By Dr. Mercola
As recently as February, a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in JAMA1 declared that obesity rates among two- to five-year olds declined by 43 percent in the past decade, dropping from 14 percent in 2003 to eight percent in 2012.
Obesity rates among other age groups were found to have "stabilized." The findings were broadcast on all of the nation's major news stations and in most major newspapers2, 3, 4 with many claiming "victory" in the fight against childhood obesity. Alas, the celebration was short-lived.
Severe Obesity on the Rise Among American Youth
On April 7, another team of researchers published a report in the journal JAMA Pediatrics,5, 6 showing a very different picture—despite the fact that they used the same National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data as the CDC. The difference was that this study included another four years' worth of data (1999 to 2012). As reported by WebMD:7
"Contrary to a recent report with encouraging figures on childhood obesity in the United States, a new study presents a more sobering picture of the nation's pediatric weight problem.
Severe obesity, which sets kids up for a lifetime of health problems, has increased over the past 14 years, North Carolina researchers found... Severely obese children are the ones most likely to have type 2 diabetes as teens and other problems such as heart disease later in life. They are also the children who will require millions of dollars in health care costs..."
As of 2011, just over 17 percent of American children between the ages of two and 19 were obese, classified as having a body mass index (BMI) exceeding that of 95 percent of same-sex peers of the same age.
Nearly six percent of youths met criteria for class 2 obesity, classified as having a BMI greater than 120 percent of the 95th percentile (or a BMI of 35). More than two percent of children fell in the class 3 obesity category, indicating they had a BMI of 40 or greater.
Such extreme obesity during youth can really set you up for a lifetime of very serious health problems. WebMD quotes Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, saying:8
"'This paper will come as a sobering reality check for any who believed the recent headlines about childhood obesity rates plummeting,' he said. 'Severe obesity in children is rising, he said, adding that this is a critical piece of information.'"
What's Causing Rise in Severe Obesity Among the Very Young?
Clearly, the anti-obesity campaign is NOT working, even though the US government would love you to think their "efforts" are paying off. The truth is that federal policies that stand to have the greatest impact on human health have not been addressed at all.
For example, the US government (and your tax dollars) still subsidizes the growing of genetically engineered (GE) corn and sugar beets, which fuels the production of cheap, processed junk food that fatten up our youth and cause cascading health problems, courtesy of the insulin resistance such a diet brings.
It's not rocket science to figure out that the American diet is primarily to blame for our expanding waist lines and declining health. It contains the same "nutritional balance" used for decades to purposefully fatten up livestock. Why would anyone think that sugar, grains, artificial sweeteners, hormones, and low-dose antibiotics would suddenly produce different results when consumed by humans?
As just one example, virtually all beef sold in American grocery stores comes from cattle injected with hormones. Corn fattens the cattle, but consumers don't like all that gristle and fat, so hormones are used to make the animal produce more lean muscle tissue.
This improves profits, as it increases the animals' growth by about 10 percent. Ironically, it's the corn that makes the cattle fat, so if we didn't feed them corn, we wouldn't have to give them hormones to minimize fat production!
Processed food manufacturers also have a lot to answer for, as they refuse to replace harmful ingredients with more natural ones. The US diet is chockfull of ingredients that have been banned in other countries due to their health risks. The dietary factors that have probably done the greatest amount of damage over the past decades include:
- Trans fats
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Artificial sweeteners
- Growth promoting drugs such as hormones and antibiotics used in food animals
- Agricultural chemicals such as glyphosate, used on conventionally grown food crops, and genetically engineered crops in particularly high amounts
ALL of these have one thing in common, and that is that they destroy your gut health by killing off beneficial gut bacteria, thereby promoting obesity and metabolic dysfunction, along with virtually every other disease known to man. Without beneficial gut bacteria, most diseases—including mental or neurological problems—will worsen.
Foods That Destroy Gut Health Also Promote Weight Gain and Poor Health
Your gastrointestinal tract houses some 100 trillion bacteria—about two to three pounds worth. In all, the bacteria in your body actually outnumber your cells by about 10 to one. Researchers have discovered that microbes of all kinds play instrumental roles in countless areas of your health—both physical and mental. For example, beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics, have been shown to:
- Modulate your immune response and reduce inflammation
- Produce vitamins, absorb minerals, and eliminate toxins
- Control asthma and reduce risk of allergies
- Benefit your mood and mental health
- Boost weight loss
Beneficial bacteria also control the growth of disease-causing bacteria by competing for nutrition and attachment sites in your colon. This is of immense importance, as pathogenic bacteria and other less beneficial microbes can wreak havoc with your health if they gain the upper hand. It can also affect your weight.
One hypothesis states that your gut bacteria may in fact be in control of your appetite. Recent research9 suggests there's a positive-feedback loop between the foods you crave and the composition of the microbiota in your gut that depend on those nutrients for their survival.
Microbes that thrive on sugar, for example, can signal your brain to eat more sweets. Other studies10, 11 have shown that certain bacteria found in your gut can produce insulin resistance and weight gain by triggering chronic low-grade inflammation in your body. Food processing, pasteurization, and sterilization also have a detrimental effect on your microbiome. For all of these reasons, and more, I always recommend a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods along with cultured or fermented foods.
Coca-Cola Vows to Rev Up Marketing Efforts in Face of Declining Soda Sales
Sweetened beverages are probably among the worst culprits. Whether sweetened with sugar, HFCS, naturally-occurring fructose, or artificial sweeteners, sweetened beverages of all kinds cause obesity and related health problems, including diabetes, heart and liver disease, just to name a few. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain.
Fortunately, soda consumption has now dropped to its lowest point since 1995,12 with diet sodas taking the greatest hit. Sales of carbonated beverages in general fell three percent in 2013, while diet Coke and diet Pepsi both dropped by nearly seven percent. Emerging market sales, such as those in India and China, have also slowed. Sadly, Coca-Cola Company is not about to give up their relentless pursuit of raising soda-chugging consumers—health ramifications be damned. As reported by Daily Finance:13
"The Atlanta-based company said it would intensify its cost-cutting to produce another $1 billion in savings by 2016, much of which would be reinvested into marketing. 'We know our business responds to marketing,' CEO Muhtar Kent said in a call with reporters... Although Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are tapping emerging markets for growth and sell a wide array of beverages, pressure is mounting for the two companies to figure out how to get soda sales moving in the right direction at home... [Kent] expressed confidence that soda in North America can still grow and just needs improved marketing, innovation and on-the-ground sales execution."
Kent was also quoted by the Wall Street Journal,14 saying that: "'Coca-Cola remains magical. We need to work even harder to enhance the romance of the brand in every corner of the world,'' Mr. Kent told investors in February. He regularly refers to flagship Coke as the company's 'oxygen' and 'lifeblood.'"
Turning Childhood Into an Illness
As recently discussed on KevinMD.com,15 childhood itself is being turned into an illness, courtesy of corruption and collusion between the food industry, Big Pharma, and politicians. As noted by psychiatrist Dr. Allen Frances in his article, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has tripled in two decades, and autism now affects an estimated one in 50 children between the ages of six and 17, according to the most recent CDC data.16 The causes for all these behavioral problems have been debated for years. But according to Dr. Frances, one of the primary factors driving such trends is our own refusal to do what's necessary for health. He writes:
"Don't believe the statistics: They are wildly exaggerated. Our kids are... too often mislabeled for behaviors that used to be considered part of normal variation. We are turning childhood into an illness. The surest proof of misplaced diagnostic exuberance comes directly from the classroom.
Research shows that the youngest kids in class are much more likely than the oldest to be diagnosed as having ADHD, and to receive stimulant treatment. It is shameful that simple immaturity due to being younger is now mislabeled as mental illness and mistreated with a pill... What makes more sense: Promiscuous use of pills or smaller class sizes and more facilities for physical activity that allow kids to blow off steam?"
I certainly believe that more kids than ever before are suffering neurological harm from a grossly inadequate diet, lack of exercise, and an onslaught of environmental toxins. But Dr. Frances makes a good point: improved diagnosis and increased use of medication is NOT the answer. It in no way, shape, or form addresses any of the root causes. If our government was really intent on providing better health for children, they'd face reality and address the root causes head on. But they choose not to. Probably because it would require a major transformation of the entire food system, for starters. It would also require reverting back to more traditional school systems that includes plenty of physical education.
Teach Your Kids the Basic Tenets of Optimal Health
While the situation appears bleak when viewed from the perspective of what the "authorities" are doing (or not doing), I urge you to consider your own role. YOU have the power to make the needed alterations within your own family. Leading by example is also one of the most effective teaching tools there is, which will set your children up to be better equipped to maneuver an increasingly toxic world as they themselves become parents.
First and foremost, I believe we need to teach children what "real food" actually is. Remember, wholesome food is "live" and typically raw food, and the hallmark of live food is the fact that it will wilt and decompose. If you're unsure about how to get your family on the right track, my optimized nutrition plan offers a step-by-step guide to feeding your family right. You can find even more help in the book I wrote on the subject, called Generation XL: Raising Healthy, Intelligent Kids in a High-Tech, Junk-Food World. As a quick overview, here are some of the most important lifestyle strategies you can teach your child that will serve him or her well for the rest of their life:
- Proper food choices: For a comprehensive guide, see my free optimized nutrition plan. Generally speaking though, you'll want to focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods. For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw.
Avoid refined sugar and processed fructose in particular. All forms of sugar have toxic effects when consumed in excess, and drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of chronic disease and accelerated aging. I believe the two primary keys for successful weight management are severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and increasing healthy fat consumption. This will optimize insulin and leptin levels, which is key for maintaining a healthy weight and optimal health. Sources of healthy fats include:
Olives and olive oil Coconuts and coconut oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw nuts, particularly macadamia Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Grass-fed meats Palm oil Unheated organic nut oils
- Regular exercise: Along with core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching, I highly recommend doing Peak Fitness exercises two or three times a week. This is where you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period. High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength, and vigor. HGH also helps boost weight loss.
- Stress reduction: Your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease -- from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer. Meditation, prayer, social support, and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using simple tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden, emotional problems.
- Drink plenty of clean pure water.
- Maintain a healthy gut: About 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, and research is stacking up showing that probiotics—beneficial bacteria—affect your health in a myriad of ways; it can even influence your ability to lose weight. A healthy diet is the ideal way to maintain a healthy gut, and regularly consuming traditionally fermented foods is the easiest, most cost-effective way to ensure optimal gut flora.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels: Research has shown that increasing your vitamin D levels can reduce your risk of death from ALL causes. Sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels as your body has built-in "fail-safe" mechanisms that prevent detrimental side effects from occurring. For more information on how to safely and effectively optimize your vitamin D levels, please see my previous article, "How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help You Optimize Your Health."
If you opt for oral vitamin D supplements, make sure you use D3, not prescription D2, as the latter may do more harm than good. Also, if you take supplemental vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2—not K1 that is typically in vegetables as it will not work synergize with vitamin D. Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries.Together, vitamin D and K2 help strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.
- Avoid as many chemicals, toxins, and pollutants as possible: This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
- Get plenty of high-quality sleep: Regularly catching only a few hours of sleep can hinder metabolism and hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging and the early stages of diabetes. Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss.