Childhood obesity epidemic is clearly tied to easy availability of junk food
Harvard researchers believe a true prescription for obesity should cover all aspects of a child’s life. Emma Eggleston (from left), Matt Gillman, Jake Bradford, and Kerri Bradford are featured in “Weight of the Nation,” an HBO documentary series about America’s obesity epidemic. Credit: Photo by Jessica Dimmock/Courtesy of HBO
Some risk factors for obesity are specific to infants, such as being breastfed less often. But other factors are present throughout children's lives.
Sugary cereals, oversized soft drinks, and quarter-pound cheeseburgers are among the unhealthy food choices kids face daily. There's no question that junk food, most of it highly processed, and sugar-sweetened beverages are major contributors to the obesity epidemic.
"In this case," said Walter Willett, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and chair of the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition, "the 800-gallon can of Coke in the room really is the 800-gallon can of Coke in the room."
There's no lack of convincing research—much of it conducted at HMS and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)—demonstrating the solid relationship between such fare and a greater risk of obesity. A well-publicized 2001 study by David Ludwig and colleagues found that for each additional serving of sugar-sweetened beverage that a child drinks, his or her risk of obesity increases by 1.6 times. More recently, Ludwig's research has shown that overweight teens tend to eat more fast food than their leaner peers, putting them at higher risk for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes down the road.
As founder and director of the Children's Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program, a multidisciplinary clinic dedicated to the evaluation and treatment of children who are overweight and obese, Ludwig is applying his research findings to the real world.
One key factor in the rise of childhood obesity involves advertising, primarily via television commercials.
"These companies are investing billions of dollars into marketing campaigns designed to get kids to eat the poorest food imaginable," said Ludwig. "It's clear that children are their main targets. Just look at the ads during Saturday morning cartoons." And that campaign is succeeding. Ludwig and his HSPH colleagues have shown that every hour of television that a child watches is associated with the consumption of 167 more calories, particularly from fast food, salty snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
"There's no real mystery here," said Willett. "In some ways, the obesity epidemic is the inevitable consequence of our capitalistic food supply. Food and beverage companies are competing with each other to get people to buy their products, and they work hard to make those unhealthy products even more seductive to kids."
Television can have additional, less obvious effects on a child's weight, too, said Matthew Gillman, an HMS professor and director of the Obesity Prevention Program. "We're finding that TV watching doesn't just replace physical activity," he said. "Screen time is also displacing sleep, starting early in life, and this is certainly a problem for today's older kids and adolescents." Studies suggest that children who have televisions in their bedrooms are more likely to be overweight and obese. Factor in the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, and you've got a potent recipe for obesity.
Looking for solutions
It's impossible to visit schools, or even day care centers, and not see that the United States is in the middle of a childhood obesity crisis. Yet even if parents, pediatricians, and other authorities are working to keep kids healthy, they're faced with a seemingly impossible battle against so-called Big Food.
"But we have a real opportunity here," said Ludwig, who likens childhood obesity to the fight against tobacco companies. "There were years of debate about the role personal responsibility plays in tobacco-related illness, but that argument couldn't apply to people who breathe secondhand smoke because they never agreed to accept that risk." Likewise, adults may choose to eat unhealthy food, but children cannot. "Kids lack the cognitive ability to defend themselves against manipulation by food and beverage marketers. Once we recognize that, we'll shift the debate and better be able to fight marketers of junk food the same way we did with tobacco."
Many researchers believe a true prescription for obesity should cover all aspects of a child's life. They suggest:
Society. Schools should receive better funding for physical education classes and recess, while city planning boards should address the lack of outdoor activity space.
Government. Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission should collaborate on ways to regulate food marketing aimed at children, and the government should better align public spending with public health by revamping the Farm Bill, which fails to subsidize healthy food choices, such as fruits and vegetables.
Physicians. Doctors should recognize that childhood obesity is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases and make treating it a bigger part of primary care. Physicians can band together with public health advocates, legal and business experts, researchers, and parents to fight childhood obesity.
Such changes can make a big difference for kids, even if they're already overweight or obese, said Ludwig. This hopeful attitude is at the core of Harvard researchers' efforts to wipe out the disease—and is the driving force behind reform efforts by the Harvard Catalyst, an initiative that enables collaboration by providing tools, training, and technologies to clinical and translational investigators.
"Our community is filled with people who walk the talk when it comes to wanting to eliminate childhood obesity," said Lee Nadler, the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor of Medicine at HMS, dean for clinical and translational research, and director of the Harvard Catal
Provided by Harvard University
- New study says soft drink consumption not the major contributor to childhood obesity Jun 14, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Eat, drink and be merry? Study says junk food makes kids fatter, but happier Apr 14, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- The truth about advertising junk food to children: It works May 10, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Study: Junk food laws may help curb kids' obesity Aug 13, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Convenience leads to corpulence Apr 06, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Calculating Steam Pressure in Closed Container
3 hours ago I am trying to calculate the volume of liquid water i need to place in a sealed container in order to obtain 10 psi of steam pressure in that closed...
Learning curve of Electromagnetism?
8 hours ago I'm taking a first year physics course and have been having a little trouble with the basics of newtons laws and forces and whatnot, though nothing...
thin glass in liquid
9 hours ago I have one question about optics because I start interested in it. If an object is placed a distance p from a thin glass lens (index of refraction...
How many joules expended for a push up?
12 hours ago Just wondering if any of you can do the calculation that well approximates the amount of joules expended by a push up.
force to keep the folding doors
12 hours ago Hello, I would like to ask you to calculate the force F, which needed to keep the folding doors in this position. I would like to know what is the...
Confusion regarding direction of kinetic friction on inclined plane.
13 hours ago *please help! * The formula for kinetic friction acting on a sliding body is μkN When the body is sliding with constant velocity down an...
- More from Physics Forums - Classical Physics
More news stories
(Medical Xpress)—Research by the University of Leeds has shown that very young children appear to reject story book characters who are overweight, but not those who are disabled.
Overweight and Obesity May 16, 2013 | 3 / 5 (1) | 2
(HealthDay)—Weight gain in men and women is predicted by two different genetic variations—so-called polymorphisms, according to a new study from the Netherlands.
Overweight and Obesity May 15, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
(HealthDay)—Drinking 500 ml of purified water is not associated with increases in resting energy expenditure (REE), according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the European Congress on Obesity, ...
Overweight and Obesity May 14, 2013 | 2 / 5 (2) | 1
(HealthDay)—Reviews that are funded by industry tend to find the evidence weak for a causal link between sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and the increasing prevalence of obesity, while other reviews consider ...
Overweight and Obesity May 14, 2013 | not rated yet | 0
An increasing number of U.S. children are experiencing gastrointestinal issues that require interventions to resolve, according to research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW).
12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
The latest makeover to a massive psychiatric tome honored by some, reviled by others and even called the "Bible" of mental disorders is being released Saturday with a host of new changes.
9 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
A new case of the deadly coronavirus has been detected in Saudi Arabia where 15 people have already died after contracting it, the health ministry announced on Saturday on its Internet website.
9 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Big names in medicine are set to give an upbeat assessment of the war on AIDS on Tuesday, 30 years after French researchers identified the virus that causes the disease.
20 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...
21 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
A ground-breaking advance in colonoscopy technology signals the future of colorectal care, according to research presented today at Digestive Disease Week(DDW). Additional research focuses on optimizing the minimal withdrawal ...
11 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0