Integrative Nutrition Blog

Parents Step Up Their Game in the War Against Childhood Obesity

March 29, 2011

There’s a war going on out there, and some Philadelphia parents are taking matters into their own hands.

School lunch reform is something that we are in dire need of in this country. People know it and steps are being taken, but the pace is slow and special interest groups are doing their best to inhibit real change. But schools are not the only places where kids are eating junk.

Parents and school officials in one Philadelphia school district noticed that children are often stopping before school to get sugary, fatty snacks at corner stores. 

Enter: renegade parents.

Donning bright safety vests and wielding walkie-talkies, community members have set up a neighborhood watch-like operation to get kids to skip buying a snack – or shame them a bit if they do.

Research shows that adults only need to consume an extra 200 calories per day to be overweight. But a recent study out of Temple University shows that children are routinely getting 360 calories per day from chips, candy, and sugary drinks.

Vest-clad parents are hoping to cut some of those junk calories with their efforts outside of local stores. But they are up against even bigger adversary than store owners: biology.

Humans have a sweet tooth, but tolerance (and preference) is something that diminishes with age, meaning our nation’s children like things even sweeter than the average adult.

In an age of high-fructose corn syrup and aspartame, foods can deliver a sweet punch that is far, far higher than anything Mother Nature can come up with. This results in an ever-higher desire for sweet foods, and makes cutting back very difficult. Plus, studies have shown that foods high in fat and sugar activate similar reward systems in our brains as cocaine. They can also set off the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical that can override the natural ‘stop eating’ signals our bodies send us.

It’s hard to say whether or not this particular strategy will work in Philadelphia, but one thing is for certain: The only way to beat childhood obesity is for parents and schools to work together. After all, a little education can go a long way.

Do you think the junk food vigilantes will work to curb those cravings?

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