Insulin Resistance and Childhood Obesity

Insulin Resistance and Childhood Obesity

With nearly one-third of American children weighing in as overweight, childhood obesity is clearly a problem. Insulin resistance and childhood obesity is real. According to an article in the Pediatric Journal of Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 31.7% of US children between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese and a growing number of those have insulin resistance.

What does this mean for our children, and what can we do as parents to keep our child(ren) from becoming part of this growing statistic?

What is Obesity and What Does It Mean For My Child?

Insulin Resistance and Childhood ObesityObesity is defined as a high body mass index. That is a measurement that is calculated based on height and weight. While not perfect, body mass index (BMI) does give a rough indication of whether a person is in a healthy weight range. When the body mass index is over 30, a person is considered obese. Here is the official BMI calculator.

The biggest problem with the BMI calculator is that it has no consideration of physical fitness built into it, even though muscle weighs more than fat. What this means is that someone who is 5’4” and weighs 160 lbs. will measure overweight.

If that weight is mostly adipose tissue, then they are overweight. But if this person is sturdily built and in good physical shape, most of the weight is actually muscle and they should not be considered overweight.

However, these issues with the BMI calculation apply largely for adults instead of children since few children are lifting weights or seriously working out. If a child’s weight and body composition is such that their BMI is over 30, that means they are carrying more fatty tissue than they need.

Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome

Many of the children who are overweight also have symptoms of insulin resistance. That is a chilling diagnosis for a child to receive. Insulin resistance puts a person at higher risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Even more troubling is the children who are showing up with the constellation of disorders that make up metabolic syndrome (also known as “syndrome X”).

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of health conditions that occur with and/or lead to insulin resistance, which is when cells don’t respond as they should to the hormone insulin. You can learn more about it here.

The Right Food Choices For Your Child Makes All The Difference

Insulin resistance causes blood sugar to stay high for longer than normal. Your body will store the excess energy as fat and not as glucose. In most cases a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome will be considered with at least 3 of the following:

  • Obesity, especially abdominal fat
  • High blood pressure (hypertension or treatment for hypertension)
  • High blood sugar (elevated fasting blood glucose levels)
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels (high triglycerides)

A syndrome, by definition, is a description of a phenomenon, not a diagnosis. Metabolic syndrome is a descriptive term for a collection of health conditions that are likely to occur together. Having metabolic syndrome puts you at much higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Insulin resistance and metabolic disorder are among the so-called “lifestyle diseases” that used to show up in middle age, not in children. What is causing children to have “adult” disorders?

Causes of Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome

Insulin Resistance and Childhood ObesityStudies show that total adiposity is the single biggest predictor of insulin resistance. Total adiposity is a measurement of percentage of a person’s total body weight that is made up of fat.

This is a much more accurate measurement than body mass index (BMI), because BMI as I mentioned earlier can be high in someone who is well-muscled and sturdily built but is not obese.

Total adiposity predicts the development of insulin resistance; scientists believe this is because fatty tissue releases hormones that hinder the insulin response.

To put it in horribly blunt words—it’s because we’re fat.

Being overweight or obese is the single biggest risk factor for insulin resistance and for metabolic disorder.

But why are we (and our kids) fat? Why are we so much fatter than previous generations of Americans?

The answer is SAD.

Standard
American
Diet

Studies show that a diet rich is saturated and trans fat and high in carbohydrates, with low fiber, increases the risk of becoming overweight and developign insulin resistance.

When you add in the effects of limited physical activity and less sleep, and consider the increased stress caused by social conditions such as bullying, it really isn’t surprising that more and more kids are gaining more and more weight.

There is Hope!

Yes, there really is hope!

If these are lifestyle diseases, that means that YOU hold the power to change your child’s life. The 2009 Consensus Conference on Insulin Resistance in Children determined that screening for insulin resistance in children with obesity is not recommended, but early prevention that includes diet and exercise is strongly recommended.

Here are three areas in which your choices and actions can make a significant difference in your child’s health, now and in the future.

Diet

Insulin Resistance and Childhood ObesityRock those vegetables! Yes, really. Getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is the best preventative and treatment for obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic disorder.

Eating whole foods, real foods (not processed and highly preserved “food-like items”) and drinking plenty of pure water works best when it is a family endeavor.

Children learn what they see, and the best way to get your children to make healthy food choices is to show them what that looks like.

Begin with some simple and tasty swaps, like providing fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast instead of toaster pastries, melting cheese over steamed veggies instead of over pasta, add some carrots to the mac-n-cheese, have flavored water instead of soda pop, and have a salad with dinner every night.

The point is not to reach some mythical state of perfection, but to shift habits in the direction of health. Continue to make changes at a rate that everyone can tolerate.

Learn to make a game out of trying new things, and allow yourself and the kids to say that they don’t care for something, but also keep it as a rule of thumb that everybody tries one bite.

After all, if you try something repeatedly (about forty times, on average) with the intent to learn to like it, your taste buds will physically change and you will begin to like the new food.

Exercise

Diet may be the biggest contributor to obesity, but exercise, especially play, just might be the best cure. When you exercise or participate in vigorous physical activity, insulin resistance begins to drop almost immediately.

Get Your Child Into a Fitness Routine

As your child builds muscle mass, metabolism improves, blood pressure drops, and weight loss becomes much easier.

Here are some great ways to build physical activity into you and your child’s life.

  • Join a dance class
  • Sign up for a local softball, football, or soccer team
  • Shoot baskets together
  • Go for a walk in the park
  • Create a treasure hunt, indoors or out, and build in lots of walking and climbing
  • Go swimming
  • Dance to your favourite television or DVD program
  • Go to the zoo
  • Play mini golf as a family
  • Try martial arts classes
  • Join a water polo league
  • Go rock climbing in a local gym
  • Skip rocks at a nearby pond, lake, or creek

Of course, physical activity is easiest when children are not used to entertaining themselves with electronic and internet games and activities. You may (probably will!) get some resistance from your children about leaving their favourite electronic diversion and using their muscles.

Don’t expect little Miss Couch Potato to turn into an Olympic star overnight, but do keep adding fun physical activity into your routine, and show them how!

Sleep and Stress

Insulin Resistance and Childhood ObesityLack of sleep and stress can be a vicious cycle. Being stressed often leads to not sleeping well, but wen you don’t sleep well you can’t handle stress well.

Lack of sleep and high stress both cause abnormal levels of hormones such as cortisol, which are connected to blood sugar control and obesity, as well as high blood pressure (hypertension).

If that weren’t enough, sleepiness is often confused for hunger and stress eating is a very real thing; so being tired and stressed out is a perfect recipe for weight gain and blood sugar dysregulation.

Kids are getting less sleep and experiencing more stress than previous generations. The big-picture, society and world-wide explanations for that are complicated and controversial, so I’m not going to get into it here.

Instead, lets look at some of the things we can be changing in our homes and in our lives to make sleep easier and stress lower for ourselves and for our kids.

By the way, it is KEY to have this start with parents. If you model a life that is stressed-out and sleep-deprived, your children—who want to be like their parents—will conclude that stress and lack of sleep is cool and a very adult thing to do and be.

It sounds terrible now, but as a youngster I wanted to be stressed, because all the adult role models I had were stressed and I thought that was a grown-up thing to do. Yowzers.

So. What Can You Do?

Establish a soothing bedtime routine. This is as much for you as for them, because the routine will help you wind down and get to bed earlier so that you can be a good role model (and a less stressed parent!).

Include practical steps like tooth brushing and changing into pajamas, as well as bedtime stories, hugs, prayers, music, songs, or whatever works for your family.

Insulin Resistance and Childhood ObesityStop screen time at least one hour before lights out. The blue light activates the wake system in your brain and makes it difficult to fall asleep. For the same reason, don’t allow anyone to sleep with the television on. If you need music or white noise, use a radio or CD player.

 

Don’t sleep with phones. The EMF frequency messes with hormones and sleep cycles in ways we don’t yet understand. Having a rule that phones charge overnight in a room that is not the bedroom also helps prevent late night text, phone, or IM conversations, which automatically improves sleep time.

If they want to talk, take time to listen. Teens, especially, are most likely to begin to share in the evening. One of the most valuable gifts you can give them is to listen and share their struggles.

They don’t necessarily want or need you to fix the problem, but they do need you to listen to what is happening.

If stress is causing physical symptoms, such a stomach aches, headaches, or anxiety, time with a talk therapist or counselor is a good investment, for you or for the child. Learning good coping skills and thought patterns is far more effective than medication for most people.

Live Life JOYFULLY

The steps we’ve just covered—nutrition, activity, and sleep—are energizing steps toward a better and richer life. You must take insulin resistance and childhood obesity seriously.

Suddenly, the realization that your child is obese or overweight isn’t a sentence of poor health, but it’s actually a call to better health.

Health Tip – Check Out These McDonald’s Secrets – Don’t Forget to Like and Subscribe 🙂

Making good food choices is satisfying and fulfilling. Doing activities as a family is fun and improves relationships. Getting rid of stress and learning how to sleep better is good for everyone in the family.

Have you experience or do you know anyone that may have suffered from insulin resistance and childhood obesity. Share your thoughts below as I would love to hear your points of view. Go live life joyfully and Be Well!

14 Comments

  1. This is a non-ending problem because most parents don’t understand how bad it is when your kid is obese just because of the bad diet and habits. I noticed as a doctor in many homes, parents just let their kids without observation watch TV, play video games for hours with fast food, sweets and bad beverage. After years of this bad lifestyle, they notice their son is obese!

    Your article is just hit the nerve to a big problem, obesity is a major cause for many diseases so everyone should protect their child from it! A good diet, exercise is the answer to keep them fit.

    • Hi Mohammad,

      Thank you for visiting. I agree with you there is a huge disconnect with most parents as it relates to obesity in children. In some cases kids eat what they want and especially when it comes to snacks.

      I find many kids are not forced to exercise (to include just normal activities). If you combine that with a slow metabolism, fast foods, bad beverages, etc… you could have a recipe for obesity right before your eyes.

      Thanks for your kind words and I appreciate your support in understanding the seriousness of this epidemic. Be Well!

  2. I am sharing this with my brother. And it is for my niece.

    While she is not obese, her lifestyle puts her at risk. I read your article and am now aware of the lifestyle activities that can affect her health. That includes poor diet and too much screen time on her phone. Plus, she consumes a lot of sugar from soft drinks, ice cream and sweets. She is getting more active, and taking part in more physical exercises and activities. But I think diet is also important.

    I have tried to caution my brother about how all that can cause health issues. And it is a big concern when I read that a growing number of children have insulin resistance. That is not good in our family as we have history of diabetes.

    Thank for this article. It is very helpful. And I hope my brother learns from this. For my niece’s sake.

    • Hi Timotheus,

      Thank you for visiting. I am glad you found some tips here useful. There are so many children that are not obese “yet” but they are definitely at risk if they continue the same patterns and behaviours into adolescence or even young adulthood.

      The numbers of children who have insulin resistance is astounding and continues to escalate every single month as I do my research. I appreciate your kind words and I hope something here can be of use to your niece.

  3. Hi Nate, thank you for an excellent article on childhood obesity.

    This is a modern-day problem and most parents don’t even realise what is happening until they end up with an obese child and then it becomes more difficult to fix the problem.

    As they say, prevention is better than cure and websites like this help educate people to make a change and become an example to their kids. I understand modern life is very stressful for parents and it is much easier to give the kids junk food than take time to provide a healthy meal. However, the long term effects of this are very painful for everyone.

    In a lot of ways, I miss the old days when families enjoyed a healthy meal together without technology at the dinner table which is causing an even bigger disconnect between parents and their children.

    • Hi Moni,

      Thank you for visiting. You are so correct parents are a bit oblivious to this modern day epidemic. You make a point that we sometimes get so caught up in life that its easier to provide junk food instead of taking the time to cook a healthy meal.

      But if we do not then those instances become the norm which leads to many health issues that are passed down from generation to generation. You brought back some memories about eating a meal as a family without the technological distractions. How things have changed and our health is actually suffering because of it.

      All we can do is continue to try to educate this generation one day at a time. Thanks for stopping by and providing so much value today. Hope to see you again soon.

  4. Wow I really loved the information you provided here.

    I do agree that a diet focused on eating fruits and veggies has in helping manage chronic disease because I have used this in my life to help with my clogged artery disease.
    I also do ballroom dancing and this exercise helps a lot.

    I never knew that having insulin resistance can actually cause more disease like heart conditions, but it makes sense.

    • Hi Thabo,

      Thank you for visiting. I am glad you have found this useful. I am sorry about your health struggles but it seems you know what steps you need to take to combat the situation.

      Insulin resistance can cause so much damage to our bodies. I am fascinated with this topic and I am still amazed at the damage it causes. Thanks for adding so much value to this topic today. Hope to see you again soon.

  5. Hi Timotheus,

    I could relate to this article during my childhood. All the cereal I ate, the instant noodles, packed chips and soda combined with watching TV and playing games did a number on my waistline.

    Lunch and dinner were cooked with refined oils. Eating out consist of food stalls, restaurants and fast food joints with ingredients cooked in refined oils. Nobody knew the danger of these foods.

    My parents themselves are prone to watching TV instead of getting active after work. So I am left to my devices for exercise however without much success in reducing my body fat. Throughout the years into my adulthood, I did experience many health complications i.e goitre and ended up being deaf.

    After several surgeries, it was the fear of death that leads me to educate myself on food, nutrition and how the human body works.

    I am currently back on track with my health and a flatter stomach compared to my childhood years.
    Now I am teaching my family and my local community on how to reduce their insulin resistance.

    Dear parents, please set an example for your children and educate them on food or later in life they may fall into depression(high insulin levels can cause thyroid diseases and depression ), lose one of their 5 senses and even die.

    Do not let this happen to your child, if you evolve your lifestyle around them you will get healthy too.

    It is a win-win.

    Regards,
    Joseph

    • Hi Joseph,

      Thank you for visiting. I hear your story all too often. I am so thankful you are ok. But you are right, sometimes its the fear of death that causes us to really educate ourselves on our health because in many households we eat what we want day after day.

      I love the path you have taken to educate others. I hope many see your comment here and take heed to it. You had a very positive outcome but many are not so fortunate. Thank your for stopping by today and providing so much value. Hope to see you again soon.

  6. Wow. Never knew that there was something called insulis resistance. The problem of obesity in America is really serious and there is no a single doubt about it. You named one of the biggest causes – SAD. I kind of laughed to your pun. But it so so true. One of the solutions with smaller children is definitely having their computer + TV time reducted to a normal lever. This way there is a smaller chance of having a snack than being outside on a basketball/football field.

    Diabetes is not a joke and anyone that has any type of diabetes can vouch for that. It is best to pay attention on time. When it develops it is too late.

    Very informatve blog.

    • Hi Strahinja,

      Thank you for visiting. I am glad I was able to introduce you to something new today. You are right, obesity is a serious problem all around the world but especially so in America right now.

      I agree that we need to get out kids out of the house and enjoying some outdoor activities. This helps with not only the issue we are discussing today, but also socialization. Thank you for stopping by today and adding value to this conversation. Hope to see you back again soon. Be Well!

  7. Hi Nate,
    I very much enjoyed your article.
    My own experience my with two grown and married children were quite different. My daughter stayed slim, probably due to sports and loving the outdoors. My son, on the other hand, was active until about junior high, then those electronic games started coming out. Darn!! haha
    He grew to love computers and gaming and ended up doing more of that then exercising. So he started putting on weight and struggles with that to this day. Fortunately, he married a great woman who’s encouraging to go biking and such. It’s a start.
    My grandchildren are still toddlers and very active. We all plan on keeping them that way, lol.
    Thanks so much for your wonderful article.
    Suzanne

    • Hi Suzanne,

      Thank you for visiting. I appreciate you sharing your experiences. It is so easy to fall into that trap of not doing any type of exercise and our body really needs that.

      I am glad your son has the right encouragement. We all need that boost sometimes. Seems like you have a great handle of this topic as it relates to your family. Your experiences are very encouraging.

      Thanks for providing so much value today. I hope to see you again soon. Be Well!

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