Obese kids have become the stuff of national panic recently. Every thing from parents, governments, MTV, videogame manufacturers and fast-food outlets has been blamed for this epidemic.
Whatever is to blame, there’s no doubt that all countries that subscribe to fast-food outlets, MTV and other lounge-lizard activities are storing up a massive health problem.
Those who believe the problem lies squarely at the door of the fast-food outlets are definitely on the right track, but the problem may be more complex than that, as a thoughtful new study suggests.
Researchers from Yale University have established a definite link between obesity in children and ‘the metabolic syndrome’, a name given to a cluster of disorders of the body’s metabolism – including high blood pressure, high insulin levels, excess body weight and abnormal cholesterol levels – that make you more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease or stroke. It’s also been called ‘syndrome X’.
One research trial discovered that nearly 7 per cent of overweight children, and 29 per cent of obese children, had the syndrome.
The Yale study has confirmed its prevalence among the young. But here’s the thing – scientists reckon that children are born with the syndrome. But the Yale researchers have found that it worsens with obesity, an observation that has been made by earlier studies.
So are the scientists right – or could it be that a diet of processed foods creates, and then worsens, the syndrome?
If the latter, what you eat matters more than the amount you eat. If the former, the syndrome could still be a reaction to the mother’s diet when the child is still in the womb as it seems to be an escalating problem. Either way, it’s the industrialisation of foods that is the main cause of the problem – and not exercise or its lack, MTV or videogames. Even the government gets off the hook for a change, although what they allow to be categorised as ‘food’ is far closer to a weapon of mass destruction than anything they were looking for in Iraq.
(Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2004; 350: 2362-74).
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