The stories followed each other rapid-fire, like dispatches on a telegraph wire.
The first piece of news was good, but only on the face of it. In a wide-ranging survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of obesity among low-income pre-school children is on the decline.
For the last several years, mid and upper-income children have shown lower rates of obesity, but low-income children have stayed the same or even have risen. This most recent study, reaching 12 million children in 40 states and three territories, shows the rate dropping in all geographic regions, if only modestly.
In Ohio, the rate remained the same; in Michigan, it was slightly improved.
One researcher who worked on the study suggested part of the trend might be due to parents feeding their children fewer sugary drinks. She also noted that more mothers are now breastfeeding, which has been shown to promote healthier weight gain.
That is all good news, to be sure. But what struck me — it knocked me flat, to be honest — is the rate of obesity, even now. One out of every eight preschoolers in the United States is obese. In low-income families, that number is an even more shocking one out of seven.
That’s preschoolers, kids who are barely out of the toddler stage. Kids who are too young, for the most part, to read. And kids who certainly are not in charge of what they are eating.
Children who are overweight or obese at ages 3-5 are many times more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, with serious and often fatal results. And now, courtesy of the second piece of recent news, there is another potential effect.
We all know that obesity in adults can lead to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer. But a study conducted on behalf of the National Institute on Aging just determined that people with elevated levels of blood sugar are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists have long noticed a correlation between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. What the new study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed is that you don’t have to have full-blown diabetes to increase the possibility of dementia. The risk is increased for people who merely have more glucose in their blood than they should.
The researchers who conducted the survey presented it in terms of good news. Now that they know that high glucose levels can lead to Alzheimer’s, the devastating disease can be prevented (to some extent) by keeping everyone’s blood-sugar levels down. It has been added to the arsenal of tools to fight the disease, including exercise and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.
But with my own personal family history of diabetes and high glucose levels, I don’t see it as good news at all. I see it as positively terrifying.
Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a possible food-related way to be healthier: Eat what everyone knows is good for you. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Specifically, they say, just eating one additional serving of fruit or vegetables — not and, but or — will save more than 30,000 lives every year from cardiovascular diseases. Putting it in monetary terms, they state that this one additional serving will save $5 billion in health care costs.
And that one serving will not bring us, as a nation, anywhere close to amounts recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables every day.
If everyone in the country were to follow these recommendations, the UCS reports, we would save 127,261 heart disease-related deaths every year. And that, they say, could save $17 billion in medical costs.
I, for one, question predictions that are overly specific. That figure of 127,261 seems just a little bit too exact to me, too precise. After all, the scientists are merely speculating. I’d be happier with the figure if they said “more than 125,000” or, even better, “more than 120,000.”
But even so, assuming they’re right, the news is startling. Eat more fruits. Eat more vegetables. Keep your blood-sugar levels moderate. And don’t let your preschoolers become fat.
We just may make it after all.
Contact Daniel Neman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.