Experts say child obesity a problem, but solvable

In her book, The Heavy, author Dana-Lynn Weiss recounts an incident in which a mother takes a hot chocolate from her seven-year-old daughter’s hand and throws it into the garbage in front of her.

The depiction has generated controversy about childhood dieting. According to Thomas Warshawski, a doctor and chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation in British Columbia, childhood obesity is a growing problem in Canada.

“In 1978 only 15 per cent of children and youth had unhealthy weight as demonstrated by the BMI (Body Mass Index),” Warshawki said. “By 2011 that number had doubled to 30 per cent.”

Medical experts say obesity can cause health problems in children and adults, such as hypertension, type two diabetes and asthma.

Julie Bednarski is a registered dietician and professionally trained chef in Toronto. She said obesity can also have a serious impact on a child’s mental health.

“It has effects on their self-esteem, their grades or how they perform in school,” she said. “And that can go on many years not just in childhood, but into adulthood as well.”

And while it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for this rise in obesity, according to both Bednarski and Warshawski the cause seems to be environmental. Fatty foods and sugary drinks are available at a lower cost, while healthier foods are more expensive all the time, Warshawski said.

“When you look at what we know are the protective dietary factors, those products (fruits and vegetables) have got more and more expensive over the last three decades,” Warshawshi said. “Those products that we know promote excess weight gain (sugar drinks and refined grains) are cheaper.

“So, there is a big environmental push where these products, which are frankly tasty, are readily available for cheap and are heavily marketed,” he said.

According to both Bednarski and Warshawski, in order to keep children healthy, the child’s environment needs to change and not just the child’s diet.

To help prevent obesity in children, the Childhood Obesity Foundation recommends they eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, absorb no more than two hours of electronic media per day, undergo one or more hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity and consume no sugar-sweet beverages.

Bednarski believes that the key to a child’s healthy lifestyle is for parents to be good role models.

“Parents should just encourage children to eat healthier … It shouldn’t be about saying ‘No,’” she said. “It should be about incorporating more fruits and vegetables and getting active and more on the positive lifestyle habits and less on the negative lifestyle habits.”

Benarski added that by focusing on the positive and incorporating all those fruits and vegetables into children’s diets, all those bad habits will go away.