Childhood Obesity

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By Matt Stone

Recently I had an interview tentatively set up on the topic of childhood obesity.  As soon as I knew about the interview I started thinking about what I wanted to say and got really excited.  Then the interview got canceled.  Well, I had too much that I wanted to say floating around in my head to just let it die.  Below is a faux interview on the topic.  For those that don’t have the time to listen, some of the main points covered are….

  • Most factors that control a person’s susceptibility to store excess fat when entering into the modern environment is set in motion during the first few years of life and BEFORE life.  Most think purely in terms of genetics, but I’ve always thought of genetics as a misleading term, because there is a great deal that we inherit that has nothing to do with genes per se in the classical sense.  For example, there are epigenetic triggers that turn certain genes on and off, and events that took place up to 100 years before your birth impact your tendencies.  We also know that dieting during labor increases a child’s chances of developing obesity.  We know that hormones that a child is exposed to in the womb because of the hormonal state of the mother have a big influence over one’s propensity to develop obesity in childhood.  And we know that how long a child is breastfed among other things in the early developmental period establish key predictors of future weight gain, such as size and quantity of fat cells, metabolic rate, and so forth.  We also know that the amount of unsaturated fat in a mother’s tissues and breast milk is a primary determinant of the two biggest risk factors for obesity known – increases number and size of fat cells. Read this study on it HERE.
  • Childhood obesity isn’t just a matter of diet.  We know that there has been a significant drop in the number of hours of sleep children and adults get over the past century or so.  Lack of sleep is enough to induce metabolic changes indicative of metabolic syndrome in just a few days if the sleep loss is great enough.
  • Number of hours of watching television and having a television in the bedroom seem to be prominent lifestyle risk factors for obesity.  Television, video games, internet, and other modern inventions create a lot of interference with our natural desires to engage in physical activity.
  • Children often become overly fixated on food due to the excitement generated by the parents and television, as well as the fact that many in the modern world have very little to be stimulated by other than food.
  • The primary prevention strategy that I propose is having parents do everything they can to shut down fat storage mechanisms in themselves – basically doing something similar to what is laid out in Diet Recovery prior to conception and during pregnancy, as well as breastfeeding for as long as is realistic for the mother.  24 months would be ideal.  As the child develops, allow self-regulation of food intake with little psychological interference about eating, as restrained and restricted eating is a known causal factor in the development of obesity, and those with higher intuitive eating profiles tend to have lower BMI’s.
  • If a child has already developed obesity, the best you can realistically hope to do as a parent is to rehabilitate a child’s relationship with food, electronic devices, etc., while providing forms of stimulation to substitute for food and glowing screens.

46 Comments

  1. I assume you mean ‘We also know that dieting during [pregnancy] increases a child’s chances of developing obesity”.

    Labour is stressful enough without dieting during it -LOL.

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  2. I wish Michelle Obama would read this!

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  3. You have inspired me to grab the chocolate bar out of the fridge.

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    • Also, I think perhaps that you are a little bit insane.

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  4. Would all this apply to children who are on the other end of the ‘scale’ (failure to thrive)?

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  5. The child in the picture is quite an extreme example,however does this article indicate that if one was born heavy/chubby you’re nasically fucked?
    I was quite slender as a baby&toddler….being raised on fresj croissants as my father was a baker. The (mild) obesity started around my 6th year,beginning of elementary school.

    Also interesting regarding the mother dieting during ptegnancy. The first couple of months of my pregnancy due to horrible sickness/nausea she couldnt keep anything inside except for some milk&tangerines…..so i guess she ‘dieted’,unvolintarily,during that time in some sense.
    However with my younger sister,she experienced none and lived off many junkfood (mcD,fries with mayo and a localbeefstew recipe that comes with it and ofcourse the fresh croissants). Oddly my sister is totally different from me,being very vibrant&energetic,social&outgoing (partly bc of change of living environment). Whereas i jave always been a quiet,shy&sensitive overly worrying&caring person always off daydreamin about the perfect life in my head.
    Oddly i started to become chubby from about 6uears old,my sister stayed quite lean/normal eating whatever she wanted and not playing any kind of sport,whereas i played quite a few teamsports though i always had a sluggish feelimg,probably due to my larger layer of fat?
    Nowadays my sister still eats whatever and kinda the western processed junk and she now has gained quite some fat especially on her stomach….and she complains a lot about neckpain/fybromyalgia especially when stressed.

    So,yeah its all quite intriging and quite a mystery what and when obrsity kicks in.

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    • No. The point of the post and faux interview was more to point out that the propensity to develop obesity is set into motion at an early age or before, even if you are thin as a kid. Same as the way your nose looks, your eye color, at what age you will start to have gray hair, and countless other factors.

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      • So this is not mostly to do with being born with a low metabolic rate? As far as I know, there is no established known single cause for obesity, so this is why I asked whether we’re talking obesity per se (based on statistics), or low/disturbed metabolism in general.

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  6. Interesting that you mention that with epigenetics, up to 100 years in your ancestry can influence your development and health. Because this is exactly the notion these “weirdos” that believe in homeopathy work with: the notion of miasm. Basically if your grandfather had the syphilis, you might have inherited body traits that predispose you to some illnesses because this miasm entered your lineage…
    I am finishing the book Hypothyroid type 2: The epidemics. It seems rather clear, looking back at Barnes finding, that quite a few civilization diseases can be traced back to the fact that people whom have a low thyroid have survived thanks to antibiotics and transmitted this “flaw” to recent generations. As the role of thyroid is paragon in weight regulation, maybe putting these kids on a trial of dessicated thyroid could be enough to suppress the induced obesity in several cases?

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    • I think looking back i’ve probably suffered from hypothyroid(and bad gut) from a very early age. I also seem to have a problem with all forms of highfructose as it causes me to overeat.

      But I also wonder if fructose causes hypothyroidism and what else does? Wheat/gluten,soy,raw cabbages…. Sucrose?
      Apart from that i keep making the same mistake over&over in regards to eating refined foods with sugar,wheat or the worst of all which i try to avoid as much,hfcs.bc it really changes something in my brains that makes me feel so good,lovinglife etc.and the day after i feel depressed,anxious,sluggish for most of the day and by the time of evening I start to feel a bit better and really have to restrain myself from going out and making the same mistake again.:(

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  7. I totally agree Laurent.

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    • Interesting article, as I have a chubby but otherwise strong, energetic, and well developing breastfed baby. I have heard anecdotally from other moms that chubby breastfed babies often lean out to a healthy or slim weight and not to worry. My health and diet are not perfect, but I do avoid dieting (purposefully, as it can be hard to find the time to eat and prepare meals with an infant), feed her on demand, and am introducing solid foods with baby-led weaning, which allows her to feed herself as much as she wants of the foods being offered. I hope that I can give her a great start with a healthy metabolism and relationship with food, although I wish I were farther along with my own journey.

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  8. The recommendations that you have developed seem on point in terms of the factors involved in setting a kid up for obesity, but I don’t think the management of the problem is properly addressed and I take issue with the idea that a parent should try to “rehabilitate a child’s relationship with food”. I don’t think that creating other joys in life is the best way of addressing food issues. I think it is dismissive to assume that a child with an obesity problem has a non-stimulating existence. Making meals more enjoyable and nutritionally dense (for a kid this would include a lot of sugar) so they are more satisfying is a better approach then detracting from food. As with adults, I would look to food based solutions first.

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    • I don’t think he was implying that the “rehabilitation” process necessarily includes distracting from food. I think he’s talking about not stressing kids out about food – not making them eat more than they want to eat (i.e. forcing them to “eat everything on their plate before they can leave the table”), and basically letting them self-regulate more (which, for some reason, most parents have a hard time doing). I think you’re right on as far as making their food palatable and nutrient dense. Also letting them cook with you, garden with you, gain an appreciation for what they’re eating, as well as making sure they’re not glued to an electronic device for 8 hours a day (which would make their life richer and allow them to see how enjoyable and satisfying life can be) are all ways to rehabilitate their relationship with food. (As an aside, I think this can apply to rehabilitating an adult’s relationship with food as well…)

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  9. I’m wondering when in childhood can obesity even be defined? I’m remembering the picture in NaPD of the “strong healthy” eskimo babies, babies that are obviously chubbier than most doctors are comfortable with today. As the mother of two giant, off-the-chart breastfed babies I wonder at what point does baby fat become a symptom of a problem vs. a variation of normal, healthy growth. My toddler is still quite large for her age, even though she eats a good diet with minimal processed foods/sugar, and plays and runs around like any toddler does. My 4 month-old has tripled his birth weight to 21 pounds! I just can’t decide if this is “normal”, or something to worry about? Most days I lean towards ‘normal’, but there are those lingering doubts..

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    • All of my children breast-fed until they were three years old. They were always “fatter” than the non-breastfed kids UNTIL they stopped breastfeeding. Then they slimmed-down.

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      • I breastfed my boy for 4 yrs.
        At 9 mths he was a true roly-poly baby, lots of fat rolls!
        I fed him on demand, and he fed lots.
        My schedule feeding sister with lean babies, looked at him and said;
        “thats so disgusting, he is already really fat, you should feed him less!”
        I didnt.
        He gradually leaned out , with no food restrictions. I always let him eat to appetite.
        He now 9 yrs, and has been a lean bean for years! And has a very natural appetite with food,
        he will stop in the middle of eating something when he has had enough- even if it is a treasured or “treat” food.

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    • I was a very chunky baby. I became a very skinny kid and am still thin. I’ve seen many other such examples, too (such as my sister and other people I know).

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    • This is something i’ve been thinking about since i have an interesting situation.
      My 4 year old daughter was nice chunky baby (breastfeed for 2.5 years), and now is neither skinny nor fat, but just exactly how i think kids should be. According to my instincts and feeling when i look at a skinny kid, something is wrong…the kid is missing something.

      Now, i have twin boy and girl, 7 months old. The boy (21 lbs) is just like the eldest daughter, nice and chunky with amazing appetite for breastmilk and any kind of solids, with two teeth already out. The girl ( 18 lbs) is a different story. Takes very little breastmilk at a time, and refuses solids. She is drawn to fruits, sherbets, juices, sweet simple sugars. Her feet become cold quickly. Obviously some kind of sugar metabolism issue, possibly somewhat hypothyroid. Most likely there was not enough food for both of them while in uterus, as i was uncomfortable eating a lot and wasn’t always well fed.

      From what i’ve seen and how i feel, i think chunky babies are in a better shape than the lean babies. I’m attempting to correct this problem by providing exactly what she wants to eat, with addition of some cream and protein, but still keeping it sweet and fruity, and nursing super frequently.

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  10. So let me get this straight

    For Adults, can eating less be a viable way to lose fat if you are occupied and eating less because you are interested in the activity you are engaged in?

    I Reeely like that idea. Because lately I’ve been worried about what a big waste of time fiddling around on my computer has been. I have stopped all media in the past, but just like dieting I found it was outside of what felt normal and just came right back to it or I got demoralized with some venture I was replacing it with. However it feels like an addiction that has made me feel bad 1 too many times and I’m ready , once again, to give up the silver screen and the slightly smaller silver screen AND move on to the things I’d actually want to do if that doesn’t sound too “extreme” I have quite a desperate list.

    I am somewhat addicted to being on a computer at some point in the day because if I’m not people start telling me what to do and because I’m nice there is no time left for what I’d like to have done( the subject of money is in there somewhere). For me it is a pocket universe that I’m starting to think I should actually carry around in my pocket via cell phone ( which I don’t have) so that I have more focus. Occasionally using a screen to do things like skype . This must be the growing cost of expanding technology that has something to do with the coming singularity or some jazz.

    I luckily have many hobbies and have a talent for them, but I feel like I could devote time to some seemingly critical things if I wasn’t so dazed at the end of the day with my computer.

    I am thinking that if it’s given that it’s be a good thing to be actively doing something, I can base what I do on that and always be helping myself. Not that I would fast, but it seems like something I have done before in habit and a place that I’d like to be again.

    I am thinking that a history of fatness might very well be involved with this too which may have been mentioned.

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    • Hey James

      Yeah, I think that obviously you hav to take in less calories froth an you use to lose fat. The question is whether engaging in meaningful activity will help you do that in an unintentional way that doesn’t trigger that hibernation chemistry and shock the body. Certainly seems conceivable to me.

      Food is a great metaphor for sustenance in our life. When we don’t get enough of something, whether it’s actual calories or nutrients or meaning and connection, food can be an obvious and easy way to fill that void. It doesn’t actually, but it staves off the craving in the moment.

      I’m inspired sometimes by the idea of doing what I’m doing with some gusto, and intentionality. Like if I’m on the computer, then really be into that, and be done when I’m done. Don’t just keep meandering back and sitting in front of the boob tube un-deliberately. If I’m gonna rest, or wad, or move around, or go for a walk, or whatever, really do those too. I want to look back on my day each day and be happy with what I did and my effectiveness. And often that involves less screen time. Rarely do I look back on a day and say, “shit, I wish I had surfed the Internet longer.” more often I’ll say “I wish I went to sleep earlier,” or read that book, or whatever.

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      • That seems reasonable , I didn’t see this comment before , thanks.

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  11. Just to be clear, not consciously eating less but eating less as the result of lifestyle.

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    • Interesting. I certainly see that people with busy lives&many hobbies are most of the time indeed too busy to be thinking about food bc their mind is occupied by their activity/hobby.
      However I do wonder if youll eat less bc of that,probably less frequent for sure,but looking back at myself the body seems to want to make up for it by wanting to keep on eating once I do eat or on other days,especially days/moments when I sit down. (I also wonder if this might be an adrenal thing….)

      However I’d love to be one of those people who’s creatively caught up (though that also immediately brings the practical worries about how to go about healthy unprocessed meals if one’s busy&out) just like I was when I was a kid i was always draawing&daydreaming in my own little world.(partly due to the fact that we lived in the city and my parents had to run the company,so i was alone a lot bc you cant play outside in the city.)

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      • I find the same,
        ie, if I am busy or creatively caught up in something, I do eat less;
        but then my body makes us for it by wanting more when I finally do relax, or finish the creative project!
        I find I cant “cheat” my appetite in the end..

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        • Yes,i wonder why that is.

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          • I dont know!
            What I do know, is that right now my true body hunger leads me to eat more food than it takes to maintain my weight.
            To maintain my weight, I have to go hungry to some degree, no matter how much I try to manipulate different types of food to avoid this,
            or use appetite lessening strategies!

          • uThats scary….
            Could it be bc you might have unstable blood sugar?or maybe some minral/vitamin/hormonal disbalance?or maybe something that the body views as a trauma/starvation? Been listening to the gabriel methods emotional obesity chapter yesterday. Overall some very interesting stuff but i wonder if its true/works or that it is yet another @ales/marketing scam….
            I also heard a theory once about the body storing toxins as fat. In my case my toxins are highly addicting and give me a happy feeling and i could easily eat them everyday,preferrably in larger quantities. So yrah….thats how one gets food issues:( dont know of this is being driven by patasites&bad gut critters or something else. Anyway you might wanna do some food intolerance amd parasite test? (gabriel also spoke of a woman who could never lose weight until she discoverrd and cleared some kind of trauma from a past life,causing her body to cling onto its fat. Dunno what to think about that….its pretty extreme)

          • Most of my adulthood I have dieted in one way or another ;
            that is my best bet as to why my body just seems to want to eat!!

            I would love to have some past life issue I could just clear and then have things work out all good!
            It would be simpler I think

            I think Jon Gabriel has some good points for sure..

          • Thats my big fear too once i start eating 3meals a day that im gonna gain like a m@thrfckr mostly in fat. Though i never consciously dieted,i think bc of the lyme&co and years of crap digestion/poor uptake that once it does its gonna want to load up and hold on to it 4life.
            I just dont know what to do anymore cause sometimes it seems the body doesnt want any food anymore bc im mentally most ‘stable’/ppsitive when im beyond hungry/havent eaten for a while. The same thing goes when iv3 had a splurge of diarrea:s
            The last couple of years i also have this weird pattern during summer where im anxious ocd etc. During the day,and not hungry at all when its hot,and i finally start to wind down and have elevated mood/energy and general outlook on life startinng around midnight.
            I think im gonna take some aloevera juice bfore every meal to try to improve digestion as i get nauseated by broth and actually hate making it.

            Id really wish i could find someone to help me,as i suspect a lot of these things have to do with digestion and these mthrfckin parasites&molds,but everytime i ‘find’ someone who promises to help me,they bail out on me eventually. Its the anxiety and messed up energy (which probably partly is due 2the fact that i sometimes cant poop for days) that i really dont handle well,despitetrying lots of meditation etc.
            Id just want to be a happy normal vibrant person….but thats another thing.the rare occassions when i do feel like that,i get sudden anxiety thT i actually feel too good and fear&ocd again kick in. Ive read a couple of times parasites,molds etc.can totally change someone and they are actually found in the brain of most mental patients. Other theories claim its bc of ‘anorexia’ or in other words the body thinking its starving. I just really dont know how to cope with it all anymore….

          • Quch, it sounds like you have a lot more challlenges than I have.
            I hope you can find some answers for yourself.

            Lyme is a big deal I believe, and can leave a lot of aftereffects.

          • Please read ‘The PH Miracle’ by Robert Young. Dr. Young explains how the body works and how food fuels the body. I had terrible digestive issues until I stopped eating all animals products. I went further and cut out bread and drink 60 ounces of water a day. I’m 58, in great shape, and no more issues : ) My 17 year-old son lived with his dad and came back to live with me and my husband for almost 3 months. He used to have daily stomach aches and head aches and difficult bowel issues. Within a week of living here and eating from my kitchen his issues disappeared. He moved back to his dad’s house and within 2 weeks is having headaches, and constant gut pain. I would suggest a slower transition into a plant-based diet if you’ve never eaten this way. Once you begin to feel better you will be drawn to continue full steam ahead. I wish you good health . . .

  12. so I read a lot of these posts here and rarely comment, but thought I would bring up an issue close to my heart right now. I am 7 months pregnant and have been eating with a lot of gusto plenty of good foods. I do loosely follow the blood type diet but in no way restrict quantities or types of foods. I just eat off the list that is supposed to be good for blood type O, including lots of rice. I actually managed to get pregnant after coming off a 5 year stint of low-carbing before, the latter 2 years were dairy free too and I was in a poor state of health as a result. After adding in loads of carbs again I fell pregnant, lost the first early on, then got preggas again and this time he has stuck with some serious mineral supplementation and lots of food.

    Anyway, that aside, my point is I am now facing what might be a case of breast hypoplasia. Basically, I have ‘funny’ shaped boobs that might not have enough milk-making glands to provide for my new baby. I am hoping and praying that is not the case but my mother had the same thing and could not breastfeed any of us 100%. In fact with my eldest sister she was nearly all formula-fed. So now I am a bit sad because if this is the case then I will have to formula-feed my son and I was really excited before I found out about this to really give him lots of breast milk.

    Also, as a child I had eczema and asthma problems which I now realize was probably to do with the soy in the formula – I am really allergic to the stuff.

    So what is one to do if one does not have enough breast milk? Bear in mind I live in Chile and don’t have access to any fancy solutions. Thanks for listening.

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    • Neither of my children latched. Yes, I tried (several) lactation consultants. No go. Anyway, with the first, I pumped for 9 months. With the second (recently), I pumped for 3 months and gave up. I struggled with supply constantly, probably because not even a week after his birth, I ended up hospitalized for a week with sepsis. I pumped there, but I wasn’t with my baby, so it was hard. My doctor wanted me to quit pumping when he was a week old (for my sanity, because I was in the hospital and VERY sick), but I wouldn’t do it. In any event, I found a formula that is awesome. It is called Holle Organic Infant milk and it’s from Germany. The formulas here give my son diarrhea, I think because of the DHA (maybe the way it’s processed?). However, this formula from Germany does not. His poops are like breastfed poops. I also give him probiotics (BioGaia drops) and the Baby’s Only DHA/ARA supplement. I know that’s a lot to do, and it’s more expensive than getting formula here, but he is a thriving little man with normal poops instead of diarrhea. I have to be honest and say I’m glad I stopped pumping because I was driving myself crazy. I wasn’t recovering from my illness and I was exhausted. I’m finally starting to feel human again. And I’ve given up the guilt. I’ve done my best and I know that. My son is loved and not pumping breastmilk anymore doesn’t make him any less loved.I can’t believe I’m finally saying that, but I am. I almost died, but continued to pump to the detriment of my health. My doctor actually said to me, “What good is breastmilk if there’s not a mommy to go with it?” But I kept on, stubborn.

      What I’m saying is that you can be a good mom and formula feed or formula-supplement. There is a website called “Fearless Formula Feeders.” It saved my sanity. These are women who tried and tried in most cases. They went above and beyond the call to breastfeed, but finally had to let it go. If you have to supplement, do it. FEED THE BABY. I know you know that, but just in case anyone else comes across this and is terrified of formula, please just feed the baby.

      In any event, good luck to you. Babies are such wonderful gifts. :)

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      • By the way, you can order the formula from Germany. It costs the same (delivered) to the USA as some of the organic formulas here. And it smells WAY better. Although, you might have good formulas in Chile? Not sure.

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  13. thanks although I don’t have access to raw milk here surprisingly, and wouldn’t trust it if I did. The hygiene standards aren’t that great here….

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    • You can use pasteurized milk, too, if you don’t have raw milk. Goats milk is an option, too.

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  14. Are there any clues as to why is TV time bad? Is it due to exposure to adverts or lack of exercise (equivalent of adult sedentary job) ?

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    • Induces depression, lack of volition, lowers metabolic rate significantly due to reduced brain wave frequency and other factors, disrupts sleep via interfering with melatonin secretion, and I suspect generally keeps the body and mind in a state similar to a hibernating animal (low metabolism, high serotonin, low brain wave activity, etc.).

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      • Joseph Chilton Pearce reports some compelling research about this in his book “Evolution’s End”. The tv’s effects are in part due to the simultaneous stimulus/response state it induces which creates that all too familiar “coma” one experiences when imbibing of the Boob Tube.

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  15. I agree that all of these issues contribute to obesity, but I have been intrigued by the recent studies about gut microbiota and fat absorption. Like this recent study in mice(and check out the related citations on the left of the screen): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23452229
    What do you think about this?

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  16. How do you account for three sisters all within 4 years of each other in birth ~ one slim, one not so slim and one struggling with obesity? Genetics play a much smaller role IMO. It’s lifestyle. I see hugely fat babies and see the crap that they’re mothers feed them. Often times these mothers are struggling with weight issues themselves. Like many people they may not know the food they’re eating is lacking in nutrients. They’re consuming vast amounts of calories, but starving their bodies of the nutrients it desperately needs.

    Most Americans consume a highly acidic diet of processed foods, meat and dairy. The body stores this acid in fat tissue to protect the gut and other organs. If this diet continues the body will eventually pull calcium from the bones to neutralize the acid resulting in osteoporosis. It’s frustrating to see the amount of misinformation that people must sift through in order to understand health. We know more about how our cars work than our own bodies . . .

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    • Like I said, it’s not genetics in the classical sense, but heredity which is influenced by diet, the mother’s metabolism at the time, stress levels, and a lot more. Plus, siblings can be very genetically different.

      What the body stores that is causing the things you are attributing to an acid diet is likely the linoleic acid and arachidonic acid (two fatty acids) that are stored in cells and tissues and accumulate over generations.

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  17. One more thought . . . people seem to be confused or afraid of feeling ‘hungry’. Often times it’s not true hunger at all. Drink at least 12 ounces of water next time you’re hungry and give yourself at least 15 minutes before you eat. Unless you feel faint or ill, hunger isn’t going to kill you. I’m not suggesting anyone starve themselves but if you’re transitioning into eating whole foods and less processed foods (breads and most grains are processed), you will feel hungry until your body adjusts. You can eat as much raw salad and veggies as you can stuff into your mouth without gaining weight (depending on your choice of dressing) and your body will feel full because of all the fiber. Summer is a great time to begin this transition. The availability of fresh produce and hotter days will be a greater incentive to eat fresh food.

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  18. I am constantly observing parents encouraging their young children and babies to ignore their own body’s signals of hunger and satiation. Sitting next to various people at the beach, gives me the opportunity to observe this behavior.
    The child is happily digging in the sand, and the mother is insisting that the child eat. She’s crying- “no, mom, I’m not hungry!” But the mother insists and takes chunks of sandwich and stuffs it into the little girls mouth. The little girl cries, but has no choice. After the child is sufficiently stuffed for the mother’s appetite, she sulks away, and the mother continues to put chunks of food into her own mouth.
    And this Youtube video totally exemplifies the hypnotic effect of TV (which many people watch while eating) along with a parent forcing food into a baby. http://youtu.be/6W1Nmm6rjho
    (hysterically enough, the ad in the beginning of the video is for Medifast!)

    REALLY, do you think a baby will starve themselves to death because they’re busy playing?

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