Winning the War at Home
He says there's a very good biological reason why it's so hard to get kids to eat their vegetables. In fact, they are hardwired to not like them. Dr. Oz says when our prehistoric ancestors searched for food, their children were most susceptible to poisons, which often taste bitter. So instead of liking something bitter—like broccoli—children tend to crave sweet and bland foods like dairy or chicken nuggets.
Children also have a biological reason not to like certain foods. Flavorful fruits and veggies may actually taste differently to kids than they do to adults. "An older adult has 3,000 taste buds," Dr. Oz says. "A kid has 10,000."
Dr. Oz says we run into problems when we don't allow our taste buds to mature. "That's the big challenge we have in America—we've infantilized our taste buds. When a 3-year-old wants hot dogs, a burger, fries, a shake, cola, that's not abnormal. When a 30-year-old wants those foods, we're in trouble."
This natural craving for fatty blandness and sweetness is part of why there are so many "white kids" in America, Dr. Oz says. "You know what a 'white kid' is? It's not the skin color, it's kids that only eat white—white flour, white bread, white rice, white sugar," Dr. Oz says. "They only eat white foods, because white foods are seen as being safe to them visually, emotionally, from a taste perspective."
Lisa is a Pilates instructor who works out five days a week, and her husband Randy is a fitness fanatic. But their three young boys spend their days planted on the couch watching television and gorging on junk food—candy, chips and fatty foods.
Cody, who is 10, hides sugary treats all over the house. At 130 pounds, he has double the body fat that he should. Justin, who is 8, eats 3,000 calories a day and weighs as much as a 14-year-old. Joshua, only 6 years old, can barely climb the stairs without getting out of breath.
The results are shocking. All three boys are well overweight, and the tests reveal that Joshua could weigh close to 400 pounds by the time he is middle-aged.
"I don't have any words to describe it," Randy says. "It's hard."
"It's a rude awakening," Lisa says. "An awakening that we need."
"As you get older, the fat comes alive," he says. "It becomes a hormone secreting gland. They get acne because they're getting feminized, because those hormones are estrogen. [Boys] grow breasts, which hurts your self-esteem and scars you your whole life. And as you get older, you begin to develop fat around your jowls. Now you can't sleep at night because you've got sleep apnea, which is like having a bunch of rear-end collisions all day long."
That's not where it stops. Dr. Oz says an enlarged omentum squeezes the kidneys, leading to high blood pressure. It poisons the liver and leads to more bad LDL cholesterol. And it blocks insulin, which leads to diabetes. "The next generation will be the first that we know of in our recorded history that will have a shorter life expectancy than its parents," Dr. Oz says. "The major driver of that is the obesity that's causing diabetes. Almost a fifth of the kids in the country today are overweight. Thirty-five percent of the kids that are born in this decade will be diabetics. If you're black—40 percent of the kids. And if you're Latino, half the kids."
While the new lifestyle didn't go over well at first, the boys eventually warmed to it. After 10 months with healthy living the Humphries family isn't turning back. "When I saw the morph, I'm like, 'I don't want to look like that when I grow up. So I'm going to start eating this,'" Cody says. "It's simple."
"I just felt like I was losing the battle constantly, on a daily basis, just like many Americans are today. I just felt helpless, I needed to be empowered," Lisa says. "I want to encourage people by telling them they're not the only ones. There are people out there to help. Just fight the fight and never give up."
Photo: Digital Vision/Thinkstock
If you're having trouble jump-starting your family's health, Dr. Oz has five strategies to help.
Step 1—Keep Nothing Off-Limits
"I know that sounds crazy, but it turns out when you make foods off-limits, you create a cult around them and the kids just want to get to them. And they're smart—they'll find it," Dr. Oz says.
The time to make decisions about food isn't when you lock cabinet doors, he says. It's when you're in the supermarket. "Don't even bring the stuff into the house," he says.
When kids have sugary cereals, doughnuts and soda for breakfast, Dr. Oz says they start the day on a sugar high. "They show up in class, and teachers complain about this all the time, the kids can't be controlled for the first hour. And then they bottom out when their insulin goes up and now they can't pay attention ... until lunchtime," he says. "Their whole day is like this."
Instead of allowing this sugar blast in the morning, make sure your kids get about half their fiber intake—about 7 to 10 grams—from their breakfast. Fiber is found in abundance in healthy foods like steel-cut oatmeal and fruit. If your kids refuse to eat those things right away, Dr. Oz recommends sprinkling the fiber—psyllium husks, for example—in their food.
"Find things that your kids resonate to and use those tools," he says.
This is especially difficult, Dr. Oz says, because many parents want meals to be easy. But giving up on healthy food is a big mistake. "It will take you, on average, 10 times of exposing a kid to a food before they'll finally say, 'You know what? I sort of like that.'"
One way to break through that barrier is by using good peer pressure. Dr. Oz says he used his oldest daughter, Daphne, to influence the younger ones. "Once I got her to eat right, then the other ones [followed] because they think the oldest child's cool," he says.
Dr. Oz says you don't even need to rely on other sons and daughters—any peer your kid knows can help. "You get one child who's willing to be smart about the way they eat," he says. "It can be in your play group, your school, whatever, just get one kid—one ally—and you'll bust through the defense."
Dr. Oz says healthy families are ones who incorporate physical activity into their family life. One way to do this is by getting a dog and walking it together. In the Oz household, the family works up a sweat playing Dance Dance Revolution, an interactive video game that makes players move their feet to the beat. "It's a cool little game," he says.
You can also take family walks. "If you're putting 500 more steps [or about a quarter-mile] into your life every single day, that's a lot of extra calories you'll get rid of," Dr. Oz says. "That's the kind of health-promoting habit you'll take into adulthood."
One thing you should be sure not to do is to hit the couch right after meals. "You'll actually change your metabolism," Dr. Oz says. "Those are the kinds of moves that will change America's health."
If you eat while watching television, not only are you more likely to spill food on your shirt, you're also more likely to gain weight. Dr. Oz says people consume approximately 225 more calories a day when they eat absentmindedly in front of the TV.
In just one month, that adds up to two pounds!
"Food is precious," Dr. Oz says. "Food is a drug in your body. Take advantage of your power to decide what you want."