To overcome the health crisis of childhood obesity in the United States, we need to change the culture symbolized by drive-through, supersized value meals, agreed panelists at the Nov. 14 Southern California Health Leadership Panel.
Speaking at the Aresty Conference Center on the USC Health Sciences Campus, health policy leaders joined CNN talk show host Larry King in discussing the causes, consequences and possible solutions to childhood obesity.
The cause of increasing obesity over the last 20 years, panelists said, is the change in lifestyle�a decrease in exercise and an increase in consumption.
“If your parents both work and you don’t have dinner at home cooked by your mom or your dad, you tend to go out to fast food places,” said Bill Van Antwerp, distinguished scientist in the Science and Technology Organization at Medtronic. “Kids who are at home alone don’t go out and play any more. Even in the world of research, it used to be that you’d go to the library and spend an hour walking up and down the steps in the stacks to find a reference article. Now with the kids in my lab, if it doesn’t exist in PDF, if they can’t get it with one finger, it doesn’t exist.”
A multitude of health problems result from this lifestyle. “We know that supersizing America is very bad for heart disease and diabetes,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Diabetes in America is just exploding. Basically a disease called adult-onset diabetes�type 2 diabetes�is moving younger and younger. This is a real warning signal for us.”
Sixty percent of children who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, according to national studies.
Besides diabetes, other results of being overweight include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are precursors to heart disease; problems with joints; and an increase in some types of cancer, among others.
“We have a consumer-driven society, but we have a culture of neglect,” said Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health. “We have so many choices, but I think we fail as parents and as educators in helping our young people understand and make healthy lifestyle choices.”
School systems and communities can take steps to better educate children about nutrition and to create an environment where exercise is valued, but parents need to take the first steps to “pay attention to what their children are eating, and what example they set in their own lifestyles,” said Tom Miller, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Physicians, too, need to engage their young patients and families in preventing obesity.
“One of the things we discovered at L.A. Care is that physicians weren’t comfortable talking to families and asking the right questions,” said Howard A. Kahn, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan. L.A. Care created a training module to help physicians, and 400 attended the first session.
The annual panel discussion was sponsored by the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, LAC+USC Healthcare Network, COPE Health Solutions and the Keck School of Medicine.