Naturopathic Approach to Obesity: Ways to Help Children Achieve and Maintain a Healthy Weight

According to research by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) “Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.” Findings from 2012 found that ‘more than one third of children and adolescents {in the United States} were overweight or obese.”

Issues with excess weight have long-term implications. It has been found that 30% of obese adults first developed weight problems in childhood.

Likely Causes of Childhood Obesity:

1. Lack of healthy food availability or choices: “Many children do not consume a single serving of quality fruit and vegetables in a day.” –Michael Murray, ND

With all of the advertising in the media it can be hard, especially for children, to have a good understanding of healthy vs. unhealthy foods. When sugary cereals are touted as ‘part of a balanced breakfast’ and processed cheese food is given the dietician’s seal of approval we start to see why many Americans are unaware of what healthy food choices really are.

2. Food as Reward: Children are often rewarded with food for good behavior but unfortunately this type of reward can set up an unhealthy relationship with food. Food should not be seen as a reward but as fuel for healthy bodies.

3. Lack of quality movement: from a 2013 report by the CDC only 18% of adolescent females and 37% of males were physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. It has been found than participation in physical activity goes down as children age.

4. Excess time spent in front of a screen: From a study by an Australian researcher it was found that the length of time spent in front of television and computer screens was ‘a more likely indicator of being overweight or obese than the amount of exercise they did.’

While most childhood obesity is from over eating unhealthy foods and under-exercising other causes include:

-Health problems including but not limited to thyroid disease and polycystic ovarian disease have also been tied to childhood obesity.

Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in utero and after birth.

-Poor gut flora from birth and early childhood. Studies are finding that children who have disruptions of their gut flora are much more likely to become overweight. 

Health Effects of Childhood Obesity:

Cardiovascular disease

Prediabetes

Diabetes

Bone and joint problems

Sleep apnea

Mental and emotional concerns

 

Continued obesity (into adulthood) can lead to:

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Stroke

Cancer

Osteoarthritis

 

What to do for Prevention:

Encourage healthy eating: teach children about the importance of ‘growing foods’ such as fresh vegetables and fruits and incorporate these foods into every meal. Organic animal products and meats as well as whole grains and legumes (beans and lentils) are also very important parts of a healthy diet.

Teach children about ‘sometimes foods’ vs. everyday foods.

Sometimes foods include:

Sugary Treats (any food that has sugar as one of the first 3 ingredients should be considered a sugary treat: yes, this means most breakfast cereals are sugary treats)

Fried foods

Crackers/chips

Processed meats

Juice (yes, even 100% juice: fruit juice is fruit without the fiber and that fiber is what keeps the fruit from being pure sugar)

Soda or Pop

 

Everyday foods include: *Please note, if your child has an allergy or sensitivity to any of the following foods they are, of course, not to be included in your child’s diet.*

Fresh, frozen, steamed or roasted vegetables

Fresh and frozen fruits

Whole grains

Beans and legumes

Nuts in moderation

Milk products from organic and/or pastured/grass-fed sources

Meat from organic and/or pastured/grass-fed sources

Fish and shellfish. I highly suggest checking out the current list of good fish and shellfish as reported by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium

Water, herbal tea

 

Teach children to pay attention to the signals from their body: babies generally follow their internal hunger and fullness cues very closely if they are allowed to (this is one of the reasons I am a huge proponent of on demand breastfeeding). As children grow well meaning parents/adults may start enforcing that certain amounts or types of food be eaten. This insistence may lead children to overeating and loss of the ability to know when they are already full.

Encourage exercise and time outside: 60 minutes at a minimum daily: more is better!

Do physical activity together as a family: Kids learn from your example, if you are running, biking, hiking, swimming, doing yoga, doing martial arts, dancing and playing outside then so are your kids! 

Limit screen time to no more than two hours on any day

Avoid exposure (as best you can) to endocrine disrupting chemicals: don’t cook in plastic or non-stick pans; avoid canned foods if possible; eat organic (especially animal products/meat); use a good quality filter for your water; use phthalate-free personal care products. Click here for more ways to avoid endocrine disruptors

Encourage healthy gut bacteria: breastfeed babies if at all possible; avoid antibiotics if not necessary; if you eat meat/animal products: eat organic meat/antibiotic free meat and animal products; have plenty of probiotic rich foods every day including: live culture yogurt, live cultured fermented foods such as homemade sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables and fruits, kombucha, kefir; take probiotics if antibiotic therapy has been used; some kids need probiotics on an ongoing basis.

As always, please talk with your family doctor about the individual needs of your child, this article is only for educational purposes and is not a diagnosis or treatment for any one child.

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Corinne Harpster
Corinne Harpster
Dr. Harpster received her Doctoral degree in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in 2009 where she is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Botanical Medicine department. She specializes in pediatrics and is especially passionate about working with patients on the Autism spectrum. She is the head of the pediatrics department at SageMED in the Factoria area of Bellevue, WA.Dr. Corinne lives in Kirkland with her wonderful husband and amazing daughter. She especially enjoys playing at the parks with her family, cooking nourishing, traditional whole foods, reading, and spending time in the forest and at the beach. You can reach Dr. Corinne at Sagemed.co

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