The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Good Lesson for Childhood Obesity?

The childhood obesity epidemic is becoming a grave concern to many health care groups. According to the Center for Disease Control,  results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)—using measured heights and weights—indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese.

Two groups have worked together to try to combat this situation. The American Academy of Pediatrics and a group affiliated with former President Bill Clinton recently announced their plan to use the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle,  to help kids make nutritious food choices. On March 8, the two groups declared their intentions to send more than 17,000 pediatricians special copies of the book, along with growth charts and parent handouts on healthy eating.

Essentially, the caterpillar eats different fruits each day, until one day it eats much too much of a variety of foods (some junk) and then it gets a belly ache.

Medical doctors are not really educated about nutrition in medical school, but this campaign should be simple; hand out a book and some pamphlets and tell parents to read to the children. Of course what is missing here is the education of the parents to eliminate some of the things that are most assuredly making their kids fat; regular and diet sodas, fruit juices and sugary or artificially sweetened drinks, candy, cake and commercial snacks of all kinds, fast food meals, carbohydrate loaded meals, and school breakfasts and lunches. Sadly, it is  primarily what most kids (and families) eat.

While it’s always beneficial to give out information, parents reading about healthy choices to their children gives lip service to the concept if it isn’t practiced at home. Additionally, there is the ever present problem of just what is a healthy diet? The “diet dictocrats” are always pushing whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat. So a “good”  breakfast is whole grain cereal and low fat milk, right? NOT! This is just what they use to fatten cattle and hogs. And this is just what feeds into intestinal dysbiosis and yeast overgrowth by providing sugars and starches that are difficult to digest because of improper preparation of grains. (Click here to learn about the proper preparation of grains.)

Children need fat in order to develop their brains, their bodies and their hormone systems. Cholesterol is the basis for every single hormone in the body. Half of brain matter is fat and cholesterol. All cell membranes are made of saturated fats as well as other fats. Cell membrane integrity is very important as it keeps the important nutrients in the cell and it keeps the toxic elements outside the cell. When this breaks down, disease develops. Lastly, there are essential (that means we have to eat it to get it) fat soluble vitamins in fat. Getting these through our food is better than through artificially made supplements.

Here’s the solution. Get rid of all the packaged cold cereals (even the organic ones. There will be more about cereals in later posts). Serve eggs for breakfast. It is the perfect food for the brain and will give a child a great start to the school day. Serve a glass of full fat milk (preferable raw).  This is another perfect food from nature and will help stave off hunger until lunch time. Most children do not like low fat milk and will only drink it if it has artificial flavorings which make low fat milk even more of a processed food and less desirable than it already is.

Under the USDA Guidelines of today, children are starving for the nutrients only available from fats. Consequently, their bodies keep telling them they are hungry. The starchy, sugary foods they typically eat will never satisfy them because they provide no nutrients. These obese children are malnourished. Give them fat.

This post is linked to: Real Food Weekly, Simple Lives Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites, Grain Free Tuesdays

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  • Cynthia

    I totally agree with your analysis. My kids were “hooked / addicted” to Pop Tarts, apple juice, cookies. They were also a bit over weight for 12 & 14 year old kids. I decided several years ago to CUT ALL that out and feed them more nutritious foods (less sugar and “dead calories”). You can guess what happened after that. Not only did they start to loose weight but they really felt better and had more energy. I look forward to more commentaries and posts.

  • Alicia

    So very, very true!!!

  • Jill

    Thank you Cynthia,
    This is becoming a pet peeve of mine.When I see kids in my office, I have to remind the parents that they are in charge of the food that comes into the house and they can make the decisions. As children get older it obviously gets more difficult to have that kind of control. But teaching your kids to appreciate how much better they feel when they remove all that garbage…that’s the most valuable lesson of all. Pat yourself on the back Cynthia.

  • Jill

    Thanks ALicia,
    I’m glad you liked the post.

  • Sybil

    Great article Jill! :) Very insightful!

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  • Jill

    Hi Sybil,
    Thanks for commenting! So glad you liked it.

  • Coyote Vick

    “The starchy, sugary foods they typically eat will never satisfy them because they provide no nutrients. These obese children are malnourished. Give them fat.”

    That line really makes me think. I always assumed “whole grains” and high fiber starches were best for losing weight and being healthy, but I’m beginning to start to rethink that…

  • Jill

    I Vick,
    It is very hard to get your mind around a concept, when the “whole world” of conventional “standards” is exactly the opposite. But when you start to read what other scientists have written about fats and when you consider the work of Weston Price and his intense study of traditional diets and what these extremely healthy people were eating, you start to understand. In America we have a free economy and as great as that is, it encourages greed and deception when it comes to our present day food suppliers (corporations).

  • Danielle @ Analytical Mom

    The Erik Carle book is very cute, but I so agree with you! I have 2 toddlers, so I’m always around little kids at mom’s groups or Sunday School. I’m absolutely appalled by the behavior of some of these kiddos, and I think in many cases, they get all sugared-up at breakfast before being dropped of at Sunday School or whatever. How in the world are they supposed to sit still and focus when they have Lucky Charms running through their veins? They probably couldn’t even sit still long enough to make it through The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

  • Jill

    Hi Danielle,
    So true! And for some reason, many teachers think it is a good idea to reward children with sugary treats. I can remember when my son was in elementary school and he would come home with a pocketful of candy FROM THE TEACHER! I suggested to him that he bring it home and I would supply a “better” treat for him in the form of a prize or toy he would like. That worked very well for us. I do not agree with conditioning children with food at all and junk in particular.

  • Iris

    I completely agree with your comment above about parents being in charge of what is in their house! As a counselor at Jenny Craig, you have no idea how many parents would come in and say they were trying to eat healthier, but how hard it was when they would take their kids to McDonald’s or buy their kids sugary snacks. My suggestion? Stop going to McDonald’s and buying sugary snacks. The parents seemed convinced that if they didn’t provide what their kids asked for, their kids would refuse to eat and starve. Not so! My parents fed us good, whole foods growing up, and we were all happy and loved family dinners, vegetables and all! If, as parents, you provide your kids with junk, that’s what they’re going to eat. But if you give them healthy food, they’ll eat that just as easily. They might complain at first if they’re not used to it, but growing kids are not going to starve themselves! They’re going to get hungry and eat! And eventually, their tastes will change once their taste buds get used to the more natural flavors of real food.

    (Sorry, didn’t mean to rant!)

  • Jill

    Hi Iris,
    I love your blog. Don’t worry about the rant, I do that all the time! It so amazes me when parents don’t act like parents. I think they are also addicted to the fast foods and don’t want to change. When they experience how powerful food is in relation to their health, they start to come around!

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