It is time for a new strategy to tackle the childhood obesity crisis, according to experts at PCRM’s National Conference on Childhood Obesity, held in Washington on June 18 and 19. With more than one in six children already overweight, it is clear that current efforts are lagging.
According to Geetha Raghuveer, M.D., M.P.H., many children’s arteries resemble those of 45-year-old adults. Dr. Raghuveer is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
She used ultrasound technology to measure carotid artery wall thickness, which is an indicator of plaque in the arteries to the heart and brain. If that plaque ruptures, clots can result and lead to heart attack or stroke.
“Cardiovascular disease is no longer a disease of old age. It is now striking teenagers and children,” said Dr. Raghuveer.
Another presenter, Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., explained that childhood obesity is affecting the U.S. economy as gravely as it affects children’s health. Dr. Finkelstein, author of The Fattening of America, said the average U.S. taxpayer pays $175 every year to finance obesity.
Experts fear an exponential increase in several life-threatening health problems and in medical expenditures as today’s youth grow older. Barry Popkin, Ph.D., said the major factor contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic is cheap meat. Dr. Popkin, director of the Interdisciplinary Obesity Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, blames federal policies that make red and processed meats readily available.
The conference included two panel discussions moderated by PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D. These addressed whether government and industry should be responsible for childhood obesity and if every school should offer vegetarian options.
The conference was co-sponsored by The Cancer Project and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. The George Washington University Medical Center and PCRM were the conference’s continuing medical education sponsors, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future was a conference partner.