Confronting Childhood Obesity

September 6th, 2017

Viewpoints from a Naturopathic Physician

One of our main values here at Liberty HealthShare is the promotion and pursuit of health. While we are here for one another through the unexpected health issues that may arise, we have also agreed to steward our bodies, first because they are gifts from God and second, because we recognize that the money that pays for our eligible medical costs comes out of our pockets and the pockets of our fellow members.

Obesity is a national epidemic, affecting more than one-third of U.S. adults. It’s not surprising that children aren’t statistically far behind in this area. Obesity contributes to a myriad of other health conditions, from heart disease to cancer, so it follows that a large part of our nation’s healthcare costs could be mitigated by focusing on the reduction of obesity alone.

Here at Liberty HealthShare, we are committed to helping our members move out of the “sick care” model and into true health, as far as it depends on them. That’s why we have health coaching through our HealthTrac program, specifically for those members who enroll with conditions that respond to lifestyle changes, such as obesity.

Dr. Kendra Pearsall is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor and a member of our Physician Advisory Board. The following is one of the questions members are asking, followed by an answer from Dr. Pearsall, based on a naturopathic understanding of health.

Ask the Naturopathic Doctor

Q: My pre-teen is overweight and most of her diet is junk food. When I mention her weight or her eating habits, she says, "You're one to talk, you and dad are both fat." Unfortunately, she’s correct. What should we do?

A: You are not alone in having an obese child. Did you know that an astounding 20% of children (ages 6-19) in the U.S. are obese? September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, instituted to bring light to this pressing issue. One of the main risks related to childhood obesity is that uncontrolled weight gain in childhood leads to the formation of new fat cells which are permanent, greatly increasing the risk of obesity and chronic disease when kids grow up.

Here are some practical suggestions for parents or loved ones who want to keep their children from becoming overweight or obese:

If you are an overweight parent, make it a priority to achieve a healthy weight. Children run a higher risk of childhood obesity when parents are overweight. If you want your child to be slim and healthy, your odds of success improve when you are a good example for them.

Seek out health practitioners who offer alternatives to antibiotics. One round of antibiotics can cause irreparable harm to your gut flora (the bacteria that naturally occurs in your digestive system) and the gut flora of future generations.* Gut flora has a huge influence on your weight, as overweight people tend to have imbalanced flora, with dangerous bacteria dominating the naturally-occurring flora. It is important for the whole family (especially any members who have used antibiotics) to consume lactofermented foods, such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, miso, kim chee, natto, and kombucha daily, preferably with each meal, in order to support and keep gut flora healthy.

Limit screen time (TV, computer, video games, iPad, etc.). Kids are watching an average of 6.5 hours of screen time a day when they should be outside running around. Use screen time as a reward when they have completed their chores or finished their homework, and make sure to set limits on the length of screen time.

Encourage participation in sports. Sports are great for physical conditioning and fat burning, not to mention fun and socialization.

Teach your kids about nutrition. Eat a healthy diet and do your best to ban processed foods and junk food from the house. Train yourself to read food labels and look for hidden (and not so hidden) sugars.

A little more on this: Are your kids junk food addicts? Do they light up with excitement when you present them with dessert? This is because believe it or not, sugar is more addictive than cocaine! If you want to cure your kids of a sugar addiction, the best place to start is by removing high sugar foods from the diet they eat at home.

When I say sugar, I'm referring not only to the white stuff you buy in a bag but also to most carbohydrates that break down into simple sugars in your body. Limit high carb foods such as flour, bread, pasta, cereal, sweeteners, juice, and most fruit to a few times a week. Focus on a diet of healthy protein, fats, and low-carb veggies. Sweet potatoes and cassava root are also acceptable forms of carbs.

Most parents don't understand good nutrition. For example, my own parents served me Raisin Bran with skim milk for breakfast, followed by a sack lunch with a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, a 100% juice pack, an apple, and a bag of Cheetos. For dinner, we might have had milk and sandwiches or pasta and a small salad. Most of this food was high in carbs (ultimately fueling a sugar addiction) but low in nutrients.

Stop rewarding your kids with junk food. How do we celebrate birthdays and holidays? With cake, cupcakes, ice-cream, and candy. It sends the message that sugar and junk are a necessary part of having a good time.

You can make healthy substitutions for junk food. Just do a web search for "ketogenic" versions of whatever you’re looking to make/serve. This will yield low-carb variations of traditional desserts, such as cakes made from fruit, delicious mousses, and grain-free baked goods.Do a web search for " low-carb avocado chocolate pudding" to find a delicious healthy alternative to junk food chocolate pudding. Just make sure you don't ever use artificial sweeteners such as Splenda or aspartame. The only low-carb, safe sweeteners are stevia, monkfruit (lo han guo), chicory root, FOS (fructooligosaccharide), and erythritol.

Following just one of these steps could make a big difference in your child's life.

For more ideas, do a web search on "how to prevent or treat childhood obesity". Our hope is that this information is a support to your efforts as you seek to pursue and maintain health for yourselves and your families. Making lifestyle changes takes perseverance and resolve, especially when you find yourself coming up against habits and addictions, but it’s worth it. If you need more specific advice, find a health practitioner with whom you can form a relationship and partner with them to make a plan. Your kids will thank you for setting a good example and for setting them on a path to success early in life.

This article is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, nor should it be regarded as medical advice. Rather, it is meant to share a naturopathic perspective on health and healing.

  • Reference: The High Price of Antibiotic Use: Can Our Guts Ever Fully Recover?