This morning there was a very interesting topic on the radio show in which also we participated back in September last year (Patiperros on air). This time the program was about children with a a tendency to become obese, and what parents can do about this. I once again cheer this fabulous program for giving the listeners a down-to-earth and informative session about obesity, children's diet, family reality and expert knowledge on the subject. This is my favourite radio show, it's just great! Still, I think the program completely missed out on a couple of very essential issues.
First of all, I did not hear anyone say explicitly that sugar (and some other substances that children eat) are addictive. Yes they did talk about candy bags being bigger, and children consuming much more sugar today than before. But nobody mentioned that we are talking about toxic substances which lead to overeating and cravings for more, and which cannot be changed simply by "having a calm situation at the dinner table" (although this might help). In a way I can understand that this very essential piece of information was left out, afterall, not everyone agrees on this subject. Particularly here in the Nordic countries, I believe the mainstrem medical approach has been that sugar is not addictive. Still, many report personal experience of addiction (White desire), and now there is even scientific indications that this is the case (Toxic Sugar). Not to mention the effect also wheat (substance that is present in almost all meals) can have on humans and tendency of overeating (It is more than gluten).
My point is that if we could talk openly about what the problem of the sugar-filled food products directed to children (not talking about only candies and soda here) then maybe these overweight children wouldn't be so stigmatized. It is not their fault that they start endulging in sweets and unhealthy food! Its like talking about alcoholism and how to deal with it, without mentioning that alcohol is addictive. Obesity is only a symptom. And most of the time (not always) it is the symptom of a bit of a too sweet tooth, a tooth that has been fed with sugary substances from a very early age. Not all children become addicted (as not all adults either) but for those who do, sugarfilled yougurts or sweetened white bread, or even the jam on the oatmeal porridge can be the starting point of an uncontrollable craving for more. We can empower our children by creating awareness of the link between the wrong kind of food and of the cravings for food that cause obesity.
When we participated in this radio show I was very nervous that our choices would be considered too radical by the listeners. I was nervous that the listeners would feel pity for my children. Imagine a childhood without candies! Almost unimaginable in today's society. The reporter even asked whether I was concerned that this choice of cutting out refined sugar would lead to rebelling children or eating disorders in their teenage years (I think this was not included in the show). My spontaneous answer was "no, absolutely not, I was more worried about that before than now". That is because I had seen how sugary foods drove Kidone to only crave for such foods, totally neglecting real nutrious foods and then screaming for sweets when hungry. This didn't happen as much with our new food policy. Also, considering my own newly found sensation of being in control of my mind and body, I knew that eating the right foods automatically excludes cravings and creates a balanced body weight. I had a hard time understanding how this way of living would expose my children to higher risk of eating disorders.
The second point I totally missed in this otherwise very balanced discussion was the role of fat in a child's diet. I strongly believe that there is a link between how much real fat (not talking about fake fats such as margarines) children consume and the sense of hunger. Extremely hungry kids will crave quick carbs to satisfy the hunger. School lunches are not exactly overly abundant in fats. There are more carbs on the plate than proteins and fats together. No wonder children grab an icecream or a soda on the way home... it is my personal experience that fatfree lunches (and maybe also the carb-filled breakfasts) do that to the metabolism. But I understand that this is a controversial issue, with the state dietary recommendations being what they are. Still, I insist, to understand childhood obesity you need to understand the whole picture.
Talking about school lunches. I was delighted this morning to see a letter-to-the-editor in the Swedish newspaper ("Kosten har betydelse för skolelever ") talking about the link between quality school lunches and performance. The author referred to several studies in the U.S that clearly showed a link between high quality food and increased school performance. Also teachers reporting on more focused kids. Finally! I hope this sparks some debate over here. How wonderful it would be if somebody with authority could get it already. Margarine does not feed growing brains; real fat does!!! Bring back the whole milk, and butter to school and daycare! In the best case it could give us leaner, healthier and above all smarter kids! What's there to loose?