Obesity now affects one in five children in the United States, increasing by four times over the past 40 years. Childhood obesity has been characterized as the most serious and prevalent nutritional disorder in the nation, and young Americans face the prospect of being the first generation in our country not to outlive their parents. The damage from the epidemic exposure and addiction of children to sugar goes beyond the obvious impact of its empty calories.

More significantly, excess sugar creates an imbalance in the oral biofilm, the vital and protective bacteria in the mouth. This biofilm imbalance leads to gum disease and tooth decay which produces damaging inflammation throughout the body that, in fact, triggers fat storage and obesity. Research now shows that the oxidative damage from this inflammation "turns on" genes that cause fat storage and disease, and simultaneously "turns off" genes that reduce inflammation and health risk. This is also the reason why chronic diseases of adulthood, like diabetes and heart disease, are showing up in kids sometimes thirty years earlier than seen in the past. And according to a survey done by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay and gum disease in younger children is on the rise, with tooth decay increasing to 28 percent in children under five.

The good news is that there is a growing movement to save our kids from the ravages of disease caused by bad sugar-laden nutritional choices. One campaign that I particularly enjoy is WAT-AAH! (www.wat-aah.com), the first functional bottled water for kids that is making it genuinely cool for kids to switch away from the soda and other heavily sugared beverages that bombard the marketplace. With a new ad campaign launching this week and the cartoon logo of a hysterical screaming kid on the label shouting "drink wataah!," this company founded by New York City mom, Rose Cameron, has one simple, but significant mission: to convince kids that drinking 100 percent sugar-free, ultrapure water does not have to be boring!

I got to witness the "viral effect" of this product first-hand on the movie set of an NYU student film shot in the Hamptons this past weekend with about 20 middle school children. Directed by my son, Grant Curatola, and his Calavara production team, the plot of the short film, Death and the Blue Eyed Boy, was a dark comedy about a middle school boy who makes a bad choice in his first girlfriend "crush" (she is secretly evil). Ironically, the young filmmakers also made a great choice- to avoid having soda and sugared drinks in their meal and snack choices for everyone on the set, in addition to a "no smoking policy." Instead, there was plenty of WAT-AAH! and healthy choices available for the enthusiastic young crew, and the cast of mostly 11 to 13-year-olds. The result was a happy and well-hydrated group that avoided the sugar highs and lows that can be erratic and distracting to the work that everyone was engaged in.

Considering that the average American consumes between 150-170 pounds of simple or refined sugars a year, with adults eating 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, and teens devouring 34 teaspoons of sugar a day, it is encouraging to see conscious decisions being made to help change, what has been, a destructive diet to the health of all Americans. This is also some of the best evidence of real health care reform that will provide dividends that will go way beyond just bringing down the cost of health insurance. Promoting wellness by reducing childhood obesity is something that we can all really smile about!

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned aesthetic dentist and pioneer in the emerging field of rejuvenation dentistry, which improves patients' overall health and appearance by integrating total wellness with cutting edge oral care and restorative procedures. In addition to his private practice, research, and work as a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU College of Dentistry, he is an internationally sought after speaker, author and expert who has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. For more information, go to rejuvenationdentistry.com.