I loved connecting the dots on drawings when I was younger. Never knowing what was going to pop up, I always seemed surprised that it was a rabbit amongst flowers nearly every time. Today’s eating environment is similar to the drawings of my youth. The dots seem to make no sense, but when you connect them a new picture emerges. As Dr. Brownell of Yale suggests, we live in an obesogenic environment. One that wants us to move as little as possible while consuming more and more.
The environment is ever present, influencing us, those around us, and most significantly our children. Listed below are four articles that have been in the news over the past few days. Can we connect the dots? Keep environment in your mind.
For that last one, say what? I’ll get to it shortly, but the research is summarized here.
Let’s connect those dots. As I mentioned yesterday, it seems many mothers don’t want to acknowledge that their toddlers are overweight. This poses real issues as toddlers who are overweight have a much greater risk of being overweight and obese and of developing Type II diabetes later in life. Move onto most people being in denial about their weight. These toddlers are now grown up and have a skewed perception of how much weight they carry (normal weight people perceive themselves, when comparing to silhouettes, correctly 80% of the time. 58% of overweight students describe themselves as normal weight and 75% of obese individuals classified themselves as overeight). The reasons for this are numerous and not well understood (embarrassment, lack of knowledge, etc). However, the results are consistent across genders, ages, and cultures. Perception if off.
The chubby toddlers who grew up to be overweight are in a challenging food environment. Here comes the next article discussing what California and their ban on junk food. Five years ago the state cracked down on junk food sales in schools. They are now reporting that kids in the state are consuming 160 calories per day less than their peers. That is huge! More importantly, the kids don’t seem to be compensating for the ban by eating more at home.
Finally, in newly reported research, it seems that learning and cognition improvements begin with exercising muscles. You read that right. Through exercise the AMPK enzyme is released by exercising muscles and travels to the brain. Here it starts a cascade of responses that improve learning and cognition. Exercise truly makes us smarter. And if we become smarter maybe we’ll recognize our toddlers as overweight when necessary, develop strategies to help them, lead them to better perceptions of their own weight, create smart policy that lowers the consumption of junk food, and further encourage exercise. Dots connected.
If we did those things, think of the environment we would create. I don’t think it would be obesogenic any longer. Heaven.
“When kids live in an environment in which they see, on a daily basis, parents or school peers who are overweight, they may develop inaccurate perceptions of what constitutes a healthy weight,” says a researcher involved in one of the above studies. Couldn’t say it better myself.