The global pandemic that’s killing our kids

I saw the childhood obesity crisis coming from miles — or I should say decades — away.

I was at a conference in Orlando. So of course, I went to Disney World.  And when I looked around, all I saw were fat kids. (As a former fat kid myself, I tend to take notice of such things.) It broke my heart — and became the impetus behind my first book, Feed Your Kids Well, which went on to be the best-selling children’s health book of its time.

That was in 1998 — almost 20 years ago now. And to this day, I wonder… if I recognized what was happening, why didn’t anyone else?

I recently asked myself that very question — once again — as some new statistics just made the rounds. And let’s just say that the mainstream medical community — who tend to bury their heads in the sand until it’s too late — really dropped the ball on this one.

Get this: Over the last 40 years, childhood and teen obesity rates have risen ten-fold globally, to one in five kids.

Surprised? I’m not. And the news only gets worse. Because predictions estimate that, within just five years, the number of obese children will surpass the number of underweight kids in many developing countries — creating a serious health burden on both ends of the spectrum.

In other words, obesity is now neck-and-neck with malnutrition as the biggest threat to childhood health globally. Hard to imagine a bigger mess being made of the future of the world, but there you have it.

I’d like to point out that these researchers drew their data from almost all of the world’s countries — so it’s not like we can dismiss these numbers as a fluke. This analysis featured the weights and heights of nearly 130 million people over the age of five — more than any epidemiological study in history. And it used nearly 2,500 population studies in total to assess BMI trends in kids and teens from 1975 until now, with weight categories ranging from severely underweight to obese.

The rise in obesity was similarly shocking in both sexes — jumping from five million to 50 million in girls, and from six million to 74 million in boys. Meanwhile, global rates of underweight children dropped by .8 percent in girls and 2.4 percent in boys.

The only small sliver of a silver lining is that obesity rates seem to be stabilizing in richer, English-speaking countries.

But even that is likely due to the big anti-obesity push that England has going on at the moment. Because it’s certainly not from our country’s pathetic efforts, which unfortunately can’t—or shall I say, won’t—push past all those lobbying dollars from the food, beverage, and agricultural industries.

It’s outrageous when you think about it.

The government refuses to allow drug companies or lab companies or any type of medical company to entertain docs, lest we get a free pen and prescribe a certain drug. Yet the people who make laws which directly impact the public health are allowed to be wined, dined, and gifted to death.

Don’t you think it’s time we put an end to that? Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing it would make a pretty massive difference.

The saddest part about these trends in global child and adolescent obesity is that they’re a direct reflection of government failures in food policy across the world—and more specifically, a reflection of the fact that healthy, nutritious foods are simply inaccessible in the poorest communities.

In case you haven’t noticed, that’s one of the things that bugs me the most about our sorry excuse for a public anti-obesity campaign. Our politicians keep these nutritious foods expensive… while the hideous Franken-foods full of empty calories stay cheap, thanks to government subsidies for crops like GMO corn, wheat, and soy.

The fact that the two regions in this country with the most educated and highest income individuals also have the lowest obesity rates in the United States. Manhattan, south of 96th street and the West side of Lost Angeles. That should tell you all you need to know. (And it’s not that wealthy people are somehow naturally skinnier… believe me, they’re not.)

When a bag of chips and a can of soda are cheaper and easier to buy than fresh produce, you’ve got a real problem on your hands. But this is exactly what happens when lawmakers lie back and count their money while big businesses run the show.

And all I can say is… shame.