Monitoring Food Addiction in Children

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“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” This bit of wisdom is no truer than when it comes to obesity and children. Scientists have known for some time that a fat child tends to grow into a fat adult – along with all the consequences obesity brings. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and circulation problems can all result from being overweight long-term.

A controversial method of monitoring food intake in school children was the subject of a report on CNN. Scientists asked children (from 6 to 17 years old) to wear monitoring bracelets so their location and activity level could be tracked. The idea was to parse out what geographic factors might contribute to obesity. One obvious area of interest was whether a child was staying at home (perhaps in front of the TV or computer) or getting out and moving around.

This study took place in Montreal, but similar “activity monitors,” have been used in the US and sometimes aroused controversy. A school in Missouri was accused of “big brother” behavior when they used monitors to track the activity of children in physical education classes. The idea there was to check to make sure that children were participating properly and getting the benefits of exercise during the class.

Those familiar with wearable devices to check heart rate and calories burned (perhaps when jogging or using a treadmill) have probably seen these types of devices. They have been around since at least 1998, when studies showed they were accurate.

The controversy is whether remote monitoring (as when a child wears the monitor outside of the school environment) is an inappropriate intrusion or a necessary intervention in a healthcare situation. The answer is a matter of societal standards. As obesity moves ever more into the disease column and away from the personal weakness side, people (including doctors) are more willing to seek treatments. At this stage in the game, it is difficult to decide how much of the problem is genetic and how much stems more from poor habits or emotional need. The last of these, emotional need, is the driver for food as an addiction.

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