Dennis.Raphael at mail.atkinson.yorku.ca
Mon Aug 4 12:43:39 PDT 2003
Stress linked to obesity in school-age children
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>From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Saturday, August 2, 2003
British researchers have found a new explanation for soaring childhood obesity
rates: stress. The study of more than 4,000 schoolchildren found that the more
stressed they were, the more they ate. The most-stressed kids ate more than
twice as much as their less-anxious classmates during meals, and supplemented
that with frequent snacking.
But quantity was not the biggest problem. Stressed-out kids favoured fatty
foods, and shunned healthy foods almost entirely. They also had a tendency to
avoid breakfast, a hallmark of people with poor dietary habits. "Stress appears
to be consistently harmful to children in terms of steering their food choices
away from the healthy and towards the unhealthy," said Jane Wardle, director of
the health behaviour unit at United Kingdom Cancer Research. She said developing
these poor habits in childhood and early teen years can be particularly damaging
because it sets a pattern that can follow them into adulthood, where serious
health problems can result from obesity. Dr. Wardle added that while stress may
be an important factor, it is not the sole cause of childhood obesity.
Inactivity, poverty and poor nutritional habits for reasons other than stress
can also play major roles, she said.
The study, published in the August edition of the journal Health Psychology,
focused on 4,320 children who were 11 years of age. To gauge their stress, the
children were given a standard questionnaire that included questions like: "How
often have you felt that you couldn't control the important things in your
life?" They were also quizzed on their consumption of 34 common fatty foods and
on their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Curiously, children who were already overweight were not among the biggest
eaters, and they reported low consumption of fatty foods. Dr. Wardle said that
was not surprising because this pattern of fudging what is eaten is common among
overweight adults during research.
In Canada, 37 per cent of children aged 2 to 11 are now overweight, and fully
half of that number are obese, according to figures published last year by
Statistics Canada. Childhood obesity is becoming a worldwide epidemic, not just
a Western phenomenon. Another study showed that the prevalence of obesity is
soaring on three continents, and across economic strata.
Dear Editor: Letters at GlobeAndMail.ca
It was so refreshing to see Globe and Mail public health reporter Andre
Picard present the links among living circumstances, stress, and obesity
in school-age children (Stress linked to obesity in school-aged
children, August 2, 2003). It has been known for many years that nations
with little poverty, strong social safety nets, and responsive
governments report lower incidence of disease, higher life expectancies,
and lower injury and obesity rates among children. Knowing this, we
would expect governments to do as much as possible to reduce family and
child insecurity as possible. One means of doing so is to study and
implement the public policies typical of nations presenting such
exemplary population health profiles. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark,
Belgium and Luxembourg, among others -- not the USA -- come to mind.
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