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Something Else To Blame for Childhood Obesity

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It’s probably no secret to any of you that we have a childhood obesity problem (and an adult obesity problem too for that matter) in this country. What does seem to be a secret is why? Everyone has their theories – kids don’t get enough physical activity, they eat too many calories, they drink their calories, they eat too much junk, the Food Guide Pyramid is to blame – and the list goes on. The truth of the matter is we haven’t quite figured it out yet because it is a very complicated problem.

Here’s a familiar theory with a new spin to throw into the mix. According to pediatrician Dr. Robert Lustig the high calorie, refined carbohydrate, low fiber western diet is to blame. Well no duh! But he offers a more in depth explanation, actually a more scientific one in the August issue of the journal Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology & Metabolism. Lustig says this diet has resulted in a state of hyperinsulinemia in our kids' bodies (ours too) that interferes with their ability to control their appetites.

So what does mean? The basics are after a meal, the hormone insulin is released into the blood in response to the carbohydrate in food. Insulin helps that food get into the cells so they can do their work to keep the body going. Sounds ok right? Well, according to Lustig the current western diet is causing too much insulin to be released resulting in this state of hyperinsulinemia. This sends our kids' appetites into overdrive, triggering them to eat eat eat! And as a result gain more and more weight. (Along with too many calories, too much refined carbohydrate and lack of fiber, he says too much fat and fructose - a sugar- and too little dairy contribute to hyperinsulinemia as well). Ideally with the perfect diet our kids don’t reach that state of hyperinsulinemia and their appetites stay in check.

So what is an ideal or perfect diet? For starters one with more high fiber whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Sounds simple enough, but our kids aren’t really used to eating whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables. Most of their grain foods come from refined flour like that found in hamburger buns, bagels, white bread, white rice, pasta, pastries, pretzels and so on.

What can we do? Try starting slowly by adding a fruit or a vegetable to every meal (talk with your kids about what vegetables they actually like). To gradually add in more whole grains try going half and half i.e. mix whole wheat pasta with your regular pasta, mix white rice with brown rice. If you’d like more ideas on getting more whole grains into their diet (and fruits and veggies) and yours, let me know and I can dedicate a post to just that. And if you all have some good tips to share please send them along.

If you are interested in reading Lustig’s article here’s the link http://www.nature.com/ncpendmet/journal/v2/n8/full/ncpendmet0220.html
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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