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Nutrition missing curriculum - Young children and teens consuming excessive calories

Nutrition: The Missing Curriculum

By Dr. Margaret MacKrell Gaglione, FACP

M.D. News, Jan/Feb 2008 (

Original article here

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.

“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.

Our children are developing traditionally adult medical problems such as Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, sleep apnea, mechanical joint pain, and fatty liver disease at alarming rates.

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.

We are in a frightening health crisis, which will have as great an effect on our children as tobacco, drug and alcohol use. Nutrition education must be brought back to our schools as an important aspect of the curriculum.

We are now at the point where our children’s nutrition is a safety issue, and we need to act accordingly. We regularly place rules and regulations on our children (seat belts, helmets for bike riding, and penalties for use of foul language in school), but when it comes to observing and regulating our children’s food intake, we become dumbingly passive.

David Walsh, in his new book, No, Why Kids -- of All Ages -- Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It, stated: “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."

If we change our thinking and view nutrition as the most important health and safety issue for our children, the importance of these issues becomes undoubtedly clear. In other words, teaching what children to eat is one of the most important medical therapies we can give them.

Many of our youngl patients are suffering from “malnutrition." 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.

Take a look at some seductive practices offered by the fast food industry that are occurring at our local schools: children who take part in accelerated reading programs are rewarded with coupons for free pizza at Pizza Hut or free donuts from Krispy Kreme. We need to recognize 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.

As physicians, we need to urge administrators to bring back Home Economics and Health Education for all students, and to develop a nutrition curriculum mirrored after the successful DARE or anti-smoking campaigns.

Our children’s 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 young patients’ 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.

- Parents ignoring children’s satiety clues. Younger children innately recognize when they've had enough. Listen to them. When children say they're full, let them be excused from the table. Forcing a child to “clean their plate” sends the wrong message.

There are many forces working against our youth. To turn the tide on our obesity epidemic will take an increased amount of nutrition education for all ages. To stop the epidemic, this education will have to start with our children.

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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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