“Science has kept our attention focused on the notion of genetic determination, leaving us ignorant about the influences beliefs have on our lives and more importantly, how our behavior and attitudes program the lives of children.” — Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D., “The Biology of Belief” (2005).
There’s been much in the newspapers lately about obesity in children. Last week we read about the fourth anniversary of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program. Her goal — to make schools healthy places in relation to food choices and physical activity to help solve the childhood obesity problem. Along with this came a report that “Rate of obesity in preschoolers dips 6 percent,” though those who did the study were not sure just why or if it will continue because of its very variable past.
These brought to mind an article in one newspaper Jan. 30 titled “Kids on path to obesity before kindergarten” which described the results of a study by a scientist at Emory University who checked into the obesity patterns of school-age children. Scientist Solveig Cunningham was quoted as saying: “A lot of the risk of obesity seems to be set, to some extent, really early in life.” You wonder if this is something she didn’t know already. Could she possibly have believed that the problem starts at school age?
Other scientists informed us some time ago that the tendency to obesity begins in the womb and depends on genetics, the health of the parents at the time of conception, and the environment in which the fetus is bathed. Maybe Cunningham should read Lipton’s book and Dr. Peter W. Nathanielsz’s “Life in the Womb — the origin of health and disease.” He wrote: “The quality of life in the womb, our temporary home before we were born, programs our susceptibility to coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and a multitude of other conditions later in life. ... There is mounting evidence that programming of lifetime health by the conditions in the womb is equally, if not more important, than our genes in determining how we perform mentally and physically during life.”
Though, of course, the schools need to be concerned about childhood obesity by serving healthy lunches and providing regular physical activity, that can be too late to make much difference in a child’s problem with being overweight. Dietary control and/or physical activity cannot completely make up for the weight caused by the damage to metabolism, and other bodily functions that have been compromised by a poor uterine environment and/or a baby and child fed a lot of junk foods that contribute to obesity and ill health. By the time the child is in kindergarten, enough damage may have been done so that the chance of a child becoming a svelte and fit teen and adult is slim.
As Lipton wrote: “These complex and small creatures have a pre-birth life in the womb that profoundly influences their long-term health and behavior. ... When passing through the placenta, the hormones of a mother experiencing chronic stress will profoundly alter the distribution of blood flow to the fetus and change the character of her developing child’s physiology.”
Yes, do go back to “early in life” — before conception and start from there. There’s a serious problem in this country of unhealthy parents (especially those of low income) having less than robust infants. A lack of an even adequate diet, little or no prenatal care, teens getting pregnant who have no clue and no help as to how to care for an infant — all can take their toll. What could be more important than required health education in high school that would emphasize, besides contraception, the importance of living healthfully, not just for their own benefit, but also for future generations?
Studying children in kindergarten and elementary school in an attempt to stem obesity may help scientists learn a few things about the problem, but until they face the fact that the future welfare of our children goes back to the health of the parents, the intrauterine environment and the way the child is fed and nurtured from day one, the problem will continue to plague us, possibly all through adulthood. Dr. Lipton reminds us: “Recently, an even wider range of adult-related chronic disorders, including osteoporosis, mood disorders, and psychosis, have been intimately linked to pre- and perinatal development influences.”
Let’s hope that Lipton and Nathanielsz and other like-minded scientists (and maybe even Cunningham) continue to study the problem of obesity and widely publicize their findings. Then, eventually, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program may be an adjunct to the healthy lifestyle of most children and the rate of obesity in preschoolers will dip to zero. We must believe it can be done.
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.