As I continue to work on things away from this blog (which is a collection of Free-Time/Casual Online Writing, Remarks, And Notes By ME Whelan) and continue to figure out what goes and what stays of my existing online-writing, the de-emphasizing of one or another continues as well....

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Childhood Obesity

Does Letting Kids Grow Up Too Fast Play A Role In Today's Rate Of Childhood Obesity?With all the talk about childhood obesity these days, it seems as if most people blame fast food for this problem, which results not only in obesity, but which can lead to Type II Diabetes, as well.

While fast food may frequently "be in the picture" when it comes to childhood obesity, I can't help but wonder if there's a chicken-egg aspect to it; and if the real problem is what makes kids want/need more of this food than they otherwise may (or than a lot of other kids do).

My own children, now grown, were always very slender kids; and I'd bring them to fast-food places a few times a week, when we'd be on the way to pick up their father and when I'd know they'd be too hungry to wait until we got home. All three children (two boys and one girl) ate a modest meal when they were grade-school age. They'd get juice or milk, so they didn't have the soda. Before they were grade-school age each child barely ate what was in, say, a Happy Meal. They'd eat a part of the sandwich, about three French fries, and maybe a couple of the cookies (which was what came in those meals at the time).

So, what I wonder is this: What makes some children "chow down" on fast food when, really, the over-eating isn't something normally "built into" a child's nature (even when he's at a fast-food place).

It is now known that stress can cause fierce food cravings because under stress the body craves high-energy foods (foods high in carbohydrates and fat). I can't help but wonder if many children today live under stress because they're allowed to, and even encouraged to, grow up too soon. One point about stress cravings is that the person so stressed out as to need high-energy foods will not feel well, may have trouble concentrating, and may even have difficulty doing much of anything unless/until he eats the kind of food his body craves.

For the person experiencing that physiological call to eat carbohydrates and/or fat, not only will he not feel satisfied until he has eaten what his body craves, but the person under stress may feel nauseous eating something like salad because changes in stomach acid can mean eating something blander (like bread) eliminates any mild sense of nausea or other discomfort that the stressed-and-empty stomach can cause.

Many people may think about how many girls show physical signs of growing up earlier than girls in the past did, and believe that this is just one more indication that kids "just grow up faster today". The truth is that a link has been made to stress and early onset of menstruation; so even if it appears that kids are "just growing up faster", what's behind that particular piece of "evidence" is stress.

People who understand child development know that children's brains and bodies generally develop according to a basic time-table; and regardless of what time we live in, or what society we live in, toddlers still get teeth during a certain age range, learn to walk during a certain age rage, etc. etc. The same applies to all areas and stages of child development.

It just makes sense to me that, in view of the fact that the stages of development people knew about in the era of Dr. Spock are the same for children today; so one has to ask what impact it would have on a child who is not emotionally ready to be treated like an adult, or to be expected by the world to act more grown-up than his years.

In other words, just because a four-year-old may be capable of playing his older brother's video games; or just because a lot of a thirteen-year-old's classmates may be involved in sexual relationships; should they be? Society today dumps a whole lot of grown-up stuff onto young kids; and if you're that thirteen-year-old in a sexual relationship it's got to be more than you're ready for. At the same time, the kid who isn't doing what he thinks "everybody else is doing" may have the stress of feeling like he's not like his peers.

The four-year-old who is at a stage in development when much of the focus is on expanding the at-home world to include more of the outside world (like preschool), and learning about playing with peers, has to be missing something his brain needs if he's spending a lot of time doing things that aren't appropriate for his age. Similarly, if he's playing games with older siblings he's most likely up against someone who has the advantage of age over him.

With regard to girls who mature earlier than is considered, "average", one type of stress blamed for early maturity is a stressful home environment. It cannot possibly be good for a girl who has matured early but who lives under stress at home, and who isn't ready to "act like a grown-up", to be viewed (and treated) by peers (including young-teen boys) as "being all grown-up".

Another problem may be that adults so often underestimate the intelligence of children; and living life always being underestimated is, by itself, stressful and frustrating.

The point is, I suspect that one major cause of childhood obesity is that society too often grossly underestimates the intelligence of children while, at the same time, it too often overestimates the emotional maturity of children.

If one considers these potential sources of stress, and then factors in other sources of additional stress (such as a stressful home life, peer pressure, academic demands/challenges, and even the general insecurities of childhood/adolescence), it's not hard to realize how much stress today's children can live under. More significantly, it's not hard to imagine how today's kids may be so stressed out they crave the high-fat/high-carb meals and snacks that can make them feel less tired or frazzled.

What could be making this confounding issue as challenging as it appears to be is that the adults "in charge of" solving the (parents, teachers, anyone concerned with childhood obesity) don't think to ask themselves if THEY are responsible. Rather, they take the easy route of pointing a finger at fast food (or at parents of overweight kids they believe "must not know about healthy eating").

I really think it's time adults in society stop looking at kids who appear to "just be growing up faster these days", and stop passively accepting what "how it seems kids are".

It's the responsibility of adults to define what childhood is supposed to be - not allowing what children "seem to be" to define it. It's also the responsibility of adults to make sure children have a childhood while they're still too emotionally immature to be able to deal with more grown-up things (even if "more grown-up" is only a ten-year-old doing things he shouldn't be doing until he's thirteen).

It's only my guess, but I think if people want to solve the problem of childhood obesity (and the Type II Diabetes no child should ever develop) they need to stop blaming fast food, and stop assuming that all parents of overweight kids don't know anything about healthy eating.

Children in recent years have increasingly been put on the fast track to growing up far earlier than the developing human being ever should be. To make it worse, it's now known that if a child doesn't receive the right kind of nurturing in his first three years (when his brain synapses are forming) it can affect how well his immune system and stress response system function for the rest of his life. If it's true that more of today's babies and toddlers are being pushed to develop/do things for which they aren't quite developmentally ready, that could potentially mean that they'll have an even more challenging time dealing with a stress response system that, perhaps, goes into action under circumstances that would otherwise not cause a stress response.

I know I could be wrong, but I tend to think people today seem to be looking for solutions to the childhood obesity issue in the wrong places. I don't think educating parents and children about the value and goodness of vegetables and fresh fruits nearly addresses what may potentially be the real root of the rise in childhood obesity; because while I know there there are, of course, some parents or children who are ignorant about healthy eating, I don't believe that the majority are that ignorant.