Convenience leads to corpulence

April 6, 2011

Two of the biggest influences on children — parents and schools — may unintentionally contribute to childhood obesity. That's the observation of Susan Terwilliger, clinical as­sociate professor in the Decker School of Nursing at Binghamton University, who studies the problem.

"As a pediatric nurse practitioner I've taken care of children and their families for about 30 years, and I saw this huge increase [in ] from 5 to 30 percent over about a 10-year period when I was in the school-based health centers," she says.

In researching childhood , Terwilliger studied third-graders in four schools in Binghamton, NY. Some of the cold, hard facts may no longer surprise us: 70 percent of the children drank between two and five sweetened beverages a day; 85 percent watched between two and five hours of television a day; and 42 percent ate two or more fast-food meals per week.

But these numbers, all hallmarks of childhood obesity, can be the unintended consequences of rational decisions.

  • Children who are told by parents to avoid water foun­tains because of germs may instead drink sweetened juices.
  • Fear of potential danger can prompt parents to restrict children's play space to a backyard or inside the house.
  • Schools sometimes trade gym class or recess for aca­demics as they try to raise test scores.
Eating fast food on the way to soccer may seem like a tradeoff healthwise. But, Terwilliger points out: One of the reasons fast food fits into a hectic schedule is that pro­cessed food, with its high fat content, literally slips down easily. And the quicker and easier it is to eat, the more you may consume.

There is a lot of data that say today's kids won't live as long as their , Terwilliger says.

"I now have 13-year-olds with type 2 diabetes." Heart attack is the number one cause of death and stroke the number three cause, and diabetes and hypertension, both caused by obesity, con­tribute to both, she adds.

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