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Childhood Obesity 101: A Parent's Primer for Prevention (continued)

What's going on?

Let's take another look at the trends graph and pinpoint key events leading to the fattening of our children:  

1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). According to USDA, the cheap corn sweetener didn't enter our food system until 1974, when it started replacing more costly cane and beet sugars. Today, most sodas and popular kids' fruit drinks are sweetened with HFCS. While we can't blame the sweetener entirely for the obesity epidemic, it certainly contributed to the problem because of its abundance in our food supply.  Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California-San Francisco, says "the problem is the quantity consumed." (5)

2.  Fast food.  McDonald's rolled out their Happy Meals® in 1979 (6) and fueled the rise in fast food consumption over the decades that followed. (7) Key to the kid's meal success is the limited-time-offered toy, which adds a sense of urgency to its appeal.  The high-calorie, low-fiber meals favor the development of insulin resistance and related obesity. (8) We know that truly "happy" meals are organic, but according to a McDonald's spokesperson, "There are no plans to incorporate organic foods into our menu." (9)

3. Advertising directed towards children.  In 1978, the Federal Trade Commission proposed a ban on advertising to children under eight years of age because young children can't understand persuasive language.   Advertisers worried that they'd lose access to the lucrative child market, so they convinced Congress to pass the "FTC Improvement Act" in 1980. Hardly an "improvement" for our kids, the Act cut the FTC's power to regulate advertising to children. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood reports: "Since then, child-directed marketing has escalated exponentially with virtually no government oversight." (10). We've since learned that advertising influences children's food preferences and requests.  And, the majority of food advertised to children is of poor nutritional quality. (1112) Have you seen any commercials on Saturday morning TV for organic milk and vegetables? I didn't think so.

4. Super sizes.  Portion sizes of cheap fatty and sugary foods began to grow in the 1970s. Portion sizes continued to rise sharply in the 1980s, and have continued to increase right along with body weight.  Children and adults consume more when we're served more. (13)

5. Endocrine disruptors. Changes in diet and exercise alone can't fully explain the dramatic increase in the incidence of obesity that we've seen over the past two decades. Some researchers have noticed a parallel increase in obesity with our dramatic rise in the use of plastics. (14) Endocrine disrupting compounds from both plastics and pesticides can cause insulin resistance, weight gain, and even damage our genes, depending on when we're exposed. (1,15)

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More on Endocrine Disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are pesticides that mimic our natural hormones and can interfere with normal sexual development, reproduction and fertility.  Some studies show that organic farmers and men who eat only organic food have healthier sperm and /or higher sperm counts as compared to conventional farmers who use pesticides and eat conventional diets. Endocrine disrupting pesticides have also been linked to fetal loss, birth defects, and earlier onset of puberty among girls (menarche). (ref)

Even when pesticide residues are present at levels lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stated "level of concern," endocrine disruptors pose human health risk because they are biologically active at extremely low and previously undetected levels.

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