Civil War Reenactment

The War on Childhood Obesity and Poor Nutrition

Victory is right around the corner. It’s not easy, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have finally figured out how to win the war on childhood obesity. They’ve published a joint position paper that calls for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages and curbing advertising for such products.

Benjamin Winig of ChangeLab Solutions, a health advocacy organization, is cheering:

The public health community is winning, but it’s a very difficult battle. Our kids are getting sick and dying and what we really need is for government to step up their mission to keep people safe.

Taxes Will Benefit Low Income Communities

Excess sugar consumption “poses a grave health threat to children and adolescents, disproportionately affecting children of minority and low-income communities,” says the statement. The enemy is pretty obvious, says Sheila Magge, a pediatric endocrinologist who helped write this new position. “Sugary drinks are empty calories and they are the low-hanging fruit in the fight against childhood obesity.”

The only fly in the ointment is the people who have to pay the tax. The AAP and AHA grant that low income communities bear “a greater burden from taxation.” But, that’s not a problem, says the statement, because those poor people will get an extra benefit. They’ll have less diabetes and heart disease. Plus, all that money can go into programs for those communities, like the pre-K programs it’s funding in Philadelphia.

It’s unfortunate, but poor communities don’t get it. Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the U.S. and the minority community there really doesn’t like the beverage tax they’ve been given. State Senator Anthony Williams is running for Mayor with a promise to repeal the tax, saying:

If you had a latte tax, or a croissant tax, or an expensive cigar tax, I’d take all those.

Williams concedes that he faces an uphill battle against an incumbent who has about five times more cash than he does for his campaign. But he certainly has passion for this issue.

Simple Solutions

Some doubters say that consumption of sugary beverages has been declining for a decade, but all the while, childhood obesity has done nothing but rise. No matter. If it turns out that sugar-sweetened beverage taxes don’t do the trick, we can add on any number of strategies. The internet has a few suggestions:

Eat five small meals per day and run. Also, eat only breakfast and dinner, and walk. Also, eat lots of protein and lift, and don’t even do any cardio, it’s bad for your joints. Don’t eat too much protein and make sure you’re sleeping a lot. But don’t be sedentary. But don’t be too active, it’s bad for your blood pressure. Make sure you replace all your lost salt, but never eat too much sodium. It’s easy, just eat vegetables. Don’t eat potatoes though or corn.

Fruit is obviously good for you, and also it’s all sugar and is bad for you. Sugar, I forgot to mention, is a vital source of quick burning carbohydrates that your brain needs to survive, and you should avoid it at all costs. Protein is hurting your kidneys. Make sure you eat a lot of it. Drink water. Never starve yourself unless you’re calling it “intermittent fasting” and then it’s okay to starve yourself a little bit. Don’t over hydrate. Being vegan is obviously the healthiest lifestyle, and also no it’s not. Fish is obviously super good for you, and it’s full of mercury and killing you. Get some sun every day for Vitamin D and skin cancer.

We Need Objectivity, Curiosity, and Care

The experiment with regressive taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages will continue. Mexico, Chile, and the U.K. have already implemented some pretty broad measures.

Maybe those measures will yield impressive results. Or maybe not. Whatever the results, we need objectivity and genuine curiosity to understand them. Most of all, we still need to care for children who are already living with obesity – many millions with severe obesity. Funny thing, though. We don’t hear a lot about that.

Click here for the joint position and here for more from the New York Times.

Civil War Reenactment, photograph © Glen Bledsoe / flickr

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One Response to “The War on Childhood Obesity and Poor Nutrition”

  1. March 27, 2019 at 12:21 pm, David Brown said:

    If added sugars are such a huge problem, one wonders why the American Heart Association (AHA) didn’t issue a strongly worded warning regarding sugar intake until 2007.

    As late as 2003 Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson was asked to help suppress a World Health Organization report that recommended sugar intake be dialed back from 25% of caloric intake to 10%. It would seem that up until the Report was issued, the AHA considered the 25% figure acceptable.

    Interestingly, saturated fat continues to be the whipping boy for the omega-6, arachidonic acid and it’s shorter chain precursor linoleic acid. Yet Norwegian animal science researcher Anna Haug is trying to find ways to reduce the linoleic acid and arachidonic acid content of chicken fat and flesh. She writes, “Chicken meat with reduced concentration of arachidonic acid (AA) and reduced ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids has potential health benefits because a reduction in AA intake dampens prostanoid signaling, and the proportion between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is too high in our diet.” One wonders why American scientists doing something similar. At one point in the Background section of her article she writes, “The degree of fatty acid unsaturation of mitochondrial membrane lipids has been found to be one of those biochemical parameters that are most strongly correlated with longevity, when different species of mammals and birds are compared, with a low degree of fatty unsaturation being correlated with less lipid peroxidation and a longer normal life-span.” This means, a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids induces inflammation and speeds up the ageing process.

    While excess sugar consumption is associated with an increase in inflammatory markers for disease, the effect is not as pronounced as for the polyunsaturated fatty acids that are so overly-abundant in our modernized, industrialized food supply.