The United States is leading the pack and the epidemic is spreading, with Europeans, Asians and other peoples quickly catching up.  What has caused this explosive growth in childhood overweight and obesity?  In recent years, two major factors have contributed:  a diet heavy in nutrient depleted, high-carbohydrate snack foods and sugary drinks (including fruit juice and soda) and a lack of physical activity.  As these factors combine with genetics, we have the recipe for a disaster.

The two trends feed each other, only aggravating the situation.  Instead of playing outdoors, kids watch television, play video games or surf the web as they fill up on carb-packed snack foods.  Even when parents make an effort to buy snacks that seem healthy, the “multigrain” cereal bars, fruit snacks and “real cheese” crackers are just well-disguised junk food made with sugar, hydrogenated oils and bleached flour.  At the same time, more than half of all commercials on television show hawk snacks, breakfast cereals and drinks full of sugar and of course, high-carb fast food.

Even worse, those same foods are the daily fare your youngsters eat in school.  Your child can be served a school lunch of chicken nuggets coated with high carb batter and deep-fried in unhealthy hydrogenated oil – along with a pile of potato chips a slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce as well as canned fruit juice diet sodas.  The irony is that this dreadful fare is considered a healthy, well balanced meal by the health department’s dietary standards.  At the same time, the typical school is full of wending machines selling sweets, sugary snack foods and sweetened drinks as a way to raise desperately needed money for school activities.  And even as schools are signing contracts that force them to serve your children high- sugar drinks in the cafeteria, they are cutting back on physical education classes, recess time and after school sports.

Not only are your kids bulking up from the food and drinks they’re served in school, they’re often not getting any sort of supervised exercise.  This is the worst sort of vicious cycle – and it’s very hard for most parents to counteract its effects.  Even if your child is still of normal weight, seemingly healthy and not displaying any behavioral problems that does not mean that he or she cannot benefit from cutting down on sugar and other refined carbohydrates.