Obesity sign

Obesity is a national epidemic in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one-third of adults in this country are considered obese. It contributes to increased levels of heart diseases, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and some forms of cancer. Obesity means having excess body fat and is defined by the body mass index, or BMI, which is calculated from a person's height and weight. A person with a BMI of greater than 30 percent is obese. The increase in obesity is causing concern in the civilian circles and alarm in the military community.

Too fat to fight
"Only one in four Americans qualify for military service based on height, weight and BMI standards," said Capt. Adam Kieffer, Reynolds Army Community Hospital nutrition care division chief. "That's just based on height and weight, not even physical fitness or background. From my point of view, this raises considerable concern for possible military service candidates in the future if people cannot meet the standards for joining the military."

As a registered dietitian, Kieffer is concerned about the decisions Soldiers make about the calories they consume.

"I would encourage our Soldiers to practice 'mindful eating;' knowing what you are eating and practicing portion control. Not eating more than the recommended portions of food will help a lot to control calorie intake," Kieffer stated. "Then I would recommend avoiding those sugary beverages -- Cokes and Gatorade, and things like that. If you are running, incredibly active or doing sustained activities for an hour or longer, some sports drinks are not bad. For the majority of people, G2, Powerade or water would be better than a sugary beverage," he added.

"We don't understand what we are supposed to be eating. And, besides the quantity of what we eat, we are also conditioned to eat distractedly. So because we are trying to multi-task, we are losing sight of what we are eating and we develop unhealthy eating habits," said Dr. Jamie Laughy, RACH certified pediatrician. "That is why we are pushing 'mindful eating' so that people will know what they are eating and why eating the wrong foods is harmful."

The alarming statistics about how few people would meet the height/weight/BMI standards for military service points to a greater problem of excessive weight in our society -- childhood obesity.

What causes childhood obesity?
Childhood obesity happens in an environment that promotes increased consumption of less healthy foods and decreased physical activity. Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as bullying and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood, where they are more likely to become obese adults.

Children have a hard time making healthy food choices when they are in homes and schools where their access to healthy foods is limited, and availability of high-calorie foods are greater. Sugary drinks are also a major contributor of calories in the diets of children. On average, 80 percent of children and youth drink sugar drinks daily.

"That's a problem a lot of kids and parents have. The parents think they are doing a good job by switching from Coke or Sprite to Gatorade, but that is not the case. And, it's worse when they switch to juices," Laughy said. "A glass of Sprite has 140 calories while grape juice has 180 calories, which means they actually increased their calorie intake, and there is no nutritional value in either the Sprite or the grape juice."

Kieffer points out that drinking beverages with 'empty calories' is a hidden culprit in weight gain for children as well as adults.

"They're called 'liquid calories' because people don't realize that a super-sized Coke has as many calories as a double cheeseburger," Kieffer said.

Bad influences on eating
Foods high in total calories, salt, sugar and fat, and low in nutrients are heavily marketed to children and teens, while advertising of healthier foods is almost nonexistent. According to the CDC, children ages 8 to 17 spend an average of 4.5 hours a day watching television and often eat while sitting in front of the television.

"When the parents bring their kids in for check-ups we ask them 'Are you eating in front of the television?' Because studies have shown that you eat 30-40 percent more than you would have if you weren't distracted by the TV. You're not thinking about what you are doing. It's a hand-to-mouth habit, almost like smoking," Laughy said.

Know what you're eating
Portion sizes of less healthy foods and beverages have increased over time. The popularity of "super-sized" meals contributes to children and adults eating extra calories in foods that are already high in calories.

Kieffer pointed out knowing how much to eat is a key issue. Eating too much of high-calorie foods at mealtime, and eating too many high-sugar, low nutrition snacks between meals causes the body to constantly expect gratification. That is why children often seem hungry all the time.

When it comes to what children eat; much of the responsibility falls back on the parents, Laughy emphasized.

"Parents provide the food their children eat, and they are the models by which the kids develop their eating habits. So parents need to take a good look at what they eat and how they prepare their food, and the portion sizes. Then they can see what changes can be made to help them all eat better, because the parents are the ones who buy the groceries," she said.

"I tell parents and children when I consult with them to make two small changes to start moving in the right direction. We decide on what those first two changes will be, usually not eating in front of the TV and not drinking their calories. If the child wants to drink something that has calories, I tell them to make sure it is milk," Laughy said, adding. "Remember, there is not a quick fix to changing your diet, no magic pills for weight loss. It is small changes to what you eat, that add up over time and can get you and your children on the path to healthy living."

For more information on nutrition and combating obesity, contact your pediatrician or call the RACH Nutrition Care Division at 558-2820/2824.

Page last updated Thu August 30th, 2012 at 13:27