Convenience leads to corpulence

Adults make it too easy for kids to gain weight


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JONATHAN COHEN
Fast food calories may get burned off at soccer practice, but it's not providing the nutrition a growing child needs.

“The other day I said I was going to go home and make something from scratch, and I had a fellow say, ‘What is scratch?’”
–Susan Terwilliger, clinical associate professor, Decker School of Nursing

Two of the biggest influences on children — parents and schools — may unintentionally contribute to childhood obesity.

That’s the observation of Susan Terwilliger, clinical associate professor in the Decker School of Nursing, who studies the problem. “As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I’ve taken care of children and their families for about 30 years, and I saw this huge increase [in childhood obesity] from 5 to 30 percent over about a 10-year period when I was in the school-based health centers,” she says.

In researching childhood obesity, Terwilliger studied third-graders in four Binghamton-area schools. Some of the cold, hard facts may no longer surprise us: 70 percent of the children drank between two and five sweetened beverages a day, 85 percent watched between two and five hours of television a day, and 42 percent ate two or more fast-food meals per week.

But these numbers, all hallmarks of childhood obesity, can be the unintended consequences of rational decisions.

• Children who are told by parents to avoid water fountains because of germs may instead drink sweetened juices.

• Fear of potential danger can prompt parents to restrict children’s play space to a backyard or inside the house.

• Schools sometimes trade gym class or recess for academics as they try to raise test scores.

Eating fast food on the way to soccer may seem like a trade-off healthwise. But, Terwilliger points out, one of the reasons fast food fits into a hectic schedule is that processed food, with its high fat content, literally slips down easily. And the quicker and easier it is to eat, the more you may consume.

There are a lot of data that say today’s kids won’t live as long as their parents, Terwilliger says. “I now have 13-year-olds with type 2 diabetes.” Heart attack is the number one cause of death, and stroke the number three cause. And diabetes and hypertension, which are often caused by obesity, contribute to both, she adds.