“You are what you eat.” The agenda of this longstanding saying is often to promote viewpoints on nutrition and health. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer, and politician coined this phrase when he wrote in his book Physiologie du Gout, 1826:
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‘Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.’ (Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are). (“Who said first,” June 5, 2016)
While his phrase was not to be taken literally, it quickly caught traction when it was first used in the English language in the 1920s and 30s.
In relation to this saying, this paper will discuss childhood obesity, a major public health crisis nationally and internationally. There are many factors that contribute to this epidemic. Some of the main ones include: social, genetic, cultural, and economic. According to the Centers of Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) the obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds. (“Prevalence of Childhood Obesity in the United States,” August 13, 2018). A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Babies’ Sleep Linked to Lower Obesity Risks Years Later”, by Sumathi Reddi, addresses newly discovered research by the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand that links sleep and childhood obesity. (Reddy, October 15, 2018)
The purpose of this text is to address the research found in the above-mentioned article, as well as causes, possible solutions, governmental actions, and challenges for managing this epidemic.
There are many commonly discussed reasons for childhood obesity. The roots of this problem point to factors such as socioeconomic reasons or poor nutrition, while food makers blame lack of physical activity to defend themselves. Furthermore, contributing factors could also be a lack of healthy alternatives to fast food outlets, especially in urban neighborhoods. Additionally, inner-city regions usually have less open and safe spaces for physical activity. This may cause parents to keep their children at home where other forms of entertainment that don’t require physical activity are the norm. Regardless of the outcomes of any discussion regarding childhood obesity, these are the key aspects that most likely work in tandem to spur the acceleration of childhood overweight. The greatest increase in prevalence is currently seen among Hispanics (25.8%) and non-Hispanic blacks (22.0%) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%) according to the CDC. (“Prevalence of Childhood Obesity in the United States,” August 13, 2018)
While all the above-mentioned factors certainly contribute to child obesity, the article by Sumathi Reddy attempts to establish a different angle to this problem, babies’ sleep schedule. The article outlines a study of 800 women of which 400 received 6 months of advice and hands-on education about sleep strategies for their infants. The risk of developing obesity by ages 3½ and 5 was cut in half, compared with children whose parents didn’t get the sleep instruction. The same result occurred for babies of the ages two and 3½. However, it is ambiguous how improved sleep leads to lower obesity rates. Dr. Jodi A. Mindell, a psychology professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who concentrates in children’s sleep argues that one theory is that if a baby is waking less throughout the night he or she may be consuming fewer calories in nighttime nursing or bottles. An alternative explanation is that less disruptive sleep may affect metabolism in the short- and long term. (Reddy, October 15, 2018)
Since this issue affects millions of American children there are many organizations involved in addressing this epidemic. For example, the CDC supports obesity prevention and promotes health efforts, through funding programs targeting obesity education and training. (“Addressing childhood obesity,” n.d). Furthermore, The National Institutes of Health is attempting to address the issue through the “We Can!” movement. This national education program intends to support children to achieve and maintain a healthy weight by inspiring healthy eating choices and increasing physical activity. (“We Can”, February 13, 2013) A local program promoting children’s health is the “Choose Health LA Prevention Initiative of the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department”. This program is proposing to improve this issue by focusing on nutrition and physical activity in child care settings. Some of the project’s ideas are to increase the number of child care sites with nutrition and physical activity policies. Another mission is to expand and improve child care providers’ communication with parents about nutrition and physical activity. (“Childhood Obesity Prevention,” n.d.)
Over the years, federal and local government agencies, as well as non-profit organizations have emerged in the fight against childhood obesity. However, Figure 1. shows the linear upward trend of childhood obesity from 1999/2000 to 2015/2016. (“Childhood Obesity Trends,” n.d.) About 13.7 million children and adolescents are affected by this issue. (“Prevalence of Childhood Obesity in the United States,” August 13, 2018)
Childhood obesity has become an international public health crisis. Deceptively, it can be reduced by educating children and parents about healthy nutrition and encouraging them to be physically active and make healthy dietary choices. However, even with the rise of government policies to control childhood obesity, the numbers are swelling. Therefore, it is imperative to fund new research like the one by the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre mentioned in Sumathi’s article. Exploring new possible causes and solutions is vital since Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same process over and expecting a different result. While exercise and nutrition may be the cornerstone of this problem, current measurements taken have not helped slow down this widespread, and new research is welcomed.
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