The developed world is currently struggling with an obesity epidemic, responsible for higher rates of death and various diseases and conditions (including diabetes and heart disease). The percent of U.S. adults over the age of 19 who are overweight is now 73.6 percent, with 42.5 percent of adults being formally classified as obese – and the statistics for children and adolescents aren’t much better.
Various nutrition and health experts have pointed the finger at different culprits over the years, with many people blaming sugar intake for the rise in obesity. But is sugar completely to blame for the obesity epidemic? And if so, what can we do about it?
The Problems With Sugar
Essentially, the problems with sugar
- A source of excess calories. First and foremost, sugar is a source of excess calories – and often, those calories are empty. Sugar is a type of simple carbohydrate that comes in a few different forms, including glucose and fructose, but it always carries 4 calories per gram. It’s found naturally in a variety of foods, including those we find nutritious and part of a “healthy diet,” like apples and other fruits. However, it’s also frequently added to processed foods, especially desserts, making them richer and more caloric. When human beings consume more calories than they expend in the course of a day, they store the extra energy in the form of fat. Put simply, sugar is a rich source of calories, so eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain.
- Good taste. Adding to the complexity of the situation is sugar’s delicious taste. Humans evolved to favor sweet foods, like fruits, because they’re both rare and nutritious in the wild. But these days, sugar is plentiful – and it still tastes just as delicious. People love eating sugar, feeling a release of dopamine and other “feel-good chemicals” whenever they do it, so much so that some experts believe it’s possible to be addicted to sugar. If you have a bad habit of eating high-calorie, sugary foods, this quality of sugar can make the problem worse.
- High prevalence. Sugar has the potential to make a person overweight, sure, but can it really be blamed for an entire culture of overweight people? The answer is partially yes, if for no other reason than its high prevalence. Food producers all over the world pack sugar into their foods whenever possible – especially a certain type of sugar called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which functions as a preservative in addition to its sweetening effect. This makes sugar hard to avoid – and adds calories to otherwise perfectly good food choices.
- High glycemic index. It’s also worth noting that sugar metabolizes in the body differently than other carbohydrates and other nutrients. It carries a high glycemic index (GI), meaning it processes very quickly, releasing into the bloodstream at a fast rate. However, it should be noted that the evidence that sugar has a direct impact on obesity rates independent of its caloric content is difficult for experts to parse. In other words, we’re not sure whether sugar’s fast processing in the body makes its calories have a different impact on the body than comparable qualities from a lower-GI food.
How to Handle the Sugar Problem
So what can we do to handle the sugar problem?
Everything starts with us being more educated consumers. We need to pay careful attention to the labels of the food products we buy, and understand that added sugar can have a negative impact on our health.
We can also work on utilizing sweeteners and preservatives other than sugar. These days, thanks to the progress made by food scientists, we have access to a wide range of both natural and artificial sweeteners that give us the same great taste and culinary function of sugar – but without the high calories and high glycemic index.
Other Variables to Consider
Of course, it’s hard to blame sugar exclusively for the obesity epidemic. We also have to consider:
- Total calorie consumption. High-calorie diets, regardless of the specific foods eaten, will lead to obesity. Big portion sizes and mindless snacking are partially to blame for the epidemic.
- Trans fatty acids (TFAs). Some experts have pointed the finger at TFAs, fatty compounds that are prevalent in fast foods and fried foods.
- Sedentary lifestyle. We also need to consider the lack of physical exercise the average person gets on an average day. With desk jobs and minimal time in recreational activities, we burn fewer calories.
Sugar isn’t the only factor responsible for the high rates of obesity in the developed world, but it’s definitely a contributor. Collectively, we need to take the impact of sugar seriously and work to lessen its impact on our weight and health.
How to Help Your Child if You Think They Might Have Autism
Do you suspect your child might have autism, but you’re not sure? While only a professional diagnosis can tell you for sure, there are many ways you can support your child while you get a diagnosis and create a plan.
Here are some of the best ways to support a child you think might have autism.
- Try a variety of therapies
While you’re in the process of getting a formal diagnosis, start trying different therapies with your child to see if anything resonates with your child. Every child with autism is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. There are several types of therapy you can try that are low-cost or free, including play therapy, speech therapy, floortime, ABA therapy, and more.
Although your child will need a formal Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis to get ABA therapy, it’s worth noting that once you have a diagnosis, you can get in-home therapy, which will make things easier on you and your child. Organizations like Golden Care Therapy in New Jersey will send an ABA therapist to your home to work with your child in their own environment. Getting in-home therapy will reduce the stress your child may feel from being in a new and unfamiliar place.
The more therapies you try, the better chance you have of getting a head start in supporting your child, whether or not they get diagnosed with autism.
- Get your child some sensory toys
Kids with autism need to stim, which is just a fancy way of saying they need something to stimulate their senses in a way that allows them to mitigate and disburse the sensory overload they’re feeling. Without toys, kids will find ways to stim using just their bodies and their surroundings, but toys can be extremely helpful and less damaging depending on your child.
Every child is different, so it might take a bit to find toys they like. However, you can find some excellent suggestions from The Aspie World on YouTube. Some toys spin, squish, make noise, or are a series of magnets that can be reshaped. If your child is already fixated on certain types of toys, try to find something that matches their existing interest. For example, if they like soft textures, find some plush toys with a velvety-smooth texture. Try all types of toys to see if they help your child.
- Seek a professional diagnosis
Getting a professional diagnosis is the best way you can support your child when you think they might have autism. Once you have a diagnosis, that opens the door to getting services that will help them immensely. Not just while they’re young, but it will help them in their adult life, too. For example, if your child moves out on their own, and they struggle with self-care and household chores, they’ll need a professional diagnosis to get in-home services from the state.
A professional diagnosis will tell you if your child is on the autism spectrum, or if they have a different disorder. Depending on the therapist you choose, they’ll likely be able to diagnose your child with any relevant comorbidities, which are common with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
- Learn about autism
Next to getting your child professionally diagnosed, learning about autism will help you support your child in many ways. There are many misconceptions about autism that can make it hard to spot the signs of autism. One of the best people to learn from is Tony Attwood. He’s considered the leading expert on Autism Spectrum Disorder and is extremely knowledgeable.
One of the most important things you can learn from Attwood is how to spot Autism in girls. For various reasons, it’s harder to spot autism in girls and some girls don’t get diagnosed until they’re in their 40s. Attwood gave an excellent talk about Asperger’s in girls back in 2015, and you’ll learn a lot from this speech.
Although Attwood’s speech focuses on Asperger’s, it is part of the autism spectrum. As a diagnosis, Asperger’s has been officially merged into the diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
Support your child in every way you can
When you suspect your child might have autism, it’s important to support them in every way possible. While you’re seeking a professional diagnosis, start trying simple solutions, like play therapy and toys for stimming. See how they respond. Once you get a diagnosis, your child’s therapist will suggest next steps to help your child long-term.
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