One out of every three children in the United States is either overweight or obese. More than 12 million kids (approximately 17 percent of the U.S. population of children) are actually obese. These numbers have doubled in the past 30 years. This sudden and very life-threatening problem has lead to national attention both from the surgeon general and the president as a major health concern. Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 42 million children younger than five are overweight. Because children who are obese are often likely to stay obese, it’s important to teach proper diet and fitness habits at an early age.
The Causes of Childhood Obesity
The knee-jerk reaction one may have is to simply blame food. But the causes of children’s obesity are actually much more complex than one may think. Not only has nutrition changed in the past 30 years, but so has the marketing of that new food. For example, children see thousands of advertisements for cereal every year, which is often high in sugar and low in nutritional value. Think of the millions of dollars spent on advertising cereal alone! At the same time, there has been less of a focus on fitness; most new children-focused games and activities require less physical movement and exercise. Meanwhile, there has been an overabundance of cheap, energy-rich food available with bad long-term health effects. No one food company is to blame, but many have provided more calories and less nutrition.
Is Your Child at Risk for Obesity?
When determining whether or not a child already is overweight or obese, one must consult a doctor and then use the body mass index (BMI) for the appropriate age for the child. A child is considered obese when they are at a high percentile (the 95th percentile or greater) for that age. A doctor also may consider height as well. On the other hand, to determine if your child is at risk for obesity, one must consider a few different factors. First are the obvious factors: their current diet and level of exercise. Then, there are psychological factors, such as whether or not they use food to cope or if their family members or role models are also overweight.
Diseases Associated With Obesity
If your child is overweight or obese, then they may be at risk for much more dangerous health conditions that can be quite scary to think about. They will be at a high risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, some cancers, asthma, bone and joint issues, sleep disorders, liver problems, and hormone imbalances (which can lead to early puberty). And those are just some of the physical diseases. Mental illnesses also often correlate with obesity, such as depression, behavioral problems, and low self-esteem. There is a social stigma, and they’ll likely be bullied. This is the most important overall problem to remember: Obese children are likely to become obese adults. In other words, if they don’t have health issues now, they may and likely will have them in the future.
One of the best ways to encourage better nutrition and exercise habits is to practice them yourself and become a good role model. By taking control of dinner and eating out less, a family can cut calories considerably. Also, make sure to remove temptation through calorie-rich snacks. It’s important to remember that this is not about dieting but making a lifestyle change. (Diets are often not very effective.) Make sure that the child has your love and support. By encouraging outdoor play and less sedentary time and better, nutritious foods instead of high-calorie, high-sugar snacks, a parent can help an obese child grow into a healthier weight. As always, consult a doctor about the best foods, exercises, and routines that you can introduce in your family. With everyone’s involvement, obesity can be fought one healthy snack, one fitness hour, and one encouraging remark at a time.
Childhood Obesity Causes and Consequences
Related Health Problems
Obesity: Facts for Families (PDF)
Understanding Childhood Obesity (PDF)
Measuring Weight in Children
Nutrition Basics Help Fight Child Obesity
The Gray Area: Responsible Marketing to Children (PDF)
The Surgeon General’s Remarks on Childhood Obesity
Presidential Memorandum on Childhood Obesity
Choose My Plate (For Home)
Battling Obesity by Singing About Vegetables: Sesame Street
Obesity in Children
National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
Game for Kids: My Plate Blast Off
Overweight and Obesity
For Girls: A Healthy Weight
Half of Americans Could Be Obese by 2030
Too Many Kids Are Too Heavy Too Young
Comparative Review of Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs (PDF)
Prevention Must Start Sooner
Obesity: Complex But Conquerable
Global Perspective: Childhood Obesity
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