Global Warning on Obesity: Kids at Greatest Risk

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

March 13, 2023

Global Warning on Obesity: Kids at Greatest Risk
Do you know your kids’ favorite food? Is it chicken nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese, pizza, tacos, cheese quesadilla, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers or cheese sticks? These are common mainstays in many children’s diets, yet regular consumption of these Western Diet foods comes with a big cost. A global health warning was recently declared due to the disturbing rise in obesity currently and more so that will occur in just a few years. Take a moment to contemplate what the future holds, especially for our youth. More importantly be proactive about you and your family’s health.

Global Health Warning

The World Obesity Federation recently warned that over 50 percent of the world’s population, or about 4 billion people, will be overweight or obese by 2035 if action isn’t taken. Obesity rates are rising the fastest in children and are expected to double in just 12 years. This obesity trend comes with a hefty price tag. It is expected to cost the global economy $4.32 trillion USD annually by 2035.

The effects of calorie rich/nutrient poor diets and sedentary lifestyles cause crippling health effects, not just in America, but across the globe. Obesity rates are also escalating in lower to middle income countries like Africa and Asia.

One in Three Kids

According to the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, one in three children in the US are obese. The most common cause of obesity in children is a calorie-rich/nutrient-poor diet combined with sedentary lifestyle. In most children, obesity is not due to a single genetic cause or a major underlying endocrine disorder.

Obese elementary children and adolescents now experience more “adult” diseases. Kids are now diagnosed and treated for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, obstructive sleep apnea, and cholesterol problems.

You must ask - What is the quality of life going to be when today’s youth with obesity are middle age? How will that impact the work force? The military? Health care costs and resources?

Pottenger Cat Study on the Human Race

Modern agriculture and the food industry have also dramatically shaped current dietary trends and risks that are upon us and the youth of our world. Humanity is in an ongoing experiment with processed, packaged, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods and its negative effect on health.

The Pottenger Cat Study was discussed in the recent article Optimizing Your Nutrition for Reproductive Health. This study evaluated the effects of processed foods versus whole foods in cats over the course of several generations of offspring. The health of each subsequent generation declined when the diet was filled with processed foods. When whole natural, unprocessed food was given to the cats, their health and the health of the offspring improved.

We are seeing the “Pottenger Cat Study” play out before our very own eyes of how processed foods affect generations of humans. Look at old photographs, movies, and TV shows from the 1970’s and earlier. Compare the human physique and health trends to the present time. The changes are frighteningly striking in so many ways.

Dietary Trends

Several studies demonstrate the dietary trend happening both in the US and globally. In the 1999-2018 US NHANES research study, dietary trends and intake of whole fruits, greens and beans, dairy, and protein were measured in children and adults. Results showed that children made fewer healthy choices compared to adults

A 2021 randomized controlled trial showed that infants are being fed sweetened beverages, snacks and sweets before being weaned off formula. Study results also showed that by 18 months of age, toddlers consumed almost 10% of daily calories from foods with added sugars. This leads to rapid weight gain.

Fast Food, Junk Food, and Non-Compliance

Statistics from the NHANES survey and the CDC on fast food consumption in children and adolescents age 2-19 in the US showed that at least 36% of the participants consumed fast food on any given day. At least 25% of respondents consumed 25-45% or more of daily calories from fast food in this major survey analysis.

Another survey analysis of children ages 2-19 and adults showed that showed that at least 20 percent of daily calories came from junk food. Types of foods included crackers, snack and meal bars, candy, desserts, and sweet bakery products. Beverages were not included in the analysis.

A different study showed that adolescents consumed ultra-processed foods as much as 68% of the time. In addition, diets high in processed food intake were associated with drinking less water.

This dietary decline is not just a problem in the US. Authors of a regional international review concluded “Adolescents living in North America, Europe or Oceania are far from being compliant with the nutritional recommendations for fruit, vegetables, legumes, and sodium, and they do not follow the principles of the Mediterranean Diet.”

Deficient Intake of Nutrients

The loss of health is due to more than excess calories and poor quality food consumed. Another major factor is lack of nutrient intake. A recent meta-analysis study showed that about two billion people, most commonly women and children, are clinically deficient in vitamins and minerals, i.e., they failed to consume the basic RDA of nutrients.

NHANES research analysis of the US population showed that at least 40% of individuals ages 9 and older who did not take a multiple vitamin were deficient in at least one nutrient. At least one nutrient deficiency occurred in 57% of individuals who failed to consume the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) in an “adequate” diet.

Even in diets that are healthy, nutrient deficits occur at all ages. Recent studies confirm this. A German clinical study evaluated dietary intake in children ages 1-3. The most common nutrient deficits included vitamin D, iodine, and DHA no matter what type of diet was consumed. Children who consumed a plant-based diet and did not use nutritional supplements failed to meet the EAR for daily needs with vitamin D, iodine, DHA, as well as vitamin B2, vitamin B12, calcium, and iron.

A recent Finnish study evaluated omnivore and plant-based diets in preschool age children. The diets were planned out by a nutritionist. Even with this planning, vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 DHA intake was insufficient especially in the plant-based diets.

These studies show that even the most basic EAR nutritional needs are not being met in one or more nutrients. I think it can be readily said that optimal nutrient intake needs are not being met either in a much greater fashion. Higher nutrient needs are necessary to counteract 21st century obesogenic induced metabolic changes, stress, toxins, and calorie-rich, processed foods.

Obesogens and Toxins

In addition to diet and lifestyle trends, endocrine disrupting compounds, also known as “obesogens,” substantially interfere with metabolism, hormone function, and lead to obesity. Exposures to these toxic compounds affect prenatal genetic programming for metabolism and risk for obesity in current and future generations.

Toxins that the grandmother is exposed to during her reproductive years affects the eggs of her offspring and genetic risks of the grandchildren as well. Plastics, pesticides, petroleum by products, etc. affect gene expression, cellular metabolism, hormone function, and more. Obesogen exposure further increases the likelihood and negative effects of weight gain and obesity. A healthy diet, antioxidants and exercise helps offset the effects.

More information about obesogens may be found in the article Hidden Obesogens in Foods, Beverages, and Environment Disrupt Metabolism.

What Do You Do?

Simply put - eat whole foods at regular times with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Choose healthier foods at least 80-90 percent of the time, preferably organic, non-GMO, and locally raised or grown. Make deliberate choices. Plan. If you or family members are on a restrictive diet, including a plant-based diet, dietary planning is critical. Follow the Five Rule of The Leptin Diet.

Don’t shop on an empty stomach or when you are stressed out about something. It is harder to resist impulse purchases and “comfort” foods. Stay away from the grocery aisle(s) of processed foods to avoid the marketing and enticing packaged foods that look fun, “tasty,” and entertaining but do little for health.

Drink adequate water. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.

Sneak in vegetables when making a treat, i.e. zucchini or apple sauce mixed in with brownies or pancakes. Use real whole foods instead of food substitutes. For example, try real maple syrup instead of “maple flavored syrup.” Limit/avoid products as much as possible with the “pure, white, and deadly” added sugar.

Make your own chicken nuggets or homemade mac‘n’cheese and other home cooked meals. The taste difference will be amazing! Choose peanut butter without added sugar and extra oils. Have a piece of fresh fruit or a relish tray instead of crackers or chips. Take a cooking class with your child!

Be Physically Active

Sitting has been the “new killer” for several years now. Sedentary lifestyles at all ages does not help quality of health. In order to combat the obesity trend, some schools and workplaces have implemented the use of a “bikedesk” during sedentary activities. Make it a point to be physically active at a level that fits your needs. If you have health concerns, work with your health care practitioner to set up guidelines to adapt the activity to your tolerance.

Reduce Obesogen Toxins

Infants and preschoolers are most susceptible to obesogens and environmental toxins that can affect their metabolic health and genetic programming for years after exposure. Reduce the use of plastics as much as possible. Use glass storage containers for your food and other safe containers for beverages. Sleep on natural latex or organic cotton/wool mattresses or mattress pads. They are worth the investment to avoid breathing in the endocrine disrupting compounds off-gassing from the mattress when you or your child sleeps.

Nutritional Support

Great nutritional support for preschoolers and elementary age kids include Super Mini Multi, DHA Kids, Vitamin D 1000 IU, Chlorella, Grape Seed Extract, and Coral Calcium.

Foundational nutritional support for kids 12 and older includes Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin (no iron) or Super Mini Multi, Daily DHA, Vitamin D 1000 IU or 2500 IU, Daily Protector Eye & Immune, Daily Detoxify, and/or Coral Calcium.

“Butterfly Effect” of Choices

Governments and big institutions will not solve the obesity crisis. Anti-obesity drugs are being developed for kids because the situation is so extreme. You must take charge of your health and personal choices, as well as be a role model and teacher for your children. Infants and children require adults to provide them with healthy foods, teach them good habits, and make positive healthy choices. They watch and copy your behaviors, attitudes, and habits. They depend upon you. Include them in meal prep. Make a “butterfly effect” with your health choices and help others to do the same so the global obesity warning prediction does not come true.

Additional resources are found below.

Hidden Obesogens in Foods, Beverages, and Environment Disrupt Metabolism

Optimizing Your Nutrition for Reproductive Health

Precocious Puberty – A Growing Dilemma for Today’s Children

Endocrine Disruptor Compounds and Your Hormones

Western Diet Causes Cycle of Brain Damage and Obesity

Exercise and Mitochondria: Use It and Nurture It

Your Sweet Tooth Adversely Impacts Gut and Brain Health

I3C+DIM Provide Powerful Cell Protection and Xenobiotic Detoxification

Back to School Stress and Nutrition

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