'Super-Sizing' America's Kids

Obesity, young obese man
AP / CBS
Our sodas and fries aren't the only things being super-sized these days: children are too.

Childhood obesity has become a national health problem. And, obesity expert Kelly Brownell believes that at least some of the blame rests with the food industry itself.

He writes about it in his new book, "Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America's Obesity Crisis, and What We Can Do About It."

Brownell visited The Early Show on Thursday to discuss the problem of childhood obesity.

Brownell is concerned with the problem of obesity as it affects everyone in the country, but he believes Americans need to focus on the problems of childhood obesity. He says preventing obesity in childhood and protecting children from the "bad food environment" should be the nation's priority.

Brownell says because there is so much bias and discrimination against overweight people in the United States, this high-risk group of people has been neglected until recently.

Brownell maintains that personal responsibility for obesity only goes so far. He says you can implore people to eat better and lose weight, but it's not a solution to the problem.

The author believes America is a "toxic environment," which is partly responsible for the bulge in children. He explains food is everywhere. Brownell points to snack and soda machines installed in schools, drive-in windows, gas stations and drug stores as part of the problem.

Children are also bombarded by food advertisements — causing parents to have less influence on their kids, according to Brownell.

Brownell says genetics are also important in determining a child's tendency toward obesity. He explains most are "able" to gain weight, and in a really bad food environment that genetic predisposition will cause people to do so.

To help find a solution to the obesity problem, Brownell suggests schools serve healthy and correct portions of food to children. Also, he recommends regulations on unhealthy food advertisements aimed at kids.

Read an excerpt from "Food Fight":

Big Food, Big Money, Big People

It came quickly, with little fanfare, and was out of control before the nation noticed. Obesity, diabetes, and other diseases caused by poor diet and sedentary lifestyle now affect the health, happiness, and vitality of millions of men, women, and, most tragically, children and pose a major threat to the health care resources of the United States. Most alarming has been the national inaction in the face of crisis, the near-total surrender to a powerful food industry, and the lack of innovation in preventing further havoc.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) labels the obesity problem an "epidemic." Within the United States, 64.5 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, with the number growing. For many reasons, some obvious and some not, the increase in overweight children is twice that seen in adults.

Other nations are in hot pursuit. Country after country follows the American lead and grows heavier. Over consumption has replaced malnutrition as the world's top food problem. From Banff to Buenos Aires, from Siberia to, the world need only look to America to see its future. There are now clinics for obese children in Beijing.

Similar to a new virus without natural enemies, our lifestyle of abundant food inactivity faces little opposition. Quite the contrary, powerful forces push it forward, spreading the problem to all segments of the population. These forces are woven so tightly into our social systems (economics, health care system, even education) that change seems almost beyond imagination. Despite talk of an obesity crisis, government reports , and Presidents pushing exercise, obesity is increasing in all races, ages, income groups, and areas of the world.

The picture with children is sad. Projecting ahead to their adult years, today's children face a life of serious health problems and severely impaired quality of life. Children are targeted in relentless way by the food companies. Institutions such as schools that would like to protect children instead must sell soft drinks and snack foods to function.

While writing this chapter, one of us (KB) visited his brother, wife, and three-year-old niece. This girl, the daughter of educated, successful, health-conscious parents, ran by, so a quick interview was conducted.

"What's your favorite breakfast?"
"I like Buzz Lightyear" was her reply.
"Where do you like to go out to eat?"
"I like to go everywhere," she said.
"What's your most favorite place of all?"
"McDonald's," she answered.

It is easy to blame parents, but they face off every day with an environment that grabs their children and won't let go. Children and the parents who raise them do not get what they deserve – conditions that support healthy eating and physical activity. The environment wins in most cases, and we had an epidemic to show for it.

By any definition, we face an emergency.

The reasons for this growing problem are simple and complex at the same time. People eat too much and exercise too little, but this easy truth masks a fascinating dance of genetics with modern lifestyle. Economics, breakthroughs in technology, how our nation thinks about food, and, of course, the powerful and sophisticated food industry, are all actors in this tragic play. Our environment is textured with risk. It intersects with genes in a way that makes an obese population a predictable consequence of modern life.

Some individuals have the biological fortune or the skills to resist this risk, leading to arguments that weight control is a matter of personal responsibility. Choices people make are important, but the nation has played the willpower and restraint cards for years and finds itself truped again and again by an environment that overwhelms the resources of most people.

The cost of inaction will multiply human suffering, place our nation at a strategic disadvantage, and have massive impact on health care costs.

The foregoing is an excerpt from "Food Fight," by Kelly Brownell. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from McGraw-Hill.