I was lucky enough to be riding my bike on a beautiful fall day recently when my “Biking friends” and I passed a soccer field of one of the private schools in Charlotte. The school was at the top of a hill so we stopped for a moment to rest and watch the kids play on the playground. Two things immediately struck me as we watched the children– first, the diversity of the racial backgrounds of the kids on that field. I think of the forty or so children out on the field running around, every ethnic group was represented, all playing with one another without any apparent animosity or segregation. I found that very refreshing and encouraging. The other thing I noticed was that there was not one child on the field who was overweight–not one! This is not the norm in America these days where 35% of children are now overweight and 20% are obese. So in today’s pedcast, I thought we might do a thought experiment to see if we can explain why these children seem to be different than the average group of kids in America today; why weren’t there overweight and obese kids on that playground?
So, let’s think about this school in Charlotte that seems to specialize in thin kids. How do you get a school full of lean children in today’s America? Were they selected for admission because they were thin? No, I am not aware a low BMI being a criteria for admission to any schools in Charlotte so, I think not. Or, maybe these kids came from families who farmed or lived some other very physical strenuous daily life that kept them thin? Well, I seriously doubt that. The school that we were biking by is located in the heart of the city in a very urban environment. The nearest farm is probably 25 miles away. Ok, here is another theory; maybe these kids are thin because their parents can’t afford enough food after paying expensive private school tuition? No, that idea is out in left field. They didn’t look malnourished, just normal weight. I’m sure the kids get enough food. Or, could it be that the admissions committee puts an emphasis on athletics and that somehow excludes children who are not very physically fit? No, that can’t be, this is a school that touts itself as a pre-collegiate school so I think their admission criteria is mostly academics and diversity.
So, we are left with the dilemma of why the children at this school seem to all be normal in weight. Well, I think I know the answer to this question. I learned the answer while I was doing research for my new book. Yes, I am in the midst of writing another blockbuster book for parents and one of the chapters is about how stress affects children. Stress you say in children? You’re probably thinking that kids don’t have stress. Well, your wrong. In fact some kids have a lot of stress like living in poverty, growing up in a single parent household, or growing up around drugs use or violence. It turns out, that the more stressful events and factors a child experiences during their childhood, the more likely they will experience childhood obesity. Think about that, poor children who often have food insecurity and often don’t have enough food to eat, tend to become obese. Obesity is not just a matter of eating too much food or eating a lot of poor quality food. Certainly, these are contributing factors but poverty and stress are also important driving forces that can make a child overweight or obese. Long time listeners of to my blog will remember some posts and pedcasts about ACE factors and (accumulated childhood experience scores) and “Toxic stress”. In those pedcasts, I told you about how destructive these factors are to a child’s ultimate health and well-being. http://www.docsmo.com/good-bad-and-ugly-stress-in-children-pedcast/ In other words, stress in childhood translates into disease as one ages and obesity is now considered a disease.
Well, let’s get back to that school that we were pedaling by with all the thin kids. Remember, these kids came from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds but I am certain they all had one thing in common– they had very little “toxic stress” at home or in their lives. If their parents had sacrificed and made sure that these children got a quality education, I find it hard to believe that they would be exposed to severe stress at home or feed them lots of low quality junk food. No, these kids were getting all the advantages; good food, a high quality education, and growing up in a low “toxic stress” environment. It’s sad that every child can’t have the same.
It’s ironic that the obesity epidemic is, to a large degree, an matter of economics Poor children often get the double whammy; lots of low quality processed foods and more stress than their middle class counterparts. Knowing all this, it doesn’t look like just solving the bad food issue will solve the obesity problem for many poor children since their physiology so adversely affected by all the stress in their lives. But knowledge is power. Now that we are beginning to understand how stress harms the health of children, we can all do more to change that. We must do more to change that.
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- Rates of Overweight children in US