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Pizza: A Slice of Childhood Obesity

By Casey Thaler, B.A., NASM-CPT, FNS
January 30, 2015

When we think of health food, we aren’t thinking of pizza. And yet, a recent study confirmed that pizza is the second leading source of calories for America’s children.1 Every day, 20% of children eat pizza. That’s 1 in 5. Every day. Since pizza is very low in nutrients, and very high in empty calories, it should come as no surprise that pizza is a big contributor to childhood obesity.2 The only higher source of calories in children comes from grain desserts (cookies and similar sweets).3 Han, Joan C., Debbie A. Lawlor, and Sue Y.S. Kimm. “Childhood Obesity – 2010: Progress and Challenges.” Lancet 375.9727 (2010): 1737–1748. PMC. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Adults are often told to ‘lead by example’ when it comes to their children, so is it a safe bet that all of this pizza consumption is coming from adults? Well, 15% of men consume pizza on any given day, and 11% of women fall into the same trap.4 This is barely below the level of consumption for children. If we, as adults, make better choices, our kids are more likely to follow suit.5 Han, Joan C., Debbie A. Lawlor, and Sue Y.S. Kimm. “Childhood Obesity – 2010: Progress and Challenges.” Lancet 375.9727 (2010): 1737–1748. PMC. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

This sounds good on paper, but in reality I know many adults who are completely unhealthy – whether it’s with pizza, alcohol, or any number of other poor choices. The scientific literature backs this up as well.6 A poor diet is now killing more Americans than smoking.7 Think about that for a minute. High blood pressure alone kills almost half a million American per year.8 Having a high body mass index (BMI) kills over 300,000 people per year in the United States.9 Physical inactivity, high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar account for another 600,000 deaths per year.10 Pretty astounding.

When it comes to childhood health, cutting out the pizza is a surefire bet for improving the situation, but replacing these empty calories with nutrient dense ones is just as important.11 12 Instead of feeding them pizza, teach your children the important health value of a salad. This could consist of organic chicken, spinach and kale, or any other number of healthy ingredients. Instead of having slice after slice of pizza yourself, have a nice piece of wild caught salmon and a sweet potato.

The thing about children is they like to follow what the adults are doing.13 If you are healthier and take better care of yourself, they will be much more likely to be interested in health as well.14 And, since what we learn when growing up will likely stick with us forever, there is no better time than now to teach your children healthy habits. As the studies indicate, if you have a weight problem, your child is much more likely to, as well.15 16 "Maternal and Child Undernutrition and Overweight in Low-income and Middle-income Countries." The Lancet. N.p., 3 Aug. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Other factors that have been scientifically studied to influence children’s weight include: sedentary activity, lots of junk food around the house, using food as a reward, and no structured meal times.17 18 These may seem like minor things, but think of just how much they may be influencing your child’s health – possibly in an irreversible manner.19 You wouldn’t give your child a beer – don’t give them pizza either.

Show them that fun regular meal times can be filled with taste and nutrition. Paleo meals consisting of shrimp, vegetables and healthy carbs and fats will make their taste buds happy – as well as their bodies. Or you can fix them a nice omelet for breakfast, with some organic blueberries. The options for great tasting Paleo Diet foods are limitless. With a little imagination and a little bit of effort, your child can be the healthiest kid on the block. This isn’t just hyperbole. Remember that a healthy child is much more likely to grow into a healthy adult.20 Scheen, Andre J. "Combating the Dual Burden: Therapeutic Targeting of Common Pathways in Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes." The Lancet. N.p., Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

So the next time you are out with your friends, and they decide to serve their children pizza, be strong, resist, and give your kids a healthy meal instead. Lead by example. You may be surprised at the positive results a healthy Paleo Diet can have on your children’s health – as well as your own.


[1] Powell LM, Nguyen BT, Dietz WH. Energy and Nutrient Intake From Pizza in the United States. Pediatrics. 2015;

[2] Reedy J, Krebs-smith SM. Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(10):1477-84.

[3] Nicklas TA, Baranowski T, Cullen KW, Berenson G. Eating patterns, dietary quality and obesity. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001;20(6):599-608.

[4] Available at: // Accessed January 27, 2015.

[5] Available at: // Accessed January 27, 2015.

[6] Visscher TL, Rissanen A, Seidell JC, et al. Obesity and unhealthy life-years in adult Finns: an empirical approach. Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(13):1413-20.

[7] Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The State of US Health: Innovations, Insights, and Recommendations from the Global Burden of Disease Study. Seattle, WA: IHME, 2013.

[8] Gu Q, Burt VL, Paulose-ram R, Yoon S, Gillum RF. High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease mortality risk among U.S. adults: the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey mortality follow-up study. Ann Epidemiol. 2008;18(4):302-9.

[9] Whitlock G, Lewington S, Sherliker P, et al. Body-mass index and cause-specific mortality in 900 000 adults: collaborative analyses of 57 prospective studies. Lancet. 2009;373(9669):1083-96.

[10] Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The State of US Health: Innovations, Insights, and Recommendations from the Global Burden of Disease Study. Seattle, WA: IHME, 2013.

[11] Bryan J, Osendarp S, Hughes D, Calvaresi E, Baghurst K, Van klinken JW. Nutrients for cognitive development in school-aged children. Nutr Rev. 2004;62(8):295-306.

[12] Nyaradi A, Li J, Hickling S, Foster J, Oddy WH. The role of nutrition in children's neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:97.

[13] Meltzoff AN, Moore MK. Newborn infants imitate adult facial gestures. Child Dev. 1983;54(3):702-9.

[14] Available at: // Accessed January 27, 2015.

[15] Han JC, Lawlor DA, Kimm SY. Childhood obesity. Lancet. 2010;375(9727):1737-48.

[16] Walley AJ, Blakemore AI, Froguel P. Genetics of obesity and the prediction of risk for health. Hum Mol Genet. 2006;15 Spec No 2(suppl 2):R124-30.

[17] Chen JL, Kennedy C, Yeh CH, Kools S. Risk factors for childhood obesity in elementary school-age Taiwanese children. Prog Cardiovasc Nurs. 2005;20(3):96-103.

[18] Vos MB, Welsh J. Childhood obesity: update on predisposing factors and prevention strategies. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2010;12(4):280-7.

[19] Marabotti A, Facchiano A. When it comes to homology, bad habits die hard. Trends Biochem Sci. 2009;34(3):98-9.

[20] Available at: // Accessed January 27, 2015.

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