The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has tripled since the 1970s. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6 – 19) has obesity.
As a Gastroenterologist, I pay close attention to health trends, and this trend scares me the most. Our children, who should be the future of our world are getting heavier and sicker at alarmingly young ages.
We know enough in this country to teach why this is happening, yet we as a country continue to fool our citizens and allow the food industry and pharmaceutical industry to dominate. We continue to allow these industries to make money hand over fist while our future is at stake.
In this article, I’ll explain why this is happening in our younger population more than ever before, and I’ll make a case for why it’s so important to get to the root cause of this issue as soon as possible.
I have been personally assessing and treating digestive issues in adult patients for almost 15 years. My clinic, Dr. Liz Cruz Partners in Digestive Health, has a registry of over 17,000 patients. So I’ve learned a lot about how to help people suffering in silence with serious digestive issues.
My passion doesn’t stop there, however. I want to see my patients well – not just their digestive systems but all of their bodily systems. This includes having a healthy base weight. Many of my patients have children or grandchildren suffering from the same medical and weight issues that they are experiencing. My passion is for kids, and my team and I have been able to help more families with more kids than I can count.
The aim of this article is to give you an in-depth knowledge of the connection between the obesity epidemic in children and having a leaky gut. And to give you hope that there is a proven and natural way to help your child find their healthy base weight, even if nothing has worked until now.
If you don’t have time to read this article and just want to reach out to us for help, then you can get in contact by completing this short form.
#1 I asked myself, “Why aren’t they getting well?!”
I have been a Gastroenterologist since 2003 and have owned my practice since 2007. I have taken care of thousands of patients, many of whom suffer from a myriad of digestive issues such as reflux, heartburn, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. In addition to other medical issues which many times include being overweight.
As a physician, I have striven to be an advocate for my patients by listening carefully to get to the root of every issue. I am extremely thorough with my workups, and I couldn’t help but notice a disturbing trend: most of the time, my patients’ tests were coming back negative.
This dead end made it difficult to figure out what was wrong with them.
I was putting my patients on medications, only for them to come back and say they weren’t feeling any better. I was also seeing younger patients with the same digestive issues that I usually see in older patients. I was perplexed. I was upset. I like to help people get better; it’s why I became a doctor in the first place.
I went on a search for answers.
For the next three years, I studied everything I could get my hands on related to digestive health, healing, weight loss, diet, detoxification, and the inadequacies of the modern healthcare system. (Sadly, these areas get little to no focus in medical school where the pharmaceutical approach to care dominates.) What I discovered during this time was a giant wake up call for me.
Of course, I continue to practice per the standard of care as a gastroenterologist by running tests and doing procedures on patients. Based on what I learned, l realized l was missing a critical piece of the puzzle in the care I was providing. So, in 2010, I began to offer wellness education and services, too. I also started to write about my unique approach to digestive health so that I could reach as many people as possible with this important message.
#2 Our little ones shouldn’t have to suffer
It breaks my heart to hear when a child is suffering from obesity and it breaks my heart to hear when a child is so disease-struck that they are already taking a myriad of prescription and non-prescription medications. This should not be happening.
The big problem with obesity is that it is ongoing and only seems to get worse as the years pass. The child feels or sees no relief in sight. This is not only hard on their physical body but also on their emotional and mental capacities. The bottom line is, living with obesity is not living at all.
Parents who watch their children suffer from obesity feel helpless and fully obligated to find the cause. They try every diet, every eating plan, every exercise regimen only for the child to see little movement in the right direction.
This whole experience can be very frustrating for the parent much less the child who is suffering. It’s hard for a parent to watch their child suffer from no end in sight and no explanation on how to fix it.
They fear no one will understand what they are going through.
But I understand!
Here are some of the things parents and children have confided in me:
“My son has a hard time participating in school activities because of his weight.”
“My daughter gets made fun of all the time because of her weight.”
“My son has tried everything to lose weight, and nothing seems to work.”
“My daughter looks to food when she is depressed, and because she is overweight, she is depressed all the time.”
“My grandson is so overweight he already has diabetes and is on the verge of having heart issues.”
“My granddaughter has so many problems with food, something she starves herself thinking that will help.”
But the most troubling and common complaint of all?
“I can’t figure out how to fix my overweight child – nothing we have tried has worked.”
This has to be so frustrating for everyone involved. Not being able to pinpoint the true cause so it can be fixed and the child and the family can get their lives back.
#3 How Obesity “disintegrates” the health of our youth
Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Body mass index, or BMI, is a widely used screening tool for measuring both overweight and obesity.
BMI percentile is preferred for measuring children and young adults (ages 2–20) because it takes into account that they are still growing, and growing at different rates depending on their age and sex. Health professionals use growth charts to see whether a child’s weight falls within a healthy range for the child’s height, age, and sex.
Children with a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile are considered overweight. Children at or above the 95th percentile have obesity.
Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term impacts on physical, social, and emotional health. For example:
Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health. They may succumb to asthma, sleep apnea, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, (both risk factors for heart disease), early puberty, orthopedic problems such as bone and joint issues, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (fatty infiltration and inflammation of the liver).
Children with obesity are bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers and are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, poor body image, behavior and learning problems, the risk of eating disorders, and lower self-esteem.
In the long term, childhood obesity also is associated with having obesity as an adult, which is linked to serious conditions and diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and several types of cancer.
Some data show that children with obesity miss more days of school compared to students with normal weights. Missed days of school, whether due to illness or to avoid weight-based bullying, can make it hard to keep up academically.
#4 Is this your child?
Families end up working with me because they have tried everything else, and many of them are one doctor away from giving up.
Working with me is most times their last-ditch effort to fix their child’s problem.
Many of my patients come to me frustrated and angry with the options they’ve been given for treating their child’s weight problem.
They’ve tried everything, and still, the child cannot seem to lose a decent amount of weight.
#5 The standard contributors to childhood obesity
Here is a list of the standard contributors to childhood obesity. You’ve probably heard these before many times:
Food Choices – diets higher in calories (including fats and simple sugars) and lower in fruits and vegetables are linked with overweight.
Physical Activity vs. Sedentary Activity – less physical activity and more time spent participating in activities such as watching TV results in less energy expenditure.
Parental Obesity – children of obese parents are more likely to be overweight themselves. There is an inherited component to childhood overweight that makes it easier for some children to become overweight than others. There are some single gene mutations (“genetic alterations”) that are capable of causing severe childhood overweight, though these are rare. Even children with genetic risk for overweight will still only become overweight if they consume more calories than they use. Parental obesity may also reflect a family environment that promotes excess eating and insufficient activity.
Eating Patterns – skipping meals or failure to maintain a regular eating schedule can result in increased intakes when food is eaten.
Parenting Style – some researchers believe that excess parental control over children’s eating might lead to poor self-regulation of kid’s energy intake.
Diabetes During Pregnancy – overweight and type 2 diabetes occur with greater frequency in the offspring of diabetic mothers (who are also more likely to be obese).
Low Birth Weight – Low birth weight (<2500 g) is a risk factor for overweight in several epidemiological studies.
Excessive Weight Gain During Pregnancy – Several studies have shown that excessive maternal weight gain during pregnancy is associated with increased birth weight and overweight later in life.
Formula Feeding – Breast feeding is recommended over formula feeding. Although the exact mechanism in unknown, several long-term studies suggest that breast feeding may prevent excess weight gain as children grow.
Parental Eating and Physical Activity Habits – Parents with poor nutritional habits and who lead sedentary lifestyles role model these behaviors for their children, thereby creating an “obesigenic” home environment.
Demographic Factors – Certain demographic factors are associated with an increased risk of being overweight in childhood. For example, there is evidence that African-American and Hispanic children 6 to 11 years old are more likely to be overweight than are non-Hispanic white children of the same age. Asian and Pacific Islander children of the same age were slightly less likely to be overweight.
#6 The other factors less discussed
Although the above factors make a huge impact in which children suffer from obesity, there are a couple of other factors that are not taken into consideration when trying to help a child find their base weight. In essence, they are off-shoots of the above contributors of poor diet and the high use of antibiotics and other forms of prescription and non-prescription medication.
Eating a diet high in processed foods, fast foods and sugars and low on fresh fruits and vegetables will rob the body of essential nutrients to work properly. This, in turn, causes a very unhealthy environment in the body causing major issues with digestion and elimination in addition to an unhealthy immune system.
The mentality of being put on medicine the minute something goes wrong has also wreaked havoc on our children’s bodies. Hindering a healthy immune system and loading the body with toxic chemicals that are difficult to eliminate.
To understand this better you first need to understand how a normal healthy body functions so to understand what happens in an unhealthy body.
#7 What is normal?
When your child’s digestion system is working properly, the digested food (or chyme) will exit the stomach and move into the small intestine. There, it will get absorbed through the wall of the small intestine bringing to their body much-needed nutrients for building healthy cells.
Healthy cells make healthy tissue, and healthy tissue makes healthy organs. Then, guess what they will have? A healthy body.
Whatever the body doesn’t want then dumps into the large intestine (or colon). The colon is a muscle; its job is to squeeze as many nutrients and as much water as it can while creating a formed stool in the process.
A healthy functioning body should be properly digesting, absorbing, and eliminating food and drink daily. A healthy body should be having at least 2 to 3 bowel movements per day (preferably one after every meal).
The bowel movements should be firm, but soft and well-formed. A healthy body is free from all medical symptoms, has enough energy to get through the day (and then some), and free from aches and pains.
The bottom line: a healthy child with a healthy body does not experience any medical problems and does not have excess weight.
#8 How the medical system fails you
If your child presents with a medical problem, tests will be run. The next step in the “standard of care” is to put children on some form of medication to “solve” the problem. This “standard of care,” many times, is driven by pharmaceutical companies. Those companies have a lot of money at stake in selling their drugs.
Doctors are driven by research-based studies—double-blind, placebo studies that are supposed to prove or disprove a certain drug can do a job without hurting someone. Most of the drug companies have so much money that they can put together whatever kind of study they wish. What’s most troubling of all? They can pay for whatever outcome they’d like.
If a study says “it works,” doctors take it as gospel and begin prescribing the drug like candy. Some doctors are even paid to prescribe or promote a drug.
Many pharmaceutical companies invest big money into medical schools. They do this not because they want to contribute to the doctors in this country, but because they want to control what the doctors in this country are prescribing.
Our health—or should I say illness—in this country is all about the bottom line for big pharmaceutical companies!
Few medical schools are teaching the long-term side effects of the drugs doctors are being asked to prescribe. Few medical schools are also looking at the drug-to-drug interaction in patients’ bodies. And few medical schools are teaching how to treat the whole body.
Because no one would make any money teaching those things. No one makes any money if people are healthy!
Don’t misunderstand me, please. There are proper times to introduce pharmaceutical medicine. The idea of a child, however, taking medicines long-term to resolve medical issues is absurd. What will the effects be on that child’s health if they start taking these medicines at such a young age – I guarantee the outcome for them as an adult does not look good. We live in a society that demands medicine for illness instead of getting to the root cause.
Getting to the root cause of medical issues and obesity changes the whole game.
#9 Getting to the root cause of obesity
Before you can understand childhood obesity, you need to understand the amazing power the gut has to influence the health of the entire body.
And that starts by understanding what normal is: how your child’s digestion system should be working today if their gut hadn’t “sprung a leak.”
Our body starts by looking at our food and drink intake as fuel for our body. Every day our body is making new cells and getting rid of old cells. There are trillions of cells in our body all with specific functions. Brain cells have a different function from heart cells, which have a different function than skin cells.
Cells make up tissue, tissue makes up organs, and organs make up our body. This means that if your child has healthy cells, your child will have a healthy body; if your child has sick cells, your child will have a sick and in some cases an obese body.
The feeding and cleaning up of our cells on a daily basis is the primary function of the digestive system (our gut). When our gut is not working properly, it cannot only affect our digestive health but the health of our whole body.
Without this turning into a science lesson, let’s go a little deeper:
When you child eats food, it goes into their stomach as a solid. Obviously, they chew it, but they do not chew their food into a liquid. Their body cannot use food in a solid form. It must be broken down into a liquid (called chyme), so their body can benefit from it. This means when your child eats, their body has to go to work making things like enzymes, acid, and other gastric juices.
When their digestive system is working properly, the digested food (or chyme) will have enough enzymes, acid, and juices to break it down properly, so it can exit the stomach and move into the small intestine as a liquid. There, it will get absorbed through the wall of the small intestine, bringing to the body much-needed nutrients for building healthy cells.
Healthy cells make healthy tissue, and healthy tissue makes healthy organs. Then, guess what they have?
A healthy body.
In short: You are what you eat and digest.
Healthy clean food makes healthy clean cells, and in turn, healthy clean organs and a healthy clean body. On the flip-side, processed food and fast food makes toxic cells, toxic organs, and a toxic body. Having a toxic body makes it difficult for your body to do its job, which is to heal you!
Whatever the body doesn’t absorb in the small intestine, the body then dumps into the large intestine (or colon). The colon is a muscle filled with trillions of good healthy bacteria; its job is to squeeze as many nutrients and as much water as it can while creating a formed stool in the process.
A healthy functioning body should be digesting, absorbing, and eliminating food and drink daily. A healthy body should be having at least 2 to 3 bowel movements per day (preferably one after every meal). The bowel movements should be firm, but soft and well-formed. A healthy body is free from all medical symptoms, has a good base weight, has enough energy to get through the day (and then some), and is free from aches and pains.
The bottom line: The gut is ground zero for your overall health.
A healthy person with a healthy gut does not experience medical or weight problems. Without a healthy gut working properly without medicine, it is very difficult to have a healthy body.
#10 Why a leaky gut is at the root of obesity
It starts, as you might expect, with what our kids eat and drink. The Standard American Diet (SAD) starves them of actual nutrition, feeds them toxic levels of processed foods, and leaves their bodies overtaxed by chemicals and stress. This, in turn, has caused them to develop microscopic tears in their intestinal walls, leading to inflammation and a weakened immune system.
Over 70 percent of our immune system is in our gut, and when it isn’t functioning properly, our health naturally suffers. When our gut is healthy, the intestines are only slightly permeable (or “leaky”), allowing small quantities of water and nutrients to pass through the gut’s thin barrier and into the bloodstream.
As I’ve explained above, this is a normal and necessary part of digestion, and an essential step in nourishing the body to produce healthy, well-nourished cells. However, when the holes in the intestinal wall get too big, large molecules, such as gluten and casein (in addition to other foreign microbes) escape into the bloodstream and start to spread all over the body.
These larger items are treated by the body as dangerous “foreign bodies” that are not supposed to be in the bloodstream. The body reacts to this by causing systemic inflammation throughout. Toxins are stored in the tissue of the body, causing weight gain that is difficult to lose. Any organ in the body can be negatively affected when this happens.
#11 Why dieting and exercise are not the total answer
There is much misconception that dieting and exercise are the answer. If I just have my child eat less and exercise more, he will lose weight, and he will get healthy. However, there are many misguided ideas about a diet. A diet is temporary. A diet means limit yourself. Once the child “suffers through” the diet, it is an experience they never want to do again.
Plus it’s not about limiting the amount of food your child is eating. This is not a calories-in, calories-out solution. It has more to do with the quality of the food than the quantity of the food. And even if you completely shift what your child is eating and they begin eating whole foods, real foods, not processed food, fast food, sugar, preservatives, and chemicals, it’s still only half the battle.
You still have to deal with the toxicity that has built up in the body up to this point. Whole foods, healthy foods can only stop additional damage being done, it cannot on its own clean up the mess that’s already been made. And if your child truly does have a leaky gut, which they probably do, eating whole food, real food won’t do them as much good if their gut is not working properly.
And exercise, although extremely helpful for getting the body moving, again is not the total answer to a super toxic, overweight body with a leaky gut. There is so much more that needs to be done to clean out the body and repair it before it can be rebuilt again.
#12 The overlooked natural solution to obesity: Helping your child to achieve their personal “base weight”
Digestion is one of the most critical aspects of our health; it’s what feeds the body and eliminates toxins.
If your food is not broken down properly, many issues develop, including but not limited to:
Partially digested food moves into the small bowel causes malabsorption issues; this means that even if you’re eating the healthiest diet, your body is not benefiting from it. (This issue is also the culprit that causes leaky gut syndrome, resulting in various food allergies, obesity, malnourishment, and anemia.)
Lack of good digestion makes it difficult to eliminate toxins, chemicals, and preservatives from the body causing a toxic build-up in the tissue of the body leading to obesity and many other health related diseases.
Eating processed foods, fast foods, foods loaded with sugar, chemicals, and preservatives is nutritionally depleted and does not give the body what it needs to function properly on a day to day basis. Over time the body will gain weight and continue to get progressively unhealthier. This summarizes every issue discussed in this paper.
None of us wants to experience any of this – or have to witness our children going through it. Nor do we want to risk any of the long term effects that having these issues can have on their little bodies or their quality of life. When you seek out help, what are they usually given: medicine that only “cloaks” the problem or a diet regimen that is difficult to maintain. Medicines and diet programs don’t give their body a chance to heal, and they can make them even sicker.
Too many children in this country are suffering from obesity. I feel it’s my responsibility to educate parents and children alike about the real cause of their obesity. The solution is not masking the problem by offering medicines or diet programs that continue to promote unhealthy digestion and an unhealthy body. Taking dozens of supplements is also not the answer. That’s not how your body wants to get well.
The way to health is through clean eating while at the same time healing the gut which frees your child to start enjoying life again, without the black cloud of obesity following them around everywhere they go.
I’m pleased to tell you that there is another way. As we’ve talked about, in addition to a clean diet, your child needs to heal their gut. I’ve discovered that wellness cannot be found at the bottom of yet another medicine bottle.
#13 What’s possible with the right help
Clean eating and healing the gut is always a little different for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Various factors interplay together to help your child heal and lose the necessary weight. These include, but are not limited to, their level of enzyme intake, the function of their immune system, their food intake, how often they take antibiotics, their level of hydration, their stress level, their activity level, and the number of medicines they take. None of these factors alone is a “magic bullet,” yet in tandem, they can transform your child’s health for the better, absolutely naturally.
We work closely with you and your child to help repair and rebuild the gut so they can lose the weight naturally, and can come off medications with your doctor’s consent and supervision. We also show you and your child how to maintain their newfound health for the rest of their life, so medical problems and obesity can never again steal their right to enjoy their life without worry, stress, and pain.
Our goal is to help your child escape the clutches of obesity for good and free them from the shackles of any other medical issues you feel hold them back from living life to the fullest.
You need to know there is lots of hope if your child is suffering from medical issues and obesity. You now know it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. If you’re ready to help them take back control of their health, I hope you will reach out to us.