Generally speaking, when the topic of childhood obesity comes up, people immediately think of morbidly obese kids. Then the question that automatically pops up is, “What can we do to help those poor kids lose weight?”
In other words, when childhood obesity comes up we automatically think in terms of REHAB, NOT PREVENTION. The tendency is also to presume that those kids who are currently avoiding obesity will continue to avoid it – despite the mountain of evidence predicting the contrary. Why fix something that ain’t broke, right?
Furthermore, when the topic of childhood obesity comes up and rehab takes center stage, we have the tendency to think in terms of NUTRITIONAL solutions instead of functional or physical solutions. After all, morbidly obese kids are very limited in what they can do physically because of all the excess weight they carry. That is to say, if they can’t run, jump, hop, skip, climb, or play like kids of normal weight, the problem is best approached/initiated from the nutritional perspective.
Conversation Dominated by Rehab and Nutrition
This being the case, when we talk about childhood obesity, rehab and nutrition dominate the conversation at the expense of prevention and function. (1) With these thoughts in mind I suggest that if we expect to turn the tide on this toxic epidemic we must turn the current model on its head, force a paradigm shift, and begin to focus more of our attention on prevention and function, and less of it on rehab and nutrition.
But in All Previous Epidemics…
After all, in previous epidemics including polio, diphtheria, small pox, cholera, and measles, etc., modern science developed vaccines that were designed to strengthen a baby’s immune system sufficiently to fend off the causes of these dread diseases. If we’d failed to do this we’d still be wrestling with epidemics in polio, diphtheria, etc. That is to say, modern scientists triumphed over these epidemics precisely BECAUSE they focused their attention PRIMARILY on PREVENTION.
The Question Becomes…
In this light the question becomes, “What can we do for kids, starting at a young age in order to arm them with the tools they need to actively fend off obesity, and all the problems that follow in its wake – for a lifetime? What can we do to PREVENT obesity in ways that are similar to the ways we’ve prevented polio, diphtheria, small pox, etc.? More specifically, to the degree that we PREVENT obesity, we systematically REDUCE the need to deal with rehab – just like with polio, diphtheria, and small pox.
Now let’s recognize that in a very fundamental sense, obesity is itself a functional disability, no different from a torn ACL or a rotator cuff injury. There are many things that obese kids are unable to do BECAUSE of their excess weight. Examples we sited earlier include running, jumping, hopping, skipping, and climbing a rope or a tree.
One other thing obese kids can’t do is conventional pull ups. More scientifically stated, the odds of obese kids being able to do even one pull up are about the same as winning the lottery or getting hit by lightening. The logical flip side of this statement is that the odds of KIDS WHO CAN DO conventional pull ups being obese are also about the same as winning the lottery or being hit by lightening.
One Really Simple Solution
Therefore, one simple (cost effective/cheap) way to prevent obesity is to begin young (K-5 where obesity levels are predictably lower) and help kids learn to physically pull their own weight. Once they’ve accomplished this goal make sure they know that if they eat and exercise in ways that allow them to maintain the ability to do pull ups, odds are they will NEVER experience America’s # 1 health problem, obesity, or the problems (type 2 diabetes, heart problems, social and economic issues, etc.) that are rooted in it.
1. This is not to say that prevention and exercise are totally ignored. They are not. But they are relegated to the back of the bus in favor of rehab and nutrition which is a major league, strategic mistake that undermines future generations.