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Tackling the root cause of obesity
I recently wrote about how many parents think they send their kids off to school with a healthy breakfast when, really, their offspring left the house with between 15 and 18 teaspoons of sugar in their tummies.
That would not be so bad if they walked or, better yet, ran or cycled a fair distance to burn up most of those calories.
However, many are dropped off by car or sit in the bus and their blood sugars go sky high.
Our bodies know that is not healthy, and with an outpouring of insulin, most of that sugar is quickly converted into fat and stored.
Result: a lot of overweight kids.
Most of the rest of the day the intake is mostly carbs, very little protein and a varying amount of fat from fast food. And, again, very little physical activity for a very large proportion of the student body to burn up the sugar.
In theory this is relatively easy to correct with providing better nutritional information to families. A soon to be published study shows that Canadians claim to understand the federally mandated nutrition facts tables and food packaging, but really do not.
Children do not like to be obese, but many are already destined to be that way before they are born. With the increase of obesity among the adult population, there are many mothers-to-be who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
When I graduated from medical school some 50 years ago, this condition barely existed. Since that time it has become commonplace.
This is not due to a change in our genetic makeup, but a profound change in our habits, choice of foods and level of activity. Everywhere you go you will see people with a phone in one hand and something to drink in the other, and if they put the drink down, it is often to put a snack in one’s mouth.
Most of that consumption consists of cheap carbohydrates and our bodies faithfully convert that into fat unless one simultaneously engages in fairly vigorous physical activity.
The Canada Food Guide recommends a diet of 60 per cent carbohydrates in the form of protein and the balance in the form of both a protein and very little fat.
Many people cannot afford high-quality complex carbohydrates that are slowly converted into sugar and, therefore, the pregnant bodies are flooded with high levels of sugar In their bloodstream. That, in turn, forces the pancreas to produce a sea of insulin and both mother and child are exposed to unhealthy levels of insulin.
In defense against this assault of too much insulin, the muscles and organs become resistant to metabolize the sugar, resulting in blood sugars that are too high.
When a pregnant woman goes and sees a doctor, the diagnosis of gestational diabetes is made. And guess what advice the patient receives?
We recommend you use insulin to bring your sugar down, ignoring the fact that there is already more insulin circulating than is healthy.
In response, the body does its level best to convert the sugar into fat to get it out of the way. That is one of the reasons why a good number of very heavy babies arrive into the world.
In my humble opinion, we should not be treating the consequences of a poor diet, but to tackle the root cause of the problem. That would mean cutting the carbs to 30 per cent instead of 60 of daily intake and increase both the consumption of healthy fats and proteins. That kind of a shift in food choices will enable the body to provide all the necessary nutritional needs without causing a constant overproduction of insulin.
I fully realize that things are not as simple as all that and that it takes time to sort out what is best for each individual considering their cultural background, economic circumstances and a host of other factors.
But to carry on along the path we have been following the last 25 to 30 years is resulting in an increasingly unhealthy population.
And that does not make any sense at all.
Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.