Childhood obesity is a serious problem in our country. In fact, the fastest growing group of obese people in America is under the age of four years old, according to Dr. Barry Sears, one of the world’s leading medical researchers on the hormonal effects of food, and the creator of The Zone Diet.
Many people are aware that this is a serious issue, but when it comes to pinpointing the reasons for the epidemic, the theories and ideas are varied and wide. One of the most common ones, however, places the blame on these children’s parents and proposes feeding them less calories and encouraging them to be more active.
While this seems like a sound strategy, it is not uncommon for people to find that despite their most sincere efforts, their children still aren’t able to shed the weight. This of course leads to the big question: “Why?”
We spoke with Dr. Sears, who explained that it just isn’t as simple keeping the calorie count low and the exercise time up. According to this leading authority, an interesting area of science termed Epigenetics holds the real answer to our population’s obesity problems.
Dr. Sears defines Epigentics as a study that looks at “how our environment can affect the expression of our genes.” In other words, Epigenetics aims to understand processes that use our experiences to significantly alter the states of our individual genes.
During the gestation period and about two years after birth, one of the primary parts of our environment that affects these genes is our diet. Dr. Sears explains that “it is that period of time where the brain and the metabolism — both of which are linked — are undergoing a lot of plasticity, and the dietary environment they’re exposed to has a great impact on what the final expression of those genes will be as the child ages.”
And it isn’t just what a child consumes during this time, but what we have been putting into our bodies over the last few generations that is causing lasting changes.
“It turns out what we’ve been doing in the last 40 years is genetically modifying our children and that’s why we’re seeing the rise of diseases like ADHD, depression and obesity,” Dr. Sears explains.
But what exactly have we been doing over the past few decades to cause such a change in our genes? To put it simply, we have been eating more processed foods and less of the foods that are good for us. Processed foods high in certain types of fatty acids can cause inflammation in the body and cause health issues.
According to Dr. Sears, in recent experiments researchers have found mice colonies to show different outcomes over a number of generations when fed diets similar in their calorie, carb and protein profiles and differing only in the balance of omega 6-fatty acids (present in many processed foods) and omega-3 fatty acids (present in fish and fish oils).
After three generations the mice fed a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in the other type were shown to be grossly obese with signs of prediabetes and heart disease.
Dr. Sears believes this to be a stark example of how we have become predisposed to similar health issues. He uses the term a “tsunami of genetic changes” that have taken place in our systems due to the dominance of processed foods and the over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids in the American diet.
“The bad news is that these genetic changes last at least two to three generations,” he explains. “Which means in today’s world much of our children and their parents are genetically screwed. There isn’t a thing they can do about it.”
But things are not all doom and gloom. Dr. Sears says that we can in fact reverse this damage over time. In the meanwhile, for more immediate results, we can hold back the inflammatory damage by eating well and feeding our children foods that are good for them.
And it isn’t difficult to do. A simple approach Dr. Sears suggests is dividing your child’s plate into three equal sections for every meal. On one third of the plate, serve some low-fat protein like chicken or fish, and on the other two thirds, serve colorful carbohydrates. These can be fruits or vegetables they enjoy. Then you top it off by adding a dash of fat that is low in saturated fats. Think olive oil or guacamole.
Diets like these result in a better hormonal response that reduces craving for unhealthy processed foods, controls inflammation and can ultimately result in our population getting back to healthy bodies that aren’t predisposed to many of today’s disease and obesity issues.