enough.

GET MOVING

You don’t have to run a marathon to show your kids that physical activity is important.  Set limits on screen time for everyone in the house.  Go outside and play with your kids.  Play tag, Frisbee, toss a ball, teach them backyard games you loved as a kid.  Anybody remember “Ghost in the Graveyard,” “Red Light Green Light” or “Swinging Statues?”

You can also get the whole family involved in organized sports.  Rec league and pick-up sports games are great fun.  Basketball, softball and golf are available for the whole family to play.  Martial arts classes teach focus and discipline and actually decrease the incidence of violence and bullying in schools.

EAT RIGHT

The important thing is to make changes slowly.  The changes are more likely to stick and be accepted by picky eaters if they happen gradually. 

Make a list of family favorites like pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers.  Look online for ways to tweak the recipes to make them healthier, or start making them at home rather than getting takeout.  I guarantee they’ll be heatlhier and everyone is likely to eat less.

Make family meals a priority when possible.  Obesity rates are lower in families who all sit down to meals together.

When shopping, choose foods from the OUTSIDE of the grocery store.  Fresh whole foods are much healthier than foods that come in boxes, bags and cans. 

Read labels and avoid artificial colors and sweeteners.  If you see “partially hydrogenated” anywhere in the ingredient list, don’t buy it (it has trans fats which are linked to heart disease and cancer risk).  Reduce and avoid high-fructose corn syrup, especially soda. 

REDUCE STRESS

Probably the number-one stress reliever that people ignore is SLEEP.  Everyone needs to get enough sleep!  Sleep deprivation makes grownups grouchy, makes kids have trouble with learning and behavior, and makes everyone gain weight.  Read more here.

Do you consider yourself religious?  If not, that’s OK, there are plenty of nonreligious people who have very healthy spiritual lives.  It is important to consider and encourage our families’ spiritual growth.  Those who consider themselves spiritual or religious tend to be healthier and suffer less with chronic medical illnesses.  You can attend church or other religious services, encounter nature as a manifestation of divine, or explore other spiritual practices such as meditation.

There is more information about the biology of stress here on this page.

The bottom line is that our kids’ health is our responsibility. If the trend of shortening life expectancy is going to be reversed, it is up to us.  We all need to make the small changes that will pay big dividends in our kids’ lifelong health habits.

QUESTION:  What one area do you feel your family needs to improve most?  Activity, diet or stress relief?

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What Is An Elimination Diet, And Do You Need To Try One?

Stuffy nose.  Postnasal drip.  Swollen, puffy eyes.  Dark circles under the eyes.  Swollen legs.  Fatigue.  Sound familiar?  If you’ve been told you have allergies, whoever told you so might very well be right.  You MIGHT be allergic to foods you’re eating, and an elimination diet can help identify those foods.

When you say “food allergy” most people think of peanut allergy (since it’s a big buzzword in our kids’ schools.  The type of food allergy that makes it necessary to have peanut-free schools is Type-1 Hypersensitivity.  This causes hives, itching, swelling, wheezing, and can even progress to shock and death.  People with this type of allergy are pretty easy to identify and don’t need an elimination diet!

The type of food allergy symptoms that I want to discuss today are actually more accurately termed food SENSITIVITIES.  Food sensitivities can contribute to a wide variety of medical problems including chronic fatigue, chronic leg swelling, migraine, ADHD, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, psoriasis, and recurrent aphthous ulcers (canker sores) in the mouth.

Many doctors don’t really believe that these sensitivities exist.  However, the success that holistic practitioners have had with identifying food sensitivities and helping patients feel better is quite impressive.

 

I’ve had patients come to me requesting “food allergy” testing, and I’ve ordered blood tests or sent them to allergists for skin testing.  Usually the tests come back negative, but scientific studies have shown that blood tests for food allergies are VERY inaccurate.  Both false positive and false negative results are pretty common.  And if you go for skin testing while still eating the foods you’re sensitive to, the results can be inaccurate as well.

So that’s where an elimination diet comes in.  You basically eat a diet for about 3 weeks that removes ALL the most common allergenic foods.  Most patients feel much better at this point!  Allergy symptoms subside, skin clears up, energy is good.

Some patients feel so good they just want to stay on the elimination diet forever.  That’s OK, but the longer you stay on the elimination diet the less sensitive you become to those allergenic foods.  If you don’t start to identify them after about 3 weeks, your window becomes smaller and smaller (meaning you react less and less) and in the future if you start eating those foods again the symptoms may recur after awhile.

It’s better to start testing the foods you really would like to be able to eat (or foods like milk and wheat which are REALLY tough to completely eliminate) because, if you don’t react to them, you should be able to safely start eating them again.  Since we want people to eat a wide variety of foods, it doesn’t make sense to give up ALL possibly allergenic foods.  Just give up the ones your body doesn’t handle well!

After about 3 weeks on the elimination diet, you would eat one allergenic food per day.  For instance on day 1 you might drink milk.  On day 2 you might have eggs.  On day 3 you might try coffee or tea.  And so on, until you’ve tried every food on the list.  Some people who have subtle reactions may feel they want to retest a certain food if they’re not sure how they felt when they ate it.

Elimination diets and food challenges should be done under the direction of a holistic practitioner.  If you’re in the Cleveland area and would like to discuss this with me, please feel free to call my office and make an appointment.  If you’re not in northern Ohio you can search for a doctor in your area by clicking this link.

Eliminating foods to which you’re allergic can make a huge difference in your quality of life.  Just the act of doing an elimination diet is an outstanding step in taking control of your health!

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