If you plug in the search-term obese children into Google’s News site on any particular day, you will find thousands of stories. Today, for example, there were 1,320. That’s because American and British media have finally woken up to an out-of-control problem in the westernized world.
While studies have found that about 15 percent of American children 6 to 19 are obese, the number of available, affordable solutions for worried parents is actually quite slim. Even more troublesome is finding a program that actually works over the long term. Couple that with parents struggling just to make ends meet, and you have a recipe for continuing troubles.
Take Maria Cruz, whose 8-year-old son weighs about 200 pounds. That’s right, 4-foot-7 Abel weighs more than what a healthy 6-foot adult male should, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Maria found a local Los Angeles program called PowerPlay MD, which has helped take a few pounds off her son, but it is slow going. It’s been tough getting her only child away from chips and soda and eating broccoli and spinach instead, Maria tells the Times.
How did her son get so overweight in the first place? “They kept telling me I needed to do something, but I didn’t pay attention,” Maria said.
She’s not alone. At least 25 percent of parents see their overweight children as normal, according to one British study. And 57 percent of fathers of obese children saw them as “about right,” reports AFP. Considering that 40 percent to 45 percent of overweight parents thought their own weight was about normal, those results are not all that surprising.
As I’ve written before, a slow-motion catastrophe is in the offing in the Western world. One of the most common stories making the media rounds provides a clue as to how desperate people are becoming: the number of stomach-reduction operations has jumped from 16,000 in 1993 to 100,000 in 2003, reports the International Herald Tribune. And the surgery is so popular that waiting lists, which include numerous teens, are forming at New York hospitals. While most kids must be over 15, some as young as 12 have had the surgery as a life-saving measure.
Teenagers who resort to surgery claim diet programs simply don’t work for them. Sally Apuzzo, who had the surgery at age 16, tried other solutions – such as fat camps – first. At 5-foot-1, Sally weighed 256 pounds. Here’s her explanation for trying the surgery:
“I had been overweight for as long as I can remember. … I didn’t have a social life. It got to the point where I was afraid to go on an amusement park ride because I was afraid I wouldn’t fit.”
While surgery may be saving lives in the short-term, this is not the type of solution that should be part of any person’s or nation’s long-term health strategy. Essentially, these are children who are having their contorted bodies further mutilated by surgeons.
The solutions are out there, and I’m not talking about fad diets such as Atkins and South Beach. One only has to look to the diets of the Asian world to see that obesity does not have to be prevalent. Before Americans will even consider making such dietary changes, though, western attitudes about food must be changed. And that’s darn near impossible to accomplish.
For example, just try mentioning the word vegetarianism in this country and people either make faces at you or they outright ridicule you. And how do you keep your child from consuming McDonald’s when there is a birthday party at the restaurant every other week?
The social pressures to eat meat, chips, cookies, soda and candy are so deep in America that most parents don’t even question the thousands of food television commercials hurled at their children every single day. It’s incredibly difficult to overcome these Western attitudes toward diet and the power of our commercial economy.
Consider the battle against tobacco. Billions of dollars have been spent to eradicate the habit with only moderate success. But at least in that fight, you can call a cigarette a “cancer stick.” How do you slam a potato chip? Call it a “fat bomb?” Most Americans think it is a legitimate vegetable.
Alas, the only solution is a long, dragged out public campaign about food and diet in this country that governments just are not ready to take. Even though billions of medical dollars are spent every year fighting obesity and obesity-related diseases, the government has been slow to see that cutting national obesity would greatly reduce medical costs in this country. In the meantime, the crises will continue to worsen until one day, the government will be forced to act.