David Ludwig’s research was featured in Time, The Boston Globe, USA Today and CNN.
If you believe that gaining a little weight above what’s recommended while pregnant doesn’t matter, it may be time to re-think that notion. Janet Currie, PhD, of Columbia University and I collaborated to examine this question, and found that excess pregnancy weight gain is a strong predictor of high birth weight in infants. What’s the big deal if a baby is a bit too heavy? Research suggests high birth weight increases risk for numerous health problems, including obesity later in life.
Nearly one-third of children in America are now overweight or obese. Without marked decreases in prevalence, this generation of children may lead shorter, less healthful lives than their parents due to weight related diseases.
Children’s diet quality has declined to shocking levels, directly fueling the obesity epidemic. There are, of course, many forces affecting the eating habits of children today, such as the widespread availability of junk food, an under-funded school lunch program, and busy, stressed families. However, TV advertising to children has undoubtedly played a major role. Saturday morning children’s shows have seemingly become little more than a continuous food commercial, with beloved, iconic cartoon figures like SpongeBob peddling junk foods during programming as well as ads.
In response to the threat of governmental regulation and legal action, major food companies like Kellogg, General Mills, ConAgra and PepsiCo banded together in 2006 to create a voluntary advertising code of conduct. Called the “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative,” this policy aimed to “change the landscape of child-directed advertising” by encouraging “Better-for-You” foods.
David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of Children’s Optimal Weight for Life Program, just published a commentary in JAMA expressing concern about the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in soft drinks. Below, he offers some insight about why humans naturally crave sweetness, and the potential danger of confusing our ancient biological pathways of hunger and satiation with fake sugars.
Ever since our distant ancestors crawled out of the ocean, animals have been trying to eat plants. In this conflict, animals would seem to have a distinct advantage: we can move about, they can’t. But plants are by no means defenseless against our predations. They protect themselves with thorns, bark and tough fibers; stash their starches in tubers that are difficult to digest (at least when uncooked); encase their most prized possessions, high energy nuts and seeds, in impervious shells; and lace their leaves with bitter, toxic chemicals.
In fact, plants have long taken advantage of animals to help them reproduce. To entice us to serve them, plants have created seed-bearing fruits and infused them with sugar, the gold standard of energy metabolism.
There is a story the media find irresistible, revisiting it on a regular basis: The government takes over custody of a morbidly obese child, accusing the parents of neglect and endangerment.
These stories continue to shock us, touching upon a wide range of hot button issues including extremes in physical appearance, parental responsibility, government intrusion into private lives, and the health of this generation of children. Unfortunately, these sensational cases tell us very little about the obesity epidemic and the needs of kids today.
Clearly, parents bear much responsibility for the well being of their children. Research has clearly linked child neglect and abuse with increased risk of obesity. One hundred years ago, a neglected child was likely to be underweight. Today–with junk food everywhere and opportunities for physical activity increasingly difficult to find–obesity has become the final common pathway for many emotional and psychological problems in childhood.