How to lose weight

Many people resolve to go on a diet and adopt a healthier lifestyle, only to give up a few weeks later. Good intentions are often hard to put into practice and sustain. Here are a few suggestions to help you move towards and maintain a healthier weight:

1. Be realistic

Many people set themselves goals they find hard to achieve, such as fitting into a size 8 dress or a dinner jacket from 25 years ago. It is far better to begin by aiming to reduce your weight by 5 to 10 percent of your current weight. This may not turn you into a glamour model in a hurry, but it can lead to important improvements in weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Once you have achieved this goal, you can always continue and aim to lose another 5 to 10 per cent until you are happy with your weight. Breaking the target down into manageable stages increases your chance of success.

2. Be gentle on yourself

Crash diets may work in the short-term but typically people regain all the weight they have lost and even add some more. Crash diets can also be dangerous. Not only this, but it is usually miserable being on a diet. Depriving yourself of food and feeling hungry sets up cravings which can lead to binge-eating followed by feelings of guilt. Neither deprivation nor hunger are necessary to lose weight if you are willing to take time and do the right things. If you cut out just 100 calories per day, the equivalent of a single can of fizzy drink or a bedtime snack, you could lose about 10 lb (4.5 kg) in a year. If you also added a brisk walk for half an hour a day five days per week, the weight loss could increase to 20 lb (9 Kg) in a year.

3. Keep moving

Next to not smoking, regular physical activity is arguably the best thing you can do for your health. It lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, and can help to control stress and boost mood. Contrary to popular belief, the evidence for a simple relationship between physical activity and weight loss is equivocal, with some studies showing that exercise helps and others suggesting that it does not, possibly due to complex interactions between physical activity, diet and genes. If moderate to vigorous over an extended period, physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight, provided you do not compensate by eating more as a self-reward. You would have to walk for 98 minutes to burn off the calories in one Mars Bar or swim for 45 minutes to burn off one slice of a pepperoni pizza, for example. For general health, any amount of exercise is better than none. The more you do, though, the better. This does not have to mean joining a gym or jogging. Many activities count as exercise: dancing, skating, gardening, cycling, scrubbing floors, washing the car by hand, or playing with children. Incorporate activity into your day by taking the stairs rather than the escalator, getting off the bus one stop before your destination and walking the rest, cycling to do errands rather than taking the car, and cutting back on watching television, playing computer games and other sedentary activities. Start slowly and gradually build up to more vigorous activity when your fitness increases.

4. Keep track

Many of us eat without thinking and have no idea how much we have consumed. Such lack of awareness can result in us eating and drinking more than we plan to. Try keeping a daily food diary for a while. List everything that you eat or drink, no matter how insignificant it seems. The calories can really add up, even just with drinks – one can of Coca Cola contains 142 calories, for example.

5. Eat food as nature intended

Research shows that people who eat at fast-food restaurants more than twice a week are more likely to gain weight and show early signs of diabetes than those who only occasionally eat fast food.

Our bodies were designed to consume food in the form that nature provides, with nothing added and nothing taken away.

Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains all contain protein, carbohydrates, essential fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fibre makes the food bulkier and less nutrient dense than highly processed food. This means that you have to eat a greater quantity of unprocessed food, like vegetables, to obtain the same amount of calories as highly processed foods, such as ice cream.

In the stomach and the gut, there are stretch receptors and nutrient receptors which signal to the body that it has enough food and to stop eating. If you eat highly processed foods, which are rich in calories but poor in vitamins, minerals and essential fats, such as white sugar and white bread, your body’s mechanism for signaling that it is full does not work properly – the gut is neither fully stretched nor receives the nutrients the body needs – so you carry on eating. This increases the chance of you consuming too many calories and becoming overweight, whilst not obtaining enough vitamins, minerals and essential fats.

The more unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, you include in your diet, the easier it is for your body to obtain the nutrients it needs without over-eating. Even if all you do is have porridge for breakfast instead of eating a sugary cereal or drinking strong coffee, you will find it easier to lose weight.

6. Keep your blood sugar stable

Another advantage of a food like porridge is that it has a gentle effect on blood sugar, or what’s called a low glycaemic index. When you eat porridge, glucose is released slowly and steadily into the bloodstream which helps to maintain energy levels over a longer period of time. This reduces hunger and cravings, so you tend to eat less. Other examples include whole grains such as brown rice (especially basmati), quinoa and whole-grain breads and pasta, as well as beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Eating foods that make your blood sugar and insulin levels shoot up and then crash may contribute to weight gain. Insulin tells the body to store surplus glucose as fat, so constantly excessive levels of glucose and insulin in the blood lead to weight gain. Such foods include white bread, white rice, and other highly processed grain products. So this is another good reason to increase the amount of unprocessed whole foods in your diet and reduce the amount of processed foods rich in calories.

7. Do not be afraid of good fats

Fat in a meal or in snacks such as nuts gives the food taste and helps you to feel full. Good fats, such as olive oil, have many benefits for health, including helping to improve your cholesterol levels when you eat them in place of saturated or trans fats or highly processed carbohydrates, like sugar and white flour products.

8. Drink water rather than fizzy drinks

Drinking juice or cans of sugary drinks can give you several hundred calories a day without even realising it. Several studies show that children and adults who consume sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to gain weight than those who don’t, and that switching from these to water can reduce weight.

Using artificial sweeteners in soft drinks instead of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup seems like it would sidestep any problems with weight or diabetes. Artificial sweeteners deliver zero carbohydrates, fat, and protein, so they can’t directly influence calorie intake or blood sugar. Over the short term, switching from sugar-sweetened soft drinks to diet drinks cuts calories and leads to weight loss. Long-term use, though, may be a different story.

Some long-term studies show that regular consumption of artificially sweetened beverages reduces the intake of calories and promotes weight loss or maintenance. Others show no effect, while some show weight gain.

One concern about artificial sweeteners is that they uncouple sweetness and energy. Until recently, sweet taste meant sugar, and thus energy. Glucose is critical for the human brain to function, so the body has delicate feedback mechanisms involving the brain, stomach, nerves and hormones, to ensure that there is always a steady supply. When we eat something sweet, the human brain responds with signals – first with signals to eat more, and then with signals to slow down and stop eating. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, artificial sweeteners could confuse these intricate feedback loops. This could potentially throw off the body’s ability accurately to gauge how many calories are being taken in. Studies in rats support this idea. Researchers at Purdue University have shown that rats eating food sweetened with saccharin took in more calories and gained more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food. In addition, a long-term study of nearly 3,700 residents of San Antonio, Texas, showed that those who averaged three or more artificially sweetened beverages a day were more likely to have gained weight over an eight-year period than those who didn’t drink artificially sweetened beverages. At present, research findings are mixed, but there is a possibility that diet drinks may lead to weight gain in the longer term.

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References

Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: the evidence report. National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Obesity Education Initiative

Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007; 39:1423–34

Pronk NP, Wing RR. Physical activity and long-term maintenance of weight loss. Obes Res. 1994 Nov;2(6):587-99

Fogelhom M, Kukkonen-Harjula K. Does physical activity prevent weight gain – a systematic review Obesity Reviews, Volume 1, Issue 2, 95–111, October 2000

Pereira MA, Kartashov AI, Ebbeling CB, et al. Fast–food habits, weight gain, and insulin resistance (the CARDIA study): 15-year prospective analysis. Lancet. 2005; 365:36–42

Bellisle F, Drewnowski A. Intense sweeteners, energy intake and the control of body weight. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 61:691-700

Swithers SE, Davidson TL. A role for sweet taste: calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats. Behavioral Neuroscience. 2008; 122:161-173

Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008; 16:1894-1900

Frank GK, Oberndorfer TA, Simmons AN, et al. Sucrose activates human taste pathways differently from artificial sweetener. Neuroimage. 2008; 39:1559-1569

Willett, W. Eat, drink and be healthy. Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. The Free Press; Free Press Trade Pbk. Ed edition (April 2005). ISBN: 978-0743266420.

Lisle D, Goldhamer A. The Pleasure Trap – Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness.  Healthy Living Publications, 30 March 2006

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Obesity reduces life expectancy by 3 to 10 years

A new analysis of almost one million people from around the world has shown that obesity can trim years off life expectancy.

The Oxford University research found that moderate obesity, which is now common, reduces life expectancy by about 3 years, and that severe obesity, which is still uncommon, can shorten a person’s life by 10 years. This 10 year loss is equal to the effects of lifelong smoking. 

obesity2331

The analysis brought together data from 57 long-term research studies mostly based in Europe or North America. People were followed for an average of 10 to 15 years, during which 100,000 died, making it the largest ever investigation of how obesity affects mortality. It was coordinated by the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU) in Oxford and the results are published online (28 March) in The Lancet

The studies used body mass index (BMI) to assess obesity. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms (kg) by the square of their height in metres (m). If a person has a BMI of 30 to 35, then they are moderately obese; if they have a BMI of 40 to 50, they are severely obese. Though not perfect, BMI is useful for assessing the extent to which fatty tissue causes ill health. 

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Among the 900,000 men and women in the study, mortality was lowest in those who had a BMI of 23 to 24. This means that if a person were 1.70m (5 feet 7 inches) tall, for example, his or her optimum weight would be about 70kg (154 pounds or 11 stone). 

This study has shown that continuing to smoke is as dangerous as doubling your body weight, and three times as dangerous as moderate obesity.

Epidemiologist Dr Gary Whitlock of Oxford University, who led the analysis, said of the findings:

”Excess weight shortens human lifespan. In countries like Britain and America, weighing a third more than the optimum shortens lifespan by about 3 years. For most people, a third more than the optimum means carrying 20 to 30 kilograms [50 to 60 pounds, or 4 stone] of excess weight. If you are becoming overweight or obese, avoiding further weight gain could well add years to your life.”

Comparing the effects of obesity with those of smoking, the study’s main statistician, Oxford University Professor Sir Richard Peto, said:

“This study has shown that continuing to smoke is as dangerous as doubling your body weight, and three times as dangerous as moderate obesity. Changing your diet but keeping on smoking is not the way to increase lifespan. For smokers the key thing is that stopping smoking works.” 

In those who were moderately obese (BMI 30 to 35, which is now common), the lifespan was reduced by three years. Severe obesity (BMI 40 to 50, which is still uncommon) reduced life expectancy by about 10 years; this is similar to the effect of lifelong smoking. Although severe obesity is more common in North America than in Europe, in both places it is much less common than moderate obesity, which has only a third of the effect on lifespan that smoking does.  

There was also a higher death rate among those who had a BMI well below 23 to 24, mainly because of strong inverse associations with respiratory disease and lung cancer. This hazard was much greater for smokers than for non-smokers.

Obesity increases death rates for some types of cancer, but the main way it kills is by increasing risk of heart disease and stroke. Amongst middle-aged people in the UK, as many as one in four deaths from heart attack or stroke and one in 16 cancer deaths are due to being overweight or obese. In the US, where middle-aged people are typically a few kilograms heavier, the figures are even higher: one in three heart attack or stroke deaths and one in 12 cancer deaths in the US are due to being overweight or obese.

Have you spent years embarking on every weight-loss diet going? Have you tried cutting out entire food groups? Have you spent a fortune on miracle foods or diet powders? Have you eaten nothing except cabbage soup for weeks? Have you driven your friends mad with your fervour over food combining? Have you become obsessive about counting calories or points? Have you spent hours jumping on and off your bathroom scales? Do you feel hungry much of the time, exhausted and beset by cravings?

Our bodies evolved over millions of years to work perfectly with a diet of naturally available unprocessed foods. Our ancestors were not fat because they ate this optimum diet and exercised every day. Today, some societies in the world maintain this traditional type of diet and remain lean and at low risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia.

You can learn how to lose weight effortlessly without feeling hungry, whilst gaining health and vitality, at a Cooking for Health class on “Managing Your Weight Naturally“. We explore why so many diets fail and explode many of the weight loss myths. We look at cravings – how they arise and how to overcome them – and we discuss which foods the body needs to create energy and burn fat in the most efficient way. We create a delicious meal with an array of different dishes designed to illustrate how it is possible to eat plenty without gaining weight.

Infant feeding affects obesity in later life

Three decades ago, it was proposed that disease risk in human adults may be programmed by environmental influences acting on hormones, metabolites and neurotransmitters, during sensitive periods of early development.  Since then, much supporting evidence for this hypothesis has accumulated from epidemiologic and experimental studies and clinical trials.  For example, numerous studies have reported programming effects of infant feeding choices on later obesity.  Three meta-analyses of observational studies found that obesity risk at school age was reduced by 15 to 25 per cent with early breastfeeding compared with formula feeding. 

A new paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports on investigations into whether breastfeeding protects against later obesity by reducing the occurrence of high weight gain in infancy.  One reason for this may be the lower protein content of human milk compared with most infant formula (the early protein hypothesis).

Researchers are testing this hypothesis in the European Childhood Obesity Project, a double-blind, randomized clinical trial that includes >1000 infants in 5 countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain).

Healthy infants who were born at term were randomly assigned to receive for the first year infant formula and follow-on formula with higher or lower protein contents, respectively. The follow-up data obtained at age 2 y indicate that feeding formula with reduced protein content normalizes early growth relative to a breastfed reference group and the new World Health Organization growth standard, which may furnish a significant long-term protection against later obesity.

Researchers conclude that infant feeding practice has a high potential for long-term health effects, and the results obtained should stimulate the review of recommendations and policies for infant formula composition.

breastfeeding2

It is interesting that the authors do not also suggest public health action to encourage higher rates of breastfeeding. 

All current guidelines, including those from the Department of Health (DH), recommend exclusive breastfeeding for newborns and for the first six months of infancy.

Breast milk provides all the nutrients required at this age in a form that is hygienic and easy to digest. The protein, carbohydrate and fat profiles are unique to breast milk and differ in many ways from other animal milks.  Breast milk also contains a range of bioactive components, including anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory factors, digestive enzymes, hormones and growth factors.  Growth factors are thought to be important for gut maturation. Lactoferrin is one of several specific binders in human milk that greatly increase the bioavailability of micronutrients.

The role of leptin in breast milk may be of particular importance in the early development of both adipose (fatty) tissue and appetite regulatory systems in the infant, and ultimately on propensity to obesity in later life.

Despite the many benefits of breastfeeding, less than 1 per cent of women in the UK are still breastfeeding at 6 months.  Studies have shown that women in the UK experience substantial barriers to breastfeeding.

For further information about healthy food for your children, please come to a Cooking for Health course, led by nutrition expert Dr Jane Philpott.

Alzheimer’s Disease, metabolic disorders and the role of diet

Accumulating evidence for the role of metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and hypertension in increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, is reviewed in a new paper published this month in the Archives of Neurology.

alzheimersbrain

In the same journal, compelling evidence is presented that higher pre-diagnosis total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and diabetes are associated with faster cognitive decline in patients with incident Alzheimer’s disease.

A cohort of 156 patients with incident Alzheimer’s Disease (mean age 83 years) were followed for up to 10 years.  Changes in a composite score of cognitive ability were monitored from diagnosis onwards.

“These findings indicate that controlling vascular conditions may be one way to delay the course of Alzheimer’s, which would be a major development in the treatment of this devastating disease as currently there are few treatments available to slow its progression,”

said Yaakov Stern, Ph.D., a professor at the Taub Institute for the Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Medical Center, and senior author of the paper.

“Preventing heart disease, stroke and diabetes – or making sure these conditions are well managed in patients diagnosed with them – can potentially slow the disease progression of Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Stern.

Diets high in fruit, vegetables, fibre and unsaturated fats, and low in sugar, salt and saturated fat are known to reduce the risk of a range of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  This means eating more plant-based foods and less processed and animal-based foods.

wholegrainsandveg

Stabilising blood sugar is crucial.  This may be done by eating a diet with a low glycaemic load, that is, one that includes moderate quantities of complex carbohydrates which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream.  Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat are valuable for helping to ensure smooth regulation of blood sugar.  In contrast, highly refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, white pasta and table sugar, create a roller-coaster of blood sugar highs and lows, which if left unchecked, can ultimately give rise to insulin resistance and eventually to diabetes.  Potatoes release sugar into the bloodstream almost as fast as table sugar and thus should be eaten sparingly, unless you are lean and exercise regularly.  Consuming protein with carbohydrates at every meal has also been found to help regulation of blood sugar.

Increasing the quantity of vegetables and fruit in the diet is also vital.  Blood sugar levels are easier to maintain if vegetables are emphasized more than fruit, as some fruit contains a lot of sugar.  A minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day is recommended.  For easy tips for increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet please click here.

Unsaturated fats found in plant oils, such as olive oil and the oils of nuts and seeds, and in oily fish, are beneficial for preventing heart disease and other vascular health conditions.  For practical suggestions for ways to incorporate more healthy unsaturated fats in your diet please click here.

For information and practical tuition in how to put all these recommendations together to create fabulous food that protects you from diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, please come to a Cooking for Health course, run by nutrition expert, Dr Jane Philpott.

Over-eating when eating out

Recently, I gave the menu of a well-known chain restaurant to a group of students and asked them to select what they would eat if they were dining there. 

 

They selected a starter (garlic bread with cheese), a main course (traditional lasagne with a salad), a dessert (ice cream) and a drink (a can of coke). 

 

Using the restaurant’s own nutritional information, they calculated the nutrient content of what they had chosen (Table 1).  The results left the students open-mouthed.

 

Their menu selection had provided:

 

n 106% of the guideline daily amount of calories (assuming 2000 kcal per day);

n 141-171% of the guideline daily amount of protein (depending on whether they were male or female);

n 61% of the guideline daily carbohydrate;

n 109% of the guideline daily amount of total fat;

n 192% of the guideline daily amount of saturated fat

n 52% of the guideline daily amount of salt. 

 

It is worth noting that the dietary reference value for salt in the UK is 6 g per day, compared with 2.3 g per day in the USA.

 

Thus, one meal out would have provided more than the entire day’s requirement for calories; enough protein to last for one and a half days; and enough saturated fat to last for two days.

 

Most people have no idea of the nutrient content of the food they are eating, nor of the potentially damaging effects on their health of a dietary excess of sugar, saturated fat and salt. 

 

Given that at least one–third of household expenditure on food and drink is spent on food eaten outside the home in the UK, food manufacturers and caterers have a real opportunity to contribute to an improvement in public health whilst also making a profit themselves. 

 

There is now convincing research evidence to suggest that increasing the amount of fruit, vegetables and whole grains in the diet, whilst decreasing the amount of sugar, saturated fat and salt, helps to protect the body from chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and various cancers.

 

A two-day professional training course is offered, tailored to equip caterers, and those involved in encouraging healthier catering practices, with information and practical tools to achieve healthier eating in the population.

 

By the end of the course, participants will:

  • Understand the basic principles of nutrition
  • Be aware of the importance of food in the maintenance of health and well-being
  • Appreciate the role of lifestyles and culture in influencing diet
  • Recognise the potential benefits for both caterers and customers of providing a choice of healthier options
  • Know more about ingredient selection and methods of food production and processing that can be used to create healthier options, whilst being attractive and convenient to modern tastes and lifestyles
  • Be able to apply appropriate and relevant skills and knowledge when advising catering businesses or when planning, preparing, promoting and serving healthier foods

For further information on the course content and the course tutor, Dr Jane Philpott, please click http://cookingforhealth-uk.com/healthier-catering.php.

 

 

Table 1

Menu item

Calories per portion

Protein g per portion

Carbohydrate g per portion

Total fat g per portion

Saturated fat g per portion

Salt g per portion

 

Starter

 

568

 

29.8

 

35.6

 

34

 

16.5

 

1.15

 

Main course

 

934

 

 

42.2

 

74.4

 

33.1

 

14.6

 

1.84

 

Dessert

 

 

475

 

5.5

 

18.8

 

18.1

 

11.1

 

0.15

 

Drink

 

 

139

 

0

 

35

 

0

 

0

 

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

2116

 

77.5

 

163.8

 

85.2

 

42.2

 

3.14

 

Gov guideline

 

 

2000 kcal

 

45 g/day (women)

55 g/day (men)

 

267 g per day

 

78 g per day

 

22 g per day

 

6 g per day

 

% of guidelines

 

 

106%

 

171% (women)

141% (men)

 

 

61%

 

109%

 

192%

 

52%

 

 

 

Farmer’s markets help to increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables

A new Farmer’s Market was started last November in Brownsville, Texas, in an effort to make locally grown produce more available and affordable to local residents, to increase the awareness of chronic diseases associated with obesity and to educate consumers on the importance of nutrition. Certain communities in this region have twice the US national average of diabetes, which is associated with obesity. The project is the brainchild of Belinda Reininger, Dr.P.H., associate professor of behavioural sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

“A significant portion of the obesity problem here is because local diets are high in carbohydrates and include very few vegetables and fruits,” said Rose Gowen, M.D., medical director of the Clinical Research Unit at the University of Texas School of Public Health and chair of the market’s board of directors. “Many of the diabetes cases are related to the problem of obesity, which is beginning in childhood and adolescence years.”

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More than 400 residents shop weekly at the Saturday market and surveys have found 80 percent of them are now eating more fruits and vegetables and 78 percent reported eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Surveys also revealed that 84 percent of shoppers find the quality of the produce at the market exceeds the quality of produce offered elsewhere.

Market shoppers also have access to health screenings and on-site nutrition, obesity and diabetes information provided by the UT School of Public Health, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and other organizations.

In common with the UK government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which provide vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help maintain and improve overall health, as well as protect against chronic diseases such as diabetes. The 2000 Texas Healthy People Report revealed that only 23.4 percent of Texans were consuming five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  In the UK, average fruit and vegetable consumption is less than three portions per day.

Low-income families can receive US$10 in vouchers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, which goes quite a long way at the market.

“Last week I bought four cucumbers, six grapefruits, a dozen farm eggs, fresh cilantro and dill, all for $10,” said Gowen, a long-time local resident and a driving force behind the market.

The market is in its final stage of a certification process to become a state-recognized farmer’s market. Once certified, organizers hope to allow families to use their Women, Infants and Children (WIC) card and food stamps to purchase fresh produce.  The committee also wants to provide cookery classes for attendees to learn healthier cooking options for their fresh produce.

If you would like ideas and practical tuition in how to include more fresh vegetables and fruits into your diet, why not come along to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.

Obesity in children

Overweight and obesity among children is widely regarded as being even more serious than it is among adults, with a very rapid rise in prevalence in the last two decades. Child obesity is likely to continue into adulthood, and many of the problems linked to obesity are more severe if the obesity has been present for a long period. Adults with the highest risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, liver malfunction and orthopaedic dysfunction, are likely to have the most extreme levels of obesity and to have been obese since childhood[i].

fat_kid

Projections of child obesity based on trends from the 1980s and 1990s indicate that the annual increase in child obesity prevalence is itself increasing[ii]. By the year 2010, some 26 million school children in the EU are expected to be overweight, of which 6 million will be obese. The numbers of overweight children will rise by some 1.3 million per year, of which the numbers of obese children will rise by over 0.3 million per year.

At a conservative estimate, over a million obese children in the EU are likely to show a range of indicators for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and raised blood cholesterol levels, and to have three or more indicators of the metabolic syndrome[iii]. Over 1.4 million children could have early stages of liver disorder.

The costs of childhood obesity have not been estimated but should include lost educational opportunity. A study of children’s quality of life found the psychological effects of severe obesity to be equivalent to a diagnosis of cancer[iv].

Behaviour, learning and mental health problems in children are rising as fast as rates of obesity and diabetes. Food affects brains as well as bodies, and early malnourishment can have devastating effects on both. Conversely, improving nutrition can help reduce antisocial behaviour as well as symptoms of ADHD, dyslexia, depression and related conditions[v].

The only pan-European estimates of children’s food consumption patterns are from self-reported surveys of health behaviours of children aged 11-15 years[vi]. The most recent (for 2001-2002) found:

  • In virtually all countries fewer than 50 per cent of children ate vegetables every day. On average, 30 per cent of children said they ate vegetables daily, but the children in countries once famous for their Mediterranean diets reported lower than average levels, especially Spain, where vegetables were typically eaten daily by only 12 per cent of children.
  • In virtually all countries fewer than 50 per cent of children ate fruit every day. On average, 30 per cent of boys and 37 per cent of girls reported eating fruit daily, but in sixteen countries only 25 per cent of children were eating fruit more than once a week. Lowest levels of consumption were reported among children in Northern European countries.
  • Soft drinks and confectionery were consumed daily by about 30 per cent of children (over 40 per cent in some countries).

According to the last National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK[vii]:

  • 92 per cent of children consume more saturated fat than is recommended
  • 86 per cent consume too much sugar
  • 72 per cent consume too much salt
  • 96 per cent do not consume enough fruit and vegetables

Governments are trying to improve children’s diets, but young people’s exposure to marketing pressures in our time-poor, anxiety-ridden, media-driven society is at an all-time high.

Widespread action is needed to reverse current trends – and we all need to take responsibility for what we are feeding young bodies and minds.

In a Cooking for Health class focused on Healthy Cooking for Your Children, we look at:

  • The best and the worst food for children
  • Easy steps to free your child from food traps
  • Simple, child-friendly recipes
  • Practical tips to help your child make the best food choices

The class involves 100% hands-on practical cooking in a small, supervised group, combined with teaching of up-to-date information and research findings on the effects of diet on health. Clear, easy-to-follow presentations and handouts are provided with plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion.

References

[i] Policy options for responding to obesity. Summary report of the EC-funded project to map the view of stakeholders involved in tackling obesity – the PorGrow project. Dr Tim Lobstein and Professor Erik Millstone. http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/porgrow

[ii] Jackson-Leach R, Lobstein T. Estimated burden of paediatric obesity and co-morbidities in Europe. Part 1. The increase in the prevalence of child obesity in Europe is itself increasing. Int J Pediatric Obesit 2006;1:26-32.

[iii] Lobstein T, Jackson-Leach R. Estimated burden of paediatric obesity and co-morbidities in Europe. Part 2. Numbers of children with indicators of obesity-related disease. Int J Pediatric Obesity 2006;1:33-41.

[iv] Schwimmer JB, Burwinkle TM, Varni JW. Health-related quality of life of severely obese children and adolescents. J Am Med Ass 2003;289:1813-9.

[v] Richardson, A. They Are What You Feed Them. Harper Thorsons (5 Jun 2006)

[vi] HBSC. Young people’s health in context: Health Behaviour in School-aged Children 2001/2002. Health Policy for Children and Adolescents 4. C Currie et al (eds) Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2004.

[vii] Gregory, J. et al. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Young People Aged 4-18 years (The Stationery Office, 2000)