The Los Angeles Department of Public Health is urging parents to limit the amount of sodas and sugary juices their children drink.
Dr. Paul Simon, director of the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, says the agency is partnering with childcare facilities, local supermarkets and parents to ensure that children have access to nutritional food and drinks. They are also encouraging parents to give their children water instead of soda, juice or sports drinks.
A recent report from the Trust for America's health found that 15 percent of California children are obese. "We at the health department are very concerned about the health problem," Simon said. "What we've seen is that, while it's well recognized that we have an obesity epidemic among adults and among school-age adolescents, I think what isn't appreciated is that the obesity epidemic seems to be started very early in the life course. So we're seeing relatively high rates of obesity even in young children two, three, four years of age. "
The campaign is part of a larger push called Choose Health LA. Sugary drinks, the initiative says, should be a special treat as opposed to a regular part of children's diets. Simon said, "consuming large amounts of added sugar has harmful affects on the body's sugar. So when you drink a sugary beverage, the sugar gets absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream. And it travels to the liver, and the liver has a hard time breaking down all that sugar."
As children age, those with a history of obesity are more likely to remain so into their adult years. "And we know it is associated with things like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, [and] stroke. And so we don't want children to start out with obesity because it puts them behind the 8-ball to begin with," said Simon.
But some healthcare officials feel that this targeted approach on sugar won't have the impact public health officials are hoping for. Dr. Roger Clemens teaches pediatric nutrition and USC's School of Pharmacy. He said, "Public health and obesity is everyone's challenge. It would be inappropriate to allow a single dietary component to say, "ah ha!" That's the cause of obesity. The issue there is the contributing factor is all about energy and energy balance."
Clemens argued that children need access to an overall healthful diet, not just a decrease in sugary drinks. Limiting sugar alone, he said, would not negate the issue. "We need to urge people to choose wisely. Choose a wise lunch that's more healthful, choose your beverage wisely so that you can have a soda once in a while. But if you start abusing that… you increase your calories and we all know an increase in calories can lead to untoward effects like this dastardly condition called obesity," Clemens said.
There is hope that childhood obesity will decline in the future. "We are seeing some promising results in children. We've begun to see a leveling and even a decline in the obesity rate. It peaked at about 23 percent and now it's down to about 20 to 22 percent. So it's slowly coming down… That's good use but we know we have a lot farther to go. We want to get the rate down to below 5 percent, which is where it was in the 1960s before the obesity epidemic," said Simon.