We’ve been looking at the worsening childhood obesity epidemic from a global and national perspective over the past few days on The PediaBlog. Many of the solutions we considered yesterday have already been tried, reminds The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan:
We’ve tried everything to curb childhood obesity. Marketers have done their best to make carrots seem radical and soda seem reasonable. Policymakers have contemplated barring fast-food restaurants from opening near schools. McDonalds is figuring out how to broadcast its message straight from the mouthsof science teachers. There are soda taxes. Sad posters. The Whip. The Nae Nae. You name it.
Khazan looked at a study of more than 15,000 British schoolchildren to see what foods they were eating resulted in the greatest weight gain:
Their findings, published in Health Affairs this week, show that the children who gained the most excess weight over the course of three years ate more butter and margarine, battered fish and poultry, potato chips, processed meat, French fries, milk, sweets, and sugary beverages. The only foods associated with staying at a healthy weight? Whole grains and high-fiber breakfast cereal.
The authors singled out potato chips in particular. “We found potato chips to be one of the most obesity-promoting foods for youth to consume. Potato chips are very high in energy density (383–574 kcal/100g) and have a low satiety index, yet they are commonly consumed as snacks.” (Potatoes that aren’t cooked in oil, the authors write, are fine.)
Certainly there is plenty of blame to go around when considering the causes of rising obesity rates: sugar, fat, and empty calories in foods and beverages; larger food portions; sedentary activity trends; aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at children. A study published this month in Pediatrics points a finger at the motion picture industry:
Recent popular children’s movies contain a variety of obesogenic content, such as screen use by the characters, sugar-sweetened beverages, and exaggerated portion sizes. All 31 movies in the current study, which were released between 2012 and 2015, contained at least 1 segment in which obesity-promoting behaviors or obesogenic food or beverage items were observed. Furthermore, these behaviors and items had recurring appearances on-screen and were not isolated instances; in the majority of movies examined, many scenes throughout the entire movie included this type of content.
Our findings are similar to those discovered by our team in an earlier study of 20 movies released from 2006 to 2010, although the proportion of movies and scenes featuring some of the variables examined (namely unhealthy foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, and weight stigma) appears to have increased over the past decade.
While pediatricians and other healers try to find the magic solutions to the growing obesity epidemic, we must all keep in mind that shaming and stigmatizing people — especially children — about their weight is not a productive strategy. In fact, this month’s policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Obesity makes it abundantly clear just how harmful it is:
The stigmatization of people with obesity is widespread and causes harm. Weight stigma is often propagated and tolerated in society because of beliefs that stigma and shame will motivate people to lose weight. However, rather than motivating positive change, this stigma contributes to behaviors such as binge eating, social isolation, avoidance of health care services, decreased physical activity, and increased weight gain, which worsen obesity and create additional barriers to healthy behavior change. Furthermore, experiences of weight stigma also dramatically impair quality of life, especially for youth.
We’ll take a closer look at the stigma children and teens experience with obesity tomorrow on The PediaBlog.