2006-05-12 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. nancy gahles
DR. nancy gahles Shockingly, but not unexpectedly, a new epidemic has appeared on the scene. Diabesity is the new term for the combination of diabetes and obesity. Adult onset diabetes or Type 2 diabetes is commonly recognized by many of us. We are aware that as we age and become overweight the tendency to become diabetic looms large, especially if you have a family history of it. What you may not be aware of is that the previously termed "adult onset diabetes" is becoming increasingly prevalent in children and teens.

In a new study released by Express Scripts, Inc., a pharmacy benefits manager revealed that the number of prescriptions for the treatment or prevention of Type 2 diabetes in children doubled in the four years ending in 2005. "The study's release dovetailed with a new government survey which showed that American children are increasingly becoming overweight - the primary reason individuals develop Type 2 diabetes," reports Theresa Agovino, Associated Press. The study covered prescription claims for children aged 5-19 years and found that treatments were most prevalent in teenagers 15-19 years of age.

No surprise here.

The teenage years are ripe for independent action and decision-making. Food choices are undoubtedly among these. Good eating habits that were the foundation of childhood may not be all that is needed in the teen years.

Foods are marketed to children every day in insidious ways that undermine the best of parenting. Dr. Henry Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine, commented on the most comprehensive report to date on the scientific evidence of the influence of food marketing on diets of children and youths. According to this report, "Food Marketing To Children and Youths- Threat or Opportunity?" the current food and beverage marketing practices put children's long term health at risk. Dr. Fineberg says, "A high proportion of the products marketed to children are high calorie, low nutrient snacks; fast foods and sweetened drinks - the very same foods that contribute to the early onset of diet-related chronic diseases."

Even if we turn off the television set and edit out commercials, the foods served in most public schools are culprits themselves. Petitions are now circulating in many states to remove high fructose corn syrup from school-based diets. Studies suggest that high fructose corn syrup is linked with diabetes and obesity. It is suggested that high fructose corn syrup is processed differently by the body than most sugars and doesn't signal the brain when you are full.

Whatever the biochemical pathway turns out to be, it is abundantly clear that making conscious, informed, educated choices with regard to food is imperative if we are to stop this epidemic.

Buyer beware! It is incumbent upon the primary caregivers to educate their children to read labels and to identify those ingredients, which are not in their best health interest. Topping the list are sugars, refined or processed ingredients, modified food starch, high fructose corn syrup and the old standards, artificial colors and flavoring. I recall my words to my school age children before every birthday party, "Don't eat anything blue!" Foods that trigger an immediate response of insulin are called high glycemic foods. These are foods that contain large amounts of sugar and include the highly processed foods. If it has a shelf life of two years, it's not nutritive.

Choices that are healthy are surprisingly easy and can be quite cost effective. Choose foods that are fresh and ready to be eaten now. This is the original fast food. Fresh fruits and vegetables of the season. Make salads and stir-fries. Use high fiber foods like beans, chickpeas and legumes. Choose fish rich in omega fatty acids like salmon, mackerel and sardines. Choose lean meats and decrease saturated fats. Many products now carry labels that read 'no trans fats."

The threat to our children is real. The Journal of Pediatric Obesity reported in March 2006 that, "nearly half of all children in North and South America will be overweight by 2010." The health consequences are enormous. "Diabetes shortens life expectancy by about a decade, on average. Diabetics are four times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke, ten times more likely to require amputations and far more likely to suffer nervous system damage, blindness, kidney disease and complications with pregnancy," reports Edward Weisbart, M.D., Chief medical officer, Express Scripts.

To determine if your child is at risk, you can measure your child's height and weight to determine the child's body mass index (BMI). You can also measure the waist size of the child. The national Institute of Health BMI calculator is available at http://hhlbi support.com/bmi/. Certainly, consult with your pediatrician and have a frank discussion about your child's health risks.

It is never too late to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and change direction. Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. Even if weight loss is not significant, utilizing a combination of proper lifestyle changes can result in a 58% decrease in diabetes according to one study. These include reduction in weight (by 5% or more); reduction in fat intake (to less than 30%); reduction in saturated fat intake (less than 10%); an increase in fiber intake (15 gr. Per 1,00kcal.); an increase in exercise (at least 30 minutes per day). Identification of stressors that trigger unhealthy eating patterns are necessary but were not part of this protocol.

Health & Harmony Wellness Education will be offering symposia on these issues and how to implement these regimens into your child's life. Our children are indeed our future. We owe them the right to be informed and the tools to implement their choices.

For more information e-mail me at askDrNancy@aol.com.

May The Blessings Be!

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