Volume 17 • Issue 8 / July 16 - 22, 2004


Battling childhood obesity and diabetes

By Julie Rauer

Nine million American kids, 14% of children and 12% of teens, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are now obese, a rate that has doubled in the last two decades. Far removed from aesthetic concerns or vanity issues, obesity puts children at high risk of developing hypertension, gallstones, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Virtually unheard of in children just twenty years ago, Type 2 diabetes (a preventable adult lifestyle disease intimately associated with excessive body weight, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits) has skyrocketed among young Americans. The number one cause of type 2 diabetes in children is explicitly cited by the American Diabetes Association with unequivocal lucidity—being overweight.

Fortunately, tangible solutions are close at hand for parents of overweight children. Lifestyle modifications are key, with a focus on health objectives rather than “dieting,” which is unsustainable, fad driven eating rarely based on balanced, nutritious, and inspiring meals. Poor diets marked by excessive portion sizes, laden with empty calories from fast and processed foods, behemoth 40 ounce soft drinks, and daily makeshift meals comprised of packaged snacks, candies, chips, and other calorie dense items with inadequate fill factor and anemic nutritional content are a primary factor in weight gain. Coupled with an alarming lack of physical activity in kids who are increasingly sedentary — spending hours indoors, nearly immobile, at the computer or watching TV— unhealthy eating habits translate to overeating mammoth calories that cannot be burned off. C.S.P.I. offers a salient example: “it would take 75 minutes of biking for a young person to burn off the calories in a 20-ounce bottle of soda”.

Family support and active parental participation (if one parent is obese, there is a 50% chance of obese children; when both are obese, there is an 80% chance of obese children) in a child’s weight reduction program are essential for success, and should include the following strategies: making dietary changes gradually, not drastically, developing an enjoyable, sustainable routine; controlling portion sizes, planning meals as a family whenever possible (avoiding eating while watching TV or working at the computer), not using food as a reward, limiting snacking, and making better food choices; increasing physical activity, especially walking, and arranging family outings that revolve around exercise to foster a vital lifestyle; knowing what your child eats at school (often a truly frightening amalgam of nutritionally treacherous school lunch gremlins and vending machine bugaboos, both subjects for a future column) and packing your child’s lunch whenever possible; watching what your kids drink, cutting back on sodas and other fruitless soft drinks, which account for a massive influx of empty calories into the daily diets of many overweight kids.

In implementing these highly effective tactics, the parents and children of Downtown Manhattan have distinct advantages over their suburban and rural counterparts. Lengthy car trips between destinations are rare, and walking and biking—broken by relatively short intervals on the subway—can, and should, be the preferred modes of personal transport. Opportunities to exercise are both alluring and convenient, from Battery Parks City’s lush gardens and serene waterside vistas to a stunning walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. A plethora of tantalizing, superior, inexpensive ethnic food—far healthier than suburban chain restaurants and ubiquitous fast food outlets—is at every Downtown family’s doorstep, from Chinatown’s amazing array of steamed and baked dim sum and grilled Vietnamese seafood with fresh mint and basil over rice noodles, extraordinary sushi (maki rolls made with cooked shrimp, crab, and vegetables are perfect for kids) and simply prepared, child friendly teriyaki items, and Indian tandoori chicken, lamb, or fish wrapped in freshly baked naan.

Contrary to popular belief, less than 1% of all obesity is caused by physical problems (i.e. endocrine malfunction), rather, it occurs when a person eats more calories than the body burns up. Therefore it is only through positive, enduring lifestyle changes—truly a family affair—that obese children will lose excess weight and regain the luminous health and vitality that should be the domain of all children.

Julie Rauer is a founding partner of Real Results Personal Training, a Downtown company which develops individualized exercise and nutrition programs for children and families. She can be reached at (917) 553-4762 or julierauer14@msn.com.

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