Big news has been tracking the saga for years: our kids are getting bigger while their lives are getting shorter.
Reports of increasing childhood obesity and early onset disease have spawned a slew of scientific projections, slashing life-spans by a minimum of two years to dire predictions of death by 55. We have a new dictum playing out in headlines, late night comedy, even film. The mantra for “ Fed Up,” Katie Couric’s new documentary, states: For the first time in history, the next generation will not live longer than their parents.
We applaud the media for growing our awareness around the severity of trends among children and adults that point to the crucial need for change in our lifestyles. At the same time, we wonder, where is all the data regarding these projections? How can current trends suddenly cast all future outcomes in stone?
We’d like to take a look at the facts here in a short series of posts, and we invite you to let us know how you’re feeling about these issues in your own lives. Many of the headlines are quite daunting — particularly for those of us who are parents of young children.
One of the earliest voices in longevity research belongs to Dr. Jessica Bartfield, an internal medicine and weight-loss specialist at Loyola University in Illinois. As director of medically supervised weight-loss programs involving physicians, nutritionists, exercise physiologists and psychologists, she announced in 2011 that diseases such as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions and joint deterioration—all once considered adult diseases—are regularly being diagnosed now in children.
“What is particularly tragic,” she said, “is that studies have suggested that obesity in children today may contribute to a two- to five-year decline in their life expectancy, shorter than that of their parents.” She did follow that with a bit of good news, stating that these diseases are preventable, and influenced by many causes including environment and culture.
An earlier study, published in 2010 in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed data gathered from two Native American Indian tribes—strictly narrowing the focus of culture—but also tracking thousands of children for risk factors over several decades in one of the largest studies of its kind.
The study pointed to two primary culprits – excessive body mass and impaired glucose tolerance—as factors causing premature death, death in fact by the age of 55. Adults who had the highest body mass index scores as children were 2.3 times as likely to have died early as those with the lowest scores, and those with the highest glucose levels were 73 percent more likely to have died prematurely.
According to a scientist with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “This (study) really points a finger at impaired glucose tolerance, or pre-diabetes, in ways we have not seen before.” He added that though the American Indian community is not representative of the nation’s population as a whole, its experience was instructive because “they’ve tended to be just a decade or two ahead of the rest of the U.S. population” in obesity.
And so, here we are, just a few years later, watching footage and films of overweight Americans – young and old—chomping on Big Macs and Snickers in one continual reel of life in the USA.
But there is also the flip side of that news cycle: farmers markets emerging along side strip malls, gardens grown and tended in cities and schools, and nutritionists joining the staffs of our local gyms. Where is our focus? What are we paying attention to as individuals, and what is happening to address issues of food, health and longevity at government and foundation levels?
In our next few articles, we’ll return Dr. Bartfield’s statement above: childhood obesity and related diseases are preventable, and influenced by many causes including environment and culture. Since we are the culture, we are responsible for our own environment. We can monitor and change our bodies and minds, our communities, personal activities, work, play – and, yes, even our life spans!
Be conscious and aware. Be a Master Mind for Wellness.