The News Story – Study: standing desks could help cut childhood obesity rates
With childhood obesity rates still soaring, researchers at Texas A&M believe they’ve hit on at least one potential solution: a new type of desk that requires children to stand in class.
The desks, reports CBS Philly, “are positioned higher than a regular desk and come equipped with a stool for when children want to sit.” In a study of 500 schoolchildren in the College Station, Texas, school district, researchers followed the students’ step counts and energy expenditure over a period of five days. The researchers reported that those students who used the standing desks burned an average of 15 calories per minute more than their peers at traditional desks. Obese children burned 25% more calories than peers at traditional desks. “The hope,” reports CBS, “is that standing desks could help to cut childhood obesity rates without impacting classroom learning.”
While standing desks and other such measures to get children more active are indeed laudable, other research suggests that they are a mere band-aid to more foundational issues.
The New Research – The untold story behind the childhood obesity epidemic
Few public-health issues have received more attention in recent years than that of childhood obesity. And because of the way childhood obesity predicts adult diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems, this attention is well warranted. However, a closer look at the matter reveals that the commentators bewailing the upsurge in childhood obesity have been keeping strangely quiet about an important backstory: namely, the role of maternal employment in incubating the problem.
The politically uncomfortable backstory does emerge, however, in a review of the relevant research published recently by public-health scholars at the University of Aberdeen, the University of Strathclyde, and the University of Glasgow. As the scholars analyze the latest studies in the United Kingdom and the United States on overweight and obese children, they recognize that certain patterns of home life appear to keep children in healthy weight ranges and that other patterns seem to push children toward dangerously excessive weight.
If public-health officials are trying to reverse the disturbing trends in child weight, perhaps they should join the Scottish scholars in looking very closely at a recent American study concluding that “the number of family meals eaten per week was inversely associated with overweight in the children up to age 7 years.” Evidently, the training table most likely to keep children at a healthy weight is the table where the entire family gathers at mealtime.
Of course, family meals become much harder to arrange as soon as Mom takes employment outside of the home. So it should hardly be surprising that the Scottish researchers uncover evidence from both the United States and the United Kingdom indicating that “the children of mothers who worked more hours per week were more likely to be overweight, particularly among mothers of higher socioeconomic status.”
Unfortunately, the pressures of political correctness have made it difficult to look at some truths squarely and honestly. It is therefore not entirely surprising that the Scottish researchers conclude their study by averting their eyes from the family patterns that put children at risk of being overweight while focusing on possibilities for “interventions on the food environment of young children” that would result in “reducing promotion of high-fat, high-sugar foods, making smaller portion sizes available and providing alternatives to sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”
In the current academic environment, it would take rare intellectual courage to challenge the cultural patterns that have taken mothers out of the home, sharply reducing the likelihood of healthy family meals while sharply increasing the likelihood of fat-laden fast-food meals.
(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, “New Research,” The Family in America, Summer 2013, Vol. 27 Number 3. Study: George Osei-Assibey et al., “The Influence of the Food Environment on Overweight and Obesity in Young Children: A Systematic Review,” BMJ Open 2.6 : e001538. Web.)