New line of supplements developed for overweight children

During the summer, thousands of over-sized kids attend summer camp—“fat camps” as they are somewhat derisively called—in hopes of losing weight that has been otherwise difficult to shed. During summer camp, they exercise, learn about nutrition and eat meals with portions that many would consider a light snack.

It’s part of a reaction to a crisis both perceived and real. Young people, more than ever, are feeling the pressure to look trim and fit. But it’s not just body-image issues that drive this trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. And obesity, the CDC says, is clearly tied to numerous health problems such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and many others. The problem doesn’t just stop with overweight children, though. Lifelong eating habits are established in childhood, according to the CDC. The result is that the U.S. is in a population-wide obesity crisis.

The experts are at odds with each other over some aspects of weight control. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture released their new food pyramid in April, many critics cheered that, at last, better guidance was being given to consumers about making healthy food choices. Yet, even the new pyramid, which makes more recommendations about quantities of food, exercise, and allows for individual differences—among other things—has also been criticized as insufficient.

“It’s clear that we need to rebuild the pyramid from the ground up,” said Walter Willett of Harvard, “not just tip it on its side and dress it up with new colors.”

Despite debate about specific guidelines for nutrition, most agree, losing weight is primarily about nutrition and adequate exercise. For children specifically, however, “the most successful obesity treatments involve the cooperation of the entire family,” said Dr. Henry Anhalt, director of the division of pediatric endocrinology and diabetes at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey. “It involves a total lifestyle change.”

Anhalt and his colleagues have been working on obesity solutions for children for years. And although his approach to weight control is multi-faceted, he said, “obesity is a matter of nutrition, not willpower.”

According to published research by Anhalt and others, obese children lack important nutrients compared with regular-weight children. These include vitamins D, E, B-12, and folic acid, among others. These findings have raised concerns about not only the health of obese children, but also their ability to lose weight.

A child who is not healthy, according to Anhalt—one who is not fully energetic and vital—cannot exercise sufficiently to burn calories. Overweight children, he said, need more than smaller food portions. They need specific nutritional intervention.

To address this problem, Anhalt and his colleagues developed a line of supplements, called EssentiaLean, designed to provide the nutrients missing in overweight children. They are also on a mission to provide other research-based resources to parents and others to help families bring about lasting lifestyle change that will solve the obesity dilemma.

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From the Jan. 11-17, 2006, issue

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