The term “obesity” refers to having too much fat while overweight means having excess body weight. Childhood obesity has increased significantly in the last three decades in the United States and it is becoming more of a medical condition rather than just a social aspect. Majority of the time, childhood obesity is due to overconsumption of foods and lack of physical activity. Genetic factors and hormonal imbalance may contribute to childhood obesity but those are not common causes. Childhood obesity places children at greater risks for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep disorder, bone and joint problems. It also affects psychological factors such as having low self-esteem, poor self-image and being bullied at school. These problems can be lead to depression and suicide later in life.
Many of the weight loss diets recommend smaller, more frequent meals than having one large meal a day while watching out the calories you eat. Researchers found that children today eat on average of three snacks per day compared to one snack per day three decades ago. Meanwhile, children consume more sugar-sweetened beverages, high calorie, non-nutritious snacks nowadays. One study showed that kid’s meals today have very high content of salt. In addition, children spend more time in front of TV and play video games in today society than in the past decades.
To fully understand the underlying problems in childhood obesity, researchers conducted a study where they analyzed different types of snack and measured the satiety in children after the snacks. The study group consists of 183 children and average age is around eight. BMI on each child were recorded and 38 of those children are considered overweight while 43 were considered obese. BMI measurement for children (2-20 years old) is different from adults. Please refer to CDC (The Centers for Disease Control) for standard BMI calculator for children.
In this study, children were randomly placed into four different groups where different snacks were given while watching TV for 45 minutes. One group was given potato chips and the second group was given only vegetables. The third group was given cheese and the fourth was given combination of cheese and vegetables. Researchers used three questions on nine points scale to measure the satiety. Furthermore, the parents of the study group children filled out 20 questionnaires regarding mealtime habits and family involvement in mealtime activities.
For the surveys, the children were questioned before the snack, immediately after the snack, and 20 minutes after the snacks. The cheese group and vegetable group were considered control groups and researchers compared the satiety measurements from the other groups to these. The average of 620 calories was consumed in the potato chips group and 200 calories in the cheese group. The vegetables group consumed about 60 calories on average and 170 calories in the combination group. The study showed that combination of cheese and vegetables fulfilled satiety faster than the potato chips with fewer calories. Often times, obesity results from calorie imbalance (more intake than you use for energy). In conclusion, healthier snacks can meet satiety with lesser amount while getting fewer calories. Furthermore, replacing junk foods with healthier snacks may be more reasonable approach than eliminating junk foods all together in children’s diet.
Contributed by Patricia Hsiao M.D.
Sources: pediatrics.aappublications.org, cdc.gov, mayoclinic.com