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Combating Childhood Obesity, Healthier Children

Combating Childhood Obesity
Teachers Can Lead The Way To Healthier Children

By Dr. Margaret MacKrell Gaglione, FACP

Tidewater Teacher magazine, Nov/Dec 2007

“You are what you eat” is a phrase that has great applicability to our American youth. Seventeen percent of our nation’s children are overweight or obese. That number increases to 25% in our black and Hispanic children.

America is at a frightening health crisis which will have as great an effect on our children as tobacco, drug and alcohol use. Our children are developing traditionally adult medical problems such as Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Fifteen years ago Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus was a rarity in children. It now accounts for 8 - 45 percent of all diagnoses of diabetes in children. Other typical adult medical problems developing in children at an alarming rate include sleep apnea, mechanical joint pain, and fatty liver disease.

This nation is now at the point where our children’s nutrition is a safety issue, and we need to act accordingly. Nutrition has to become a critical part of our children’s school curriculum if we are to beat the overweight health care crisis slowly consuming us. Without nutrition education we will soon have a nation of children suffering from adult illnesses.

Balancing the Scale
David Walsh, in his new book No, Why Kids -- of All Ages -- Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It, states: “We’ve finally reached the point that things are so out of balance and we need to get them back in balance. What we really need to do is to reclaim our ability to say no to our children so that they can say it to themselves."

Adults regularly place rules and regulations on children ( seat belts, helmets for bike riding, and penalties for use of foul language in school). But when it comes to observing and regulating children's food intake, these same adults become dumbingly passive.

Reasonable parents put their child in a car seat, even when they encounter the inevitable kicking and screaming toddler. Yet, these same parents will insist their child will only eat chicken fingers. The fact is, the parent has permitted their child to eat only chicken fingers rather then put up with the "kicking and screaming." Children will eat healthy food and will try new foods when made available to them.

Putting Nutrition First
Obesity is not the only health crisis facing your youth. Many youth today are also extremely malnourished.

Children who are not regularly fed breakfast, vegetables, fruits and milk are not receiving the proper nutrients they need for healthy minds and bodies. Children who are fed diets that contain excessive saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and salt are taking in excessive amounts of calories leading to early puberty (from excessive production of steroids), abdominal fat deposition, adult diseases, and a worsening sedentary lifestyle.

Childhood nutrition has become a causality of our fast-paced lives and lack of families consuming meals prepared at home. This cultural shift has occurred because a majority of our local families have both parents working. This ever-increasing dynamic has resulted in the following fundamental changes in our children’s dietary habits:

• Insufficient consumption of milk and dairy products with replacement by regular sodas and juices.

• Insufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables.

• Young children and teens consuming excessive calories. Take for instance a child meal at a fast-food restaurant. This was the original “adult meal” when fast food was first introduced in 1950’s. Now, no child over the age of 12 will have a “Happy Meal” because they’re for “babies.”

• Loss of traditional family heritage in the preparation of food and the ability to cook a meal.

Both teachers and parents need to change their thinking and view nutrition as the most important health and safety issue facing our children. Turning the tide on our obesity epidemic will take an increased amount of nutrition education in all grades. As pivotal role models, teachers can help to lead the way.

Creative Ways Teachers Can Help Improve Student Health & Nutrition

• Challenge your students to give up soda for one week. Then increase it to two weeks, etc. Give non-food rewards to students who meet the challenge. Move on to other areas – fast-food, candy, increasing physical activity, etc.

• Ask your school administration to find non-food companies to support reading challenges. This sends a message to the fast-food industry that they cannot seduce our children with their high calorie rewards.

• Petition your administration to support a policy of once-a-month or once- a-quarter birthday celebrations for all children.

• Teach math using calorie information. Have middle grade students figure out the calorie content of items by identifying the composition of food (i.e. 4 calories for each gram of protein or carbohydrates, 7 calories for each gram of alcohol, and 9 calories for each gram of fat).

• Emphasize the importance of nutrition with their parents. Have parents sign off on their child’s nutrition as they would sign off on their homework. For example:
- My child exercised for ___ minutes today.
- My child did not have soda today.
- My child had breakfast this morning.

• Reward good behavior with non-food rewards. Teaching a child that sweet treats are a reward for good behavior will lead to adults who reward themselves with food when they're feeling lonely, sad, happy, etc. Food is for nutrition; a movie is for good behavior.

• Good teachers role model good behavior. What nutritional behavior are you role modeling for your students? What does your administration serve at staff meetings? How could the provided meals be changed to reflect better nutrition?

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This is the first step in improving your health and lifestyle.

At Tidewater Bariatrics, my staff and I are committed to helping you achieve your weight loss goals.

I am a board certified Bariatrician and Internal Medicine physician. I will tailor a program specific to your needs, time constraints and abilities.

Our program is modeled after successful academic university medical center programs, and is dedicated to decreasing your health risk, improving nutrition, providing health education, and increasing your overall wellness. You can expect to lose weight, improve your cardio-vascular health, and reduce your risk of developing long-term obesity complications.

Even if you already have the complications of obesity, weight loss can decrease or eliminate their effects.

Dr. Margaret Gaglione

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