The level of child and adolescent obesity in America has doubled and quadrupled respectively since 1980 according to the CDC. There have been a number of initiatives around the US at municipal and state level governments to try and enforce healthy and nutritious meals on consumers by regulating food by the fast food industry. Although, these stop-gaps may improve or stabilize the climbing trend of obesity, it is in parent’s hands to ensure a portion-controlled, healthy diet for their children.
The “McHealthy Meal?”
A member of the New York City council last year tried to implement requirements for fast food chains offering meals to children to comply with nutritional guidelines. The motion included guidelines that the meals not be over 500 calories, with fat calories limited to 35% of the meal, less than 10% of the calories from added sugar or saturated fat and less than 600 mg of total sodium per meal. These meals marketed to children with toys would also need a serving of fruit, vegetables or whole grains.
The real problem with regulatory designs like this bill is that first buying habits do not support these as solutions to the problem. Although the new meal guidelines could drop sodium intake by 10% and calories by 9%, that is only if parents buy the meals and do not skirt them altogether. And that is exactly what was found when researchers analyzed receipts from over 300 purchases and over 400 meals. Most of the meals were over the meal guidelines, but even more striking is the issue that parents simply buy adult meals for their children. These adult portions not subject to any regulations are more than likely the true culprit of the rising tide of child obesity.
A Two-Fold Issue
The real issues surrounding childhood obesity are the same ones that plague adults; diet and exercise. At the core of most weight gain is a solution that needs to be implemented through either wide-scale regulation or a total change in the way parents are educated about child’s needs.
Children and adolescents from 6-17 are recommended to participate in at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. This physical activity is not simply to help keep children fit, but is a two-pronged solution that also helps the body grow and modulate its own metabolism, controlling weight naturally and reducing stress and anxiety, triggers off over-eating. Only 27% of high school aged children did daily exercise in 2013.
On the other side of the coin is the diet of American children. The recommended diet for children should be high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and should limit intake of solid fats, cholesterol, added sugars, sodium and refined grains. However, most children are not being provided a healthy diet. This poor diet contributes to an imbalance in energy increasing the risk of childhood obesity and overweight issues.
The diet of the American child fails to meet the following recommendations:
- 2.5-6.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily
- 2-3 ounces of whole grains
- limit sodium intake to 1500-2300 mg daily
However they do:
- eat or drink empty calories to the tune of 40% of their diet from soda, desserts, pizza, fruit drinks and whole milk
A Dual Solution
It seems clearer everyday that the real solution to this continually growing problem is to start forcing regulatory dietary changes on parents at every opportunity and to promote better education of parents in regards to diet and exercise for their children.
Regulatory changes should include some of the most recent changes, yet on a national level. Limit “fast-food” meals for children to a specific caloric range or tax these meals to make them more expensive than a healthy alternative. Remove sugary sweets and drinks from all elementary and high school campuses and provide healthy choices.
Mandate diet and exercise parental education programs for any child over a certain BMI and ensure these children are getting the right choices. Only through a combined effort from parents and society can this issue be tackled.