Jane Tabachnick interviews Dr. Glenn B. Gero, N.D., M.Sc., a licensed and board-certified doctor of naturopathic medicine, as well as a doctor of science in nutrition. Dr. Gero is the founder of the Holistic Naturopathic Center, in Clifton, N.J.
Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic. One out of three American children suffers from obesity, a frightening number that has more than doubled in the past decade. A significant portion of Dr. Gero’s practice is dedicated to working with children to provide optimal states of well-being.
JT: It’s Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. A lot of people believe that the solution to childhood obesity is just to eat less. What are your thoughts on this perception?
GG: Well that’s not necessarily a factor, because there are a lot of issues that are responsible for the inability to lose weight. One of these things are food sensitivities, and those have to be addressed. Another is insulin resistance which a lot of kids, even though they may be teenagers or even younger, they often times become insulin resistant. They’ve been infused with so many carbohydrates, the body becomes resistant to the insulin which makes it much more difficult for them to lose weight just by eating less.
So, we have to look at each individual in terms of, what are the specific issues? Are they eating too much? Are they moving too little? Are they eating the wrong types of food? Are they sensitive to the foods that they are eating? Or do they actually have a medical issue that needs more aggressive treatment?
As somebody that is looking specifically at physiological problems that are inhibiting factors for possibly allowing them to lose weight, so it’s so very very personalized. I can’t give you a single bullet that’s going to enable all children to lose weight, because each child has an individual issue that is one of the inhibiting factors.
In many cases it’s because parents give their kids too many snacks, because snacks, sweets and desserts, are used as a reward and as a punishment. It’s used as a reward to make them do the right things, and it’s used as a punishment to reward what they have been doing improperly. And they say “you know what, if you behave yourself today I will give you, or will take you out for ice cream”. So the child will be good long enough to get his ice cream and that will reinforce the bad behavior, so they’ll do it again, knowing that they’re getting rewards when they can actually reverse their behavior for five minutes.
JT: So it’s really not that simple a situation.
GG: I wish it was, if it was that simple people wouldn’t need somebody like me.
JT: Is it really possible for an overweight child to lose weight on its own?
GG: I did, I woke up when I was twelve years old. I was fat at twelve and I overheard two women speaking and one woman said to another, look how fat that boy is. The next year I broke the school record in the sixty-yard dash. There was no help from my parents, and that was the start, I could kiss those women. They changed my life because, that woke me up. And nobody ever said I was fat since and that was fifty-five years ago.
I did that on my own without anybody else’s encouragement. In fact, there was more discouragement for my change of lifestyle, than there was encouragement. So I was strong enough to be able to set my own standards and my own goals at the age of twelve.
Now, every child is different, so we have to be able to assess what is the child’s threshold? What are they willing to do? What is their support system? How involved are they with their support structure? Their parents, their friends, their relatives; all of the people around them. We have to look at a number of different factors, and many kids have food sensitivities, and these sensitivities actually are some of the factors that can cause this inhibition to proper metabolism.
Many of these kids are playing video games, they’re not going out. I have problems with some of the more astute children, who want to go out and play basketball or do active sports, and their problem is they can’t find friends that are willing to go outside of their house, because you can’t play video games outside of your house. There is more evidence of children not doing outside activities, because there are too many indoor distractions. Too many electronic gadgets where they don’t even have to engage with any other children on the outside. When I was a child back in the fifties and sixties, we all used to go across the street and play ball, and do active sports; today you never see that. So it is lots of factors that are actually causing these problems, and there is more of an obesity problem today than ever before.
JT: You mentioned food sensitivities and individual issues, can you give me an example of how a Naturopathic doctor such as yourself can assist an overweight child to get more healthy and lose the excess weight?
GG: There’s no conventional medicine that’s going to help people lose weight. Can I help people? Absolutely. Have I helped individuals? I had a twelve-year-old boy who came to see me with his mom, obviously. He came to me, he was at the time 4 ft 10 in, 160 pounds, which is much, much too heavy. Over the course of a year, he went from 4 ft 10 in to about 5 ft 1 in and he dropped his weight from 160 pounds down to 120.
JT: Impressive. That is a big accomplishment.
GG: Because he wanted to. So what we did was, we addressed his food sensitivities. We looked at foods that he was most sensitive to. And he had such a craving for bread, and cake and pastas. And so we eliminated all of the gluten containing foods of which he was sensitive to. We streamlined his diet so that he would have more fruits and vegetables- less sweets, less high caloric meals, more nutrient dense meals. We gave him some simple nutrients, some simple supplements, not many, but you know some simple whole food supplements.