Childhood Obesity, Physical Activity and Nutrition
Written by Dr. L. Lee Coyne
Obesity and particularly childhood obesity is a topic of great interest in the media today. It has even caught the attention of several levels of government as they struggle to provide guidance and remedies. All of the usual underlying causes of obesity have been receiving their appropriate “sound or sight bites” in an attempt to catch the attention of the public.
There is the lack of time spent engaging in physical activity due to excessive time devoted to television viewing, video games, and web surfing. Then there are the ever popular fast food choices, high in calories, fat and sugar and low in nutrients. (Often referred to as empty calories).
Of course there is the moral dilemma of schools and public recreation facilities contracting vending machines as sources of income. Most of these machines are stocked with hard and liquid candy (high sugar drinks) along with snacks loaded with trans fatty acid and acrylamides. So the call now goes out to these institutions to change the vending machine and food service counters so they offer healthier choices.
This column might be called the “perspective in reality plea” as governments legislate compulsory daily physical education classes and child advocate groups push for healthier choices at meals and snacks.
Reality Number One
Although and increase in daily physical activity is a desirable choice and one with many health benefits, one should not be deluded into thinking that 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week is going to revolutionize the childhood obesity problem.
In order for physical activity to be a significant player, experts have for years now recommended at least one hour per day at an intensity significant enough to improve heart health, burn fat, lower blood pressure and improve blood lipid profiles.
One of the major goals of daily physical education must be to encourage an active lifestyle and not just a temporary prescription of short-term therapy. It is also known that prescribed exercise rarely becomes lifestyle. To become lifestyle, the desire to exercise must come from within – “the heart”.
In my 12 week programs, we emphasize that your weight is supported by your lifestyle and to change weight you must change lifestyle. We also have learned that exercise accounts for about 20% of the program success while good nutrition choices accounts for about 80% of any changes realized.
When you consider that there are 3500 calories in one pound of fat and that fat does not dissolve nor evaporate but must be metabolized to disappear from the body, then you only need to do a little math to understand the significance.
Here are average calories expenditures for a 100 pound child engaging in the following activities for 30 minutes:
- Jogging 3 miles 300
- Volleyball 175
- Swimming 300
- Gymnastics 175
- Dancing 200
It would take 12 to 20 days of participating in the above activities to lose a pound of fat if nothing else changed. In a 200 day school year that could account for approximately 12 –14 pounds of fat, if the entire 30 minutes involved exercise at an intensity that induced perspiration.
We know that is not going to happen. Just think about changing clothes, maybe showers and travel time between classes.
Reality Number Two
The advocates of healthier food choices, although meaning well, are placing too much weight (sorry for the pun) on avoiding fat. There are essential fats that a healthy body requires to burn other fats and create all of our hormones. Fat is also an appetite controller whereas sugar is not.
More emphasis needs to be placed on avoiding cancer causing trans fatty acids from cheap oils and deep fried products. There is also the other carcinogenic item known as acrylamides found in starchy foods (like potatoes and cereal products) heated at high temperatures.
But an even larger issue is the fact, recently reported by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, that annual sugar consumption has risen in excess of 30% since 1983. The current average annual sugar intake now stands at 150 pound per person.
When you do the math on this one, considering average calorie intakes of 2,000 per day, it translates into 40% of calories.
In an effort to promote low fat, no fat, low calorie everything, the food processors have replaced much of the fat with sugar or artificial sweeteners so you will still like the taste. This applies to flavored yoghurt, flavored soy products, low fat crackers and so called healthy granola bars.
So, in addition to encouraging physical activity in schools, I would advocate the return of an emphasis on a form of health or wellness education that promotes healthy lifestyle choices, understanding of food and a serious dose of understanding food labels and their consequences.
L. Lee Coyne