This month I’m beyond thrilled to introduce you to the work of my colleague David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D. of the world-famous Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Ludwig, a man who is clearly ahead of his time, has recently published a comprehensive, sensitive, and meticulously researched book called Ending the Food Fight: Guide Your Child to a Healthy Weight in a Fast Food/Fake Food World (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). It represents what he’s learned from the 5,000 children who have participated in his Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program. Ending the Food Fight is aptly named, since Dr. Ludwig explains how to eliminate the tug of war that often exists when parents try to get their children to eat healthier foods. In my opinion, this book is the new standard for helping overweight children lose weight—and sets the stage for these children to experience life-long health.
Although there are many books on dieting, Ending the Food Fight is rare because it focuses specifically on children and their needs. This book tells you what to eat (including 50 kid-friendly recipes), how children can increase their physical activity easily and enjoyably, and what parenting tips work for young children through adolescence. It also covers maintaining a positive attitude while making changes, as well as explaining the conditions that lead to emotional eating. – Christiane Northrup, M.D.
What’s Making Us Gain Weight?
Dr. Ludwig found early in his career that the old Food Pyramid’s guidelines of many grains and little fat didn’t help children (or adults for that matter) lose weight. From here, the Harvard-trained doctor and scientist (who was later dubbed by Time magazine as the “obesity warrior”) conducted numerous research studies. More than 70 of these have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals including the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Journal of American Medical Association, Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, and Pediatrics. Those most pertinent to childhood obesity, a total of 29 studies and review articles, can be seen on his Ending the Food Fight Web site.
What Dr. Ludwig discovered has become the foundation of what we know today about the benefits of a low-glycemic diet for adults. We now recognize that the same principles apply to children. When Dr. Ludwig taught the children visiting him at his clinic to eat low-glycemic foods, they experienced weight loss even without limiting the number of calories they ate. A four-month study corroborated this: Children on low-glycemic diets who were allowed to eat as much as they wanted lost an average of seven pounds; adolescents lost about ten pounds. Ludwig1
Since I often write about the dangers of a high-glycemic diet, I won’t get into all the details here. The point is that when children—or adults—eat mostly foods that spike their blood sugar, such as bread, pasta, refined foods, candy, or soda, their typical insulin production can’t moderate blood sugar levels or use the sugar in their blood stream for energy, so many of their calories get stored as fat. Plus, when children eat these types of foods, their hunger is rarely satiated, so they eat even more. Ultimately, this is what leads to obesity.
Three Battlefronts to Conquer
In Ending the Food Fight Dr. Ludwig explains that when it comes to childhood obesity, there are three battles to contend with. The first is the war within the child. A child who is hungry will struggle to avoid unwholesome foods. If he’s been eating a high-glycemic diet, this is nearly impossible—his body is accustomed to the sugar rollercoaster. One of the first things Dr. Ludwig teaches children is to choose “real foods” instead of “fake foods.” A simple way to explain this is by pointing out the nutritional differences between an apple and something that comes from a vending machine. Dr. Ludwig has noticed that most children are interested in the way their bodies work and are able to notice the difference after a few weeks on the program.
The second area of conflict for the child is with the family. This is why Dr. Ludwig explains to parents the importance of protecting the home environment. First, unhealthy foods have to be removed to avoid constant temptation and struggles. Then everyone in the family must adopt the healthy lifestyle he advocates for kids. Finally, negative behavioral patterns between kids and their parents or siblings—sometimes well-meaning (such as pressuring a child to eat new foods), other times unsupportive (such as teasing a sister for being overweight)—need to be addressed.
The third area of contention is the external environment. Between unhealthy food choices in the school, media bombardment by fast food restaurants, and portion sizes that would have been termed gluttonous a generation ago, there’s a lot that children and their families have to contend with. Dr. Ludwig is passionate about bringing this message to the forefront of people’s minds.
It Only Takes 9 Weeks
The obesity epidemic is a serious threat to future generations, not to mention our already struggling health care system. Nowadays, pediatricians are treating children with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, asthma, and orthopedic problems, such as increased stress on joints, directly related to obesity. Overweight children often suffer from emotional and psychological issues, too, including lower self-esteem, bullying, and the inability to enjoy life.
But there is something we can all do about it! Follow Dr. Ludwig’s Nine-Week Plan and help your children and family get back on track. Or share his book with someone who could use the help. For nine weeks, you address a different area, including 1) stocking your home; 2) preparing breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts; 3) dealing with hunger, and eating out; and 4) increasing your activity level. Finally, there’s a week for celebration. Using the Preparation and Food Diary sections, you can monitor your family’s progress as they adopt a healthy lifestyle.
I highly recommend Ending the Food Fight and I hope you’ll join me in doing what we can to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. It’s preventative medicine at its best!
Learn More — Additional Resources
- Ending the Food Fight: Guide Your Child to a Healthy Weight in a Fast Food/Fake Food World by David Ludwig, M.D.
- Ludwig, D. 2007 Ending the Food Fight, Houghton Mifflin: New York.