For those that just can’t get enough of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this one’s for you. Last week, the CDC released a report on childhood obesity during the pandemic. It’s a weak-worded thing, with the usual suspects trotted out, but with precious few specifics (yeah, I suffered and read the report.) Of course exercise, which most people finger when it comes to young kids getting fat, got a nod.
But as with all things CDC, there’s precious little insight on the feedback loops, even from the various idiotic CDC mandates, on what might actually be happening. To be fair, many of these more complex drivers await larger, more in-depth study. But the childhood obesity crisis has been going on for a while. And while that fact that childhood obesity has supposedly increased by something like 3 percent, from 19 percent to 22 percent during the pandemic should cause alarm, the real problem is the baseline — 19 percent.
At least part of the reason we have no plan to combat this crisis is because people like the CDC and FDA are utterly failing in jobs. And what is their job? Establishing what healthy looks like, and policies to match for a problem that was truly uncommon in children only 50 years ago. What’s happened between then and now is our agencies have worked diligently to eliminate saturated fat from all our diets, in a range of products including whole milk. That diligence has the nation experiencing a real, society-threatening pandemic. And I’m not talking about COVID.
That pandemic has a name. It’s what’s called metabolic syndrome, or metabolic disease. And it’s not just about overeating, or any other such moral lack of judgment. Your body has the ability, if it is actually healthy, getting the right foods, with appropriate exercise, to buffer excess calories and not turn them into fat.
But if your system is hormonally destabilized, the fat production mode goes into overdrive. What causes that to happen? While it is complicated, it’s not hard to finger one of the key root causes — sugar and refined carbohydrates. And what might drive excess consumption of both adults and children of sugar and refined carbs? That’s easy — stress and depression, and the hormone produced, which is called cortisol. The quick fix to fight that depression? Eating sugar to fire your dopamine reward system.
I feel for all the moms and dads stuck home with children who, glued to screens last semester, in a vain attempt to not lose a year of their life, rewarded the dopamine pleasure loop in their kids’ brains through cookies and candy. I can imagine the seemingly endless small acts of bribery and pacification that had to occur to get a child to sit and stare at a tiny screen. It created the current environment where parents, essentially stuck in a hostage situation with regards to return to school, would insist on nonsensical, ineffective and for some kids, torturous masks just to be allowed to return to school. Once you understand that environment, you can also see how we might have 7-year-olds begging for a vaccine they don’t need just so they can have their life back.
The real challenge for the adults in the room, especially in the blue states, where there is precious little control on the controllers, is to come to terms with the various, insipid nonpharmaceutical interventions that also flow from the CDC, and create, once again, a happy environment for children. I’ve written multiple times about diet in schools and school lunches. We need to fix that, in spades. But the best thing we can do is return children to schools with no restrictions. Allowing them to be children, and see other children, is the best thing we can do for their health. Quit holding children hostage because of adult fears.
Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical andmaterials engineering at Washington State University.