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Childhood Obesity – Get Your Kid Eating Right and Exercising Before It’s Too Late

by drgangemi on March 3, 2011

We are way too fat here in North Carolina. But if I move west to Kentucky, then my kids will get fatter. North to Virginia, they will drop some weight. East, well, they’re going to get wet.

Ok, enough of the joking, for now. Childhood obesity is a nationwide problem, regardless of where you live. Many kids are putting on a lot of weight for two relatively simple reasons – they don’t exercise and they eat highly processed foods containing white flours and sugars. Kids are being put on statin medications – those are the drugs that lower cholesterol – and teenagers are even going to extremes by getting Lap-Band surgeries performed. Squeezing the upper part of anyone’s stomach so they feel full sooner should only be considered in extreme situations – definitely not in any kid.

Physical education classes have become health classes if they even exist anymore. One of my child patients recently informed me that he had homework in his gym class. They don’t exercise very much. Push-ups and sit-ups have been reduced to pushing paper and well, sitting.

Kids should be getting at least 30 minutes of steady activity a day. 60 minutes is ideal. Really the more the better if they’re outside playing, running, and climbing. Unfortunately many kids leave the house around 7am and get home at 7pm. It’s an overworked full-time job like their parents have, and they too will soon be burnt-out from all the work. Then when they get home it’s an hour, if not more, of homework, then off to bed to do it all over again.

Kids’ diets aren’t very healthy either. While their parents often have a bagel and coffee for breakfast (if they even eat), the child will eat a sugary-carbohydrate bowl of cereal in skim-milk. Add in some juice and they’re ready to crash a few hours later at school. Not only does their body crash as the kid is burning sugar for energy all day long rather than fat, but their mind does too. That means poor concentration, mental fatigue, and maybe even hyperactivity. Time to pop the ADD or ADHD medication? I’d like to think not, but many resort to the drugs. In college, beta-blockers, (those are medications that calm your heart down), are taken by the majority of students, especially before exams. They take them to calm themselves down to focus before an exam because they’re so jacked up from a poor diet, lack of exercise, and going to bed at 2-3am, if not later.

Helping your child not get fat is a lot easier than helping him or her lose it, but both situations are entirely possible, despite what you think your genetics may be. Here are five easy steps to get them going.

  • Make sure your child eats some protein with breakfast every morning. This could include eggs, some meat (bacon/sausage/chicken), or whey protein (smoothie). Shoot for at least 15 grams.
  • Reduce, or even eliminate, all refined sugars and juice. That means switching to a whole grain cereal, oatmeal, (add honey, nuts, peanut butter, heavy cream), or a piece of real fruit. No juice of any sort unless it is a whole fruit ground up in a blender, as in a smoothie. Fruit juice, whether 100% pure or not, is 100% sugar (fructose) and your body is very good at converting all that fruit sugar into one thing – fat.
  • Switch to whole milk. Though I’m not a huge fan of milk (that isn’t raw), at least don’t give your kid skim-milk. I’ve mentioned this in the past as skim milk has a higher percent of sugar (lactose) compared to whole milk, and kids need the dairy fat too. Low dairy fat in the diet has been linked to hormone imbalances, particularly low testosterone levels in boys. Definitely make sure your dairy is hormone-free, and organic. Same goes for the meats and eggs. Your kid isn’t going to get fat from whole milk, but they will from the added sugar in foods.
  • Get them moving. If they’re not exercising at school, then it has to happen at home. If they’re getting home too late and/or they can’t exercise outside due to the weather, then you need to make up some indoor workout. I mentioned how my kids like to do obstacle courses in this article. Have them run up and down the stairs, do push-ups, jumping jacks, etc. Make a game out of it.
  • Teach them about good nutrition and that healthy food doesn’t need to taste like cardboard. My kids eat sugar and they get “healthy treats”. That means organic dark chocolate with real sugar, wheat-free cookies made with organic spelt flour, (almond or coconut flour even better), organic non-hydrogenated peanut butter, real butter (not Crisco or margarine), raw milk, and free-range eggs.  There are plenty of healthy recipes you can find on-line or in books. Get your kid off Jell-O, soda, juice drinks, chips, processed cookies and snacks, and all the other junk food in the house. Set a good example – if you’re eating it they will too.

Get the program started today. I’m calling it Dr. Gangemi’s “Move Your Ass or Move Your House Program”. I hope you don’t relocate.

4 Comments

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  1. I’m a bit surprised on the grain recommendations, though I understand how difficult it is to reduce and/or eliminate grains as I am going through that now with myself and my son. We both appear to be gluten intolerant!

  2. Excellent point and one I thought of deleting or clarifying. Reality is that most kids are going to eat grains because they’re readily available, quick and convenient. Gluten free would be ideal since so many people, including kids, are gluten intolerant. Buckwheat, oats, and even spelt for some are good choices. And remember that many products that advertise as “whole grain” really are not. I mentioned this in my Food Pyramid Myth post in October 2010 (you can find easily by going to the Archives in the right column). Thanks!

  3. Michael permalink

    You mentioned dark chocolate as a healthy treat. I do love chocolate and have not had any in 8 months. What brand or brands would you recommend for dark chocolate? Is twice a week too often for consumption?

  4. I like Equal Exchange – it’s organic and fair trade chocolate – but there are many other good organic companies out there. I think Trader Joe’s organic bars are very poorly made though. (I’ve seen patients react to the high sugar content as well as soy lecithin in them.) Try to stick with a higher percentage of cocoa in the bar- most good products state this on the front – 72% is common middle ground. 80% is getting richer. Consumption is based off how much you can handle. 2X a week is not a lot as long as you’re not consuming a full 3.5oz bar each time. If so, you need help.

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