There was a time that an overweight child was more the exception than the rule. Unfortunately, the number of obese children in the United States is increasing at an alarming rate.
According to a 2012 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report, the United States has the highest prevalence of obesity among developed nations. The percentage of young Americans who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. In 2009 to 2010, 17% of children and adolescents were considered obese.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 80% of children who are obese remain overweight as adults, Childhood obesity is more prevalent in the Northeast, followed by the Midwest, South, and West. It is also more prevalent in cities than in rural areas.
To determine childhood obesity, nutritional experts look at a child’s body mass index (BMI) to estimate body fat and the degree of overweight or obesity. BMI is a mathematical formula that uses a person’s height and weight. Cutoffs to determine normal, overweight, and obese weight in children are based on BMI-for-age growth charts. Children with BMI values at or above the 95th percentile are considered overweight and therefore at risk for future weight-related diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
The Issue: Too little exercise and too much junk food
Although obesity in adults and children stem from eating more calories than are burned in physical activity, the issue involves a complex interaction between lifestyle, environment, and genes. However, the rise in childhood obesity can be tied to two factors: too little exercise and too many calories. Children get less exercise at home because of more time spent watching television, playing video games, computers. etc. They also get less exercise at school because many schools have cut back on Physical Education classes.
Another factor is many families are strapped for time so they end up eating more meals at fast-food restaurants or buying take-out food. These food choices often include foods high in calories, foods high in fat, and large portion sizes. Many schools also include franchised fast-food menu choices for lunch, as well as soft drink and candy machines for snacks. Some schools have begun stocking vending machines with healthier choices, such as fresh fruit and fruit juices due to public pressure.
Genetics and race also play a role in who ultimately will become overweight or obese. Children of overweight parents are at a greater risk for obesity themselves, and recent studies have found over two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese.
The Health Concerns
Psychosocial problems. Obesity in childhood can lead to long-term psychosocial isolation. Children who are overweight are more likely to experience teasing, bullying, and social isolation that may extend into future years. This emotional abuse can have serious effects on self-esteem and social integration with peers.
Physical problems. Although excess weight can harm a child’s self-esteem by virtue of teasing and/or bullying — the physical damage is just as bad. Many children who are obese already have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, abnormal glucose tolerance, or a combination of these conditions. According to the Center of Disease Control, any of these abnormalities increases a child’s risk as an adult for heart disease and diabetes,
According to the NIH, sleep apnea can be a serious problem for obese children,. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted many times during the night. Sleep apnea decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood at night, disrupting normal sleep and stressing the heart. These effects can cause learning and memory problems in children.
How to turn it around
Preventing obesity in children requires helping them increase their physical activity and decrease the number of calories they eat. It is recommended that children exercise every day and eat foods high in fiber and low in calories and fat. Additionally, involving children in food purchasing and preparation helps them to learn about food, such as making healthy choices and balancing their own diet when their parents are not there to guide them. Parents should strive to serve as an example for their kids.
Parents can help by buying fruit, vegetables, and other low-fat foods instead of stopping at fast-food restaurants. It is also important to serve children kid-size portions. Even adult portions should be smaller than many people realize and certainly should never be “super-sized.” Getting children in team sports, such as soccer, basketball, softball, baseball, and swimming, can keep them active.
One way to get your children moving is to get the entire family involved in regular physical outings. Some suggested outings include: taking a walk or bike, and plan family vacations that focus on staying active rather than sitting on a beach. Choose activities that aren’t difficult and fund to do for your children.
For more information and/or to get involved with Childhood Obesity, visit these websites.