Ever since President Obama took office, First Lady Michelle Obama has been working hard to address the growing nationwide issue of childhood obesity. The First Lady’s ongoing focus in this area has served to encourage scientists as well to take a closer look at what causes obesity, how eating so-called “junk foods” may alter body chemistry or trigger cravings in children and adults, what happens when access to certain foods is limited or improved and even how what pregnant women eat can affect their unborn babies. These interesting research studies have yielded new insights that may be able to aid in the fight to improve children’s and family health in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
Childhood Obesity and Public Health
One issue that many public health officials are now investigating is how children’s health is positively impacted when families are given greater access to healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Students who are currently pursuing an online masters degree in public health will be dealing with this nationwide issue of access to healthy food for years to come. Public health departments will put plenty of time and energy into ensuring that families of varying socioeconomic backgrounds living in rural and urban communities all have equal access to nutritious, healthy foods.
Pre-Birth Obesity Indicators
Using what scientists at the University of Verona call the “obesity risk calculator,” medical doctors can now predict at the time of birth a baby’s approximate potential risk of becoming obese later on in life. Scientists at many different universities around the world have been able to replicate these findings with 60 to 80 percent accuracy using various measurements including BMI (body mass index), height and weight indicators and more. These newfound “obesity indicators” should help parents to begin early to teach their children about healthy eating and exercise habits which can lessen the threat of obesity later in life.
Healthy Moms Equal Healthy Babies
Researchers at the University of Adelaide have discovered a link between what types of food a pregnant woman consumes and whether her baby will develop a greater desire for eating foods labeled as “junk food.” When a pregnant woman consumes junk food, her baby’s brain signaling system develops differently from that of babies whose mothers consume a healthier diet. The babies born to junk food-consuming moms have less sensitivity to high sugar and fat foods (which are typically the same foods labeled as “junk foods”). This means that babies born to junk food-consuming moms will need to eat more sugary, fatty foods to get the same opioid rush from these foods, which can set up cravings later in life. This study points to the need for greater health education and family planning to help moms set up their infants for healthy eating habits as they mature.
How Access Affects Consumption
Several universities, including Yale University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, are currently studying how access to “junk foods” or less healthy food choices affect consumption levels. Not surprisingly, research at middle schools has produced evidence that removing junk food from schools results in lower junk-food consumption levels among middle school students. In addition to attempts to reform choices in school cafeterias, these efforts targeted soft drink and snack food vending machines, intending to replace sugary sodas and junk food in the vending machines with healthy choices like bottled water, fruit juices, pretzels, fruits and granola bars. The researchers focus on children’s health now that there is clear evidence linking consumption of junk and sugary foods in childhood to development of heart disease and diabetes later in life. The schools, however, want to maintain lucrative vendor relationships with the junk food and vending machine companies. So while research continues to highlight the need to remove sugary sodas and junk foods from schools, even schools that are mandated to remove these food options often resist legislative pressures to comply.
Science today gives parents clear information to help their children eat healthy, exercise and make lifestyle choices that can set them up for success throughout their lives. Now all that remains is to put this information to good use!
About the Author: Carl Knouen learned firsthand about child obesity. As an overweight child he was shamed for his shape. He holds a master’s in public health and is dedicated to finding new ways to improve kids’ health.