Education alone will not end the obesity epidemic
Cures for the childhood obesity epidemic often come down to a chicken-or-egg question.
That is, do lazy kids get fat or do fat kids get lazy. (Here is what looks like a healthy alternative, from Amazon.com. But read to the end before you buy.)
The question is important, because the easy answer to obesity is that kids should just get out and play. Put down that video remote, get away from the game machine, go outside and run around.
In fact, parents and the food system are the real culprits.
Brad Metcalf, a researcher at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, England, used to think exercise would cure. He warned two years ago that the recommendation of an hour of exercise each day was not sufficient to do the job.
Now he’s back with a follow-up study, which concludes inactivity is not the culprit. Fat is.
As he described it in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood last month, he recruited 202 boys, a quarter of them obese, and put them on Actigraph accelerometers for a week, once a year, to measure their physical activity. He also measured their body fat percentage, annually, using an x-ray technique.
What he found was that inactive kids did not get fat, but fat kids got inactive. Body fat was predictive of physical activity, but physical activity was not predictive of body fat changes.
So while campaigns like Let’s Move may put some emphasis on physical activity, the cure will be found on accessing healthy and affordable food.
How are we doing on that? The campaign offers plenty of help including this Food Environment Atlas from the Department of Agriculture, showing on a county level how accessible fruits and vegetables are.
But all the education in the world won’t work if food manufacturers can play games to get around offering better stuff.
Take the recommendations on salt, 2,300 milligrams per day. Sounds easy to meet, doesn’t it?
Oh, what’s for lunch? How about this delicious Nong Shim Noodle Bowl from South Korea? It costs just $3, and you can eat it at your desk. I just bought some for my lovely wife this weekend.
Look at the nutrition label. It’s got 54% of your daily salt in it, but you’ll just have one, right?
Well, no. Regulations allow the Nutrition Facts label to dodge reality. Supposedly, only half this single-serving bowl is a serving. There’s actually over 2.5 grams of salt in this one bowl, meaning if you eat just one you’ve overdosed for the day.
So long as food producers are able to dodge the intent of regulations by fudging the numbers like this, education doesn’t stand a chance. Just as running around doesn’t stand a chance.
The only thing that does stand a chance is demanding, through the force of law, that healthy choices replace unhealthy ones in the marketplace.