Monday, April 14, 2008

Fat children keep many people employed

Last week the results of an important two year study on obese children were published in the April 2008 Pediatrics, "A Policy-Based School Intervention to Prevent Overweight and Obesity." According to Sandy Szwarc who writes Junkfood Science
    "This is a critically important news story because there is a lot riding on proving these childhood obesity initiatives are effective — for literally thousands of organizations, special interest groups and government agencies across the country working to prevent childhood obesity and promote their ‘healthy’ eating and physical activity programs, as well as billions of dollars in government money at stake. [The CDC’s budget for its healthy eating and physical activities, alone, has grown 2,000% since 1999.] And, most at stake is the welfare of our children.

    Since every school-based childhood obesity intervention to date has failed to show lasting improvements in children’s diets, activity levels or health outcomes, or in reducing obesity, this study has added importance. As the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and even the Institutes of Medicine have concluded after reviewing 6,900 studies and abstracts, there is no quality evidence to support these childhood obesity interventions. And the government’s own statistics even negate the need for them, as there have been no significant increases in the numbers of children considered “overweight” since 1999-2000 and children are healthier and expected to live longer than at any other time in our history." Complete article here with percentages, percentiles, and risks
According to Ms. Szwarc, the intervention was ineffective, although this is not how it was reported. There was no difference between the intervention group and the control group, and in healthy eating there was evidence that the intervention group actually went backward. They had been eating 5.64 servings of fruit and vegetables a day and that decreased to 4.17, plus the intervention group were eating fewer calories but not losing weight. "Clearly, the School Nutrition Policy Initiative failed to reduce overweight or obesity in the children," she says.

Last week I wrote about a delinquency prevention study of 4 years duration done here in Columbus with 6th graders back in the 1970s. After 4 years of intervention and special attention to improve the children's self-esteem and self-concept, the intervention group had just as many contacts with the law as the control group. Like the School Nutrition program discussed above which integrated good nutrition into the curriculum, the delinquency group had healthy self concept integrated into all their classes. Social and peer pressure were also used both in the nutrition and the delinquency behavior modification programs. The failure to prevent delinquency by building self concept didn't stop the "self esteem" drive of the 70s and 80s as the cure for whatever ailed Johnny, probably because so many academics and sociologists had invested their lives and careers in the concept. So I'm guessing there are already too many programs, initiatives, salaries and grants riding on obese children to stop the train now, even though Ms. Szwarc points out obesity in children hasn't changed since 2000.

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