Last week, OurFamilyWorld had the chance to pick the brain of a renowned expert in childhood obesity. Dr. Dyan Hes, Medical Director at Gramercy Pediatrics, shared her thoughts about the dangers of fad diets. With so many new “hot” diets cropping up every other day, I did wonder what effect these fads would have on growing children. We’re thankful for the time she took to give us her advice and share some really great tips on how parents can prevent childhood obesity.
Interview with Childhood Obesity expert Dyan Hes
Can you tell us a bit about your role as an expert on childhood obesity?
15 years ago, when I became a doctor, I saw a void in the medical community. As medical students we had always been taught to worry about the underweight child, but I was only seeing overweight children around me. I began to do research on the causes of childhood obesity. I realized that there are not many doctors out there who feel the same way that I do. I saw the dangers ahead and made it my goal in life to help stop childhood obesity. I became a leader in the field because I am probably one of a handful of pediatricians who feel passionate about this subject and I have had years of experience treating these children.
I love your approach to helping families fight childhood obesity by advocating a healthy lifestyle rather than just coming up with a strict meal plan. Can you tell us what inspired you to take that approach?
Well, if you read the literature about diets, most fail. The majority of patients who lose weight gain back the weight lost and more within two years. That’s why I dislike the word “diet” because people think that it is something temporary. I like to say lifestyle change and think of it as a permanent change for the better.
One of the things you tell parents is that “Forcing kids to feel shame when it comes to certain foods can lead to unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders down the road.” Can you expand on that a bit?
It’s just another example of forbidden fruit. By shaming a child who wants to eat a candy bar, it does not help. We all have cravings. I don’t think I could make it through the week without a few treats. It’s about balance. If you eat well 95% of the time, you can indulge in that 5% remaining. I see children sneaking candy bars and junk food all the time. Parents find wrappers under the bed, in the couch cushions, etc. I have had great success treating patients over the years. The children relate to me because I am not so strict. We work together to make an individualized healthy plan for each child.
Gluten-free diets are all the rage right now. While this is great for those with celiac disease, how can a gluten-free diet actually be less than ideal for children?
Unfortunately, when most families go “gluten free” the kids end up eating rice and corn as substitutes for pasta and wheat products. Gluten free grains like quinoa are healthy, but there are not too many children who will eat these products daily. Instead they get starches based on rice and corn that have very high glycemic indexes and raise the blood sugar very quickly. Unless supervised by a nutritionist, most gluten free diets are lacking in folate, iron, and B vitamins; all very important in childhood.
What about the Paleo diet? Many people are “eating like cavemen” now. Should our children be eating more like our ancestors from ages ago?
Well, the Paleo diet is good if you exercise like a Neanderthal. It is based on a lot of protein. These meats also have a lot of fat. It is also based on coconut oil, which is not healthy in large quantities. I think all these extreme diets are ridiculous for a growing child. We have to remember that we are no longer hunters and gatherers. It’s about balance. You have to burn off all that fat that you are ingesting.
Are there other fad diets that parents should especially avoid or watch out for?
Many! Lactose free! Dairy Free! Remember, unless your pediatrician prescribes these diets, your child probably doesn’t need to be on a special diet. Parents always tell me that their child is lactose intolerant. This is almost unheard of in children, as it is an adolescent/adult illness.
Can you tell us a bit about your Be Fit program for overweight children?
Be Fit was a great program because it was a collaboration between the medical community and the YMCA. It was a great example of how a community could work together to help combat obesity. We took the medical knowledge of the doctors and the fantastic youth programs of the YMCA and created a fitness/nutrition program when obese youth felt comfortable to exercise and not be judged based on their athletic abilities or lack thereof. It can be replicated anywhere, as long as you have willing participants, like a church organization or a Boys and Girls Club.
What can parents do at home to help their children be more active and stay fit?
Turn of the television. Limit screen time and video game time. Only let your child watch TV if he/she has had one hour of exercise per day. This can be playing tag in the park or jumping rope. Of course, most people cannot afford to send their children to after school sports programs every day. Buy a jump rope or a hula-hoop. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Ride your bike to school or get off one train stop earlier and walk a little more to your destination. Be creative and make it a lifestyle choice. Buy a pedometer and see who walked more steps in a day!
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Parents are role models. These healthy changes should be incorporated into daily living and not forced upon anyone. If the whole family does it together, the “fat” child is not singled out. No one should feel alone in this fight.
What did you think of this amazing interview with Dyan Hes? Did you learn anything new about fad diets and childhood obesity?
For more childhood obesity information, check our section: Healthy Kids