How do we know this?
According to the American Heart Association, “about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese” and “the prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011.” The child obesity epidemic that has been plaguing our society for decades isn’t getting the attention that it needs.
Why is childhood obesity such a concern?
Obesity means there is excess fat and that fat can creates chronic health conditions. Obesity in children actually leads to higher risks for health conditions previously associated with adults! Childhood obesity often leads to obesity in adults. The problem snowballs. Costs associated with health problems stemming from obesity further tax the already overburdened health care system.
Need more statistics to be convinced this is a problem for all of us?
The most recent study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes the following:
- The prevalence of obesity has remained fairly stable at about 17% and affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents.
- The prevalence of obesity was higher among Hispanics (21.9%) and non-Hispanic blacks (19.5%) than among non-Hispanic whites (14.7%).
- The prevalence of obesity was lower in non-Hispanic Asian youth (8.6%) than in youth who were non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, or Hispanic.
- The prevalence of obesity was 8.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds compared with 17.5% of 6- to 11-year-olds and 20.5% of 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.
Where does childhood obesity start?
Does it start via the influence of obese adults? Does it start with lifestyle and health decisions made by pregnant women? Does it start with the home environment of a heavier child? Not to discount personal responsibility, but factors like these have contributed to the systemic conditions that enabled the childhood obesity epidemic.
Many factors beyond a child’s control contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic.
How is the obesity of a child defined?
Childhood obesity is determined by a child Body Mass Index that factors in height, weight, age, and gender. A pediatrician will also incorporate family health history and lifestyle in making a diagnosis.
Who can help turn this epidemic around?
Everyone! Parents, schools, communities and businesses, municipal and federal governments.
Whether your child is obese or not, you, as a parent or guardian, have the most influence on your child’s physical health. It all starts with what you know: what you know about childhood obesity, what you know about nutrition, what you know about your child’s unique growth and development as well as any medical conditions.
While recognizing obesity as a major health concern, parents often overlook the possibility their child may be obese often until the child is in middle or high school.
Some children may require more advanced weight management. In which case, parents should consult health care professionals for the best way to proceed.
As a family, you can make healthier food choices, grocery purchases, and meal planning, as well as creating and maintaining an active lifestyle. Be a good model for a healthy lifestyle yourself to lay clear tracks for your child to follow.
Outside of the home, school is where children spend the bulk of their time. And outside a dog, a book is a child’s best friend. After all, inside a dog, it is too dark to read.
Schools provide a unique setting for positively influencing children.
- Just as with parents, teachers can role model with their own behavior, as well as teaching courses that address nutrition and physical education.
- School nurses provide feedback by measuring the child’s body mass index, the sharing of which may motivate for positive change or, conversely, have a negative effect on a child’s perceptions of him/herself.
- The decisions on what is provided in school cafeterias and vending machines influence the ease of access to healthy food choices for students. Parents and guardians can play a role in this by monitoring what is available and insisting on good nutrition.
Communities and Local Businesses
Many non-profit organizations and Early Care and Education (ECE) centers provide after school activities and snacks for children. Local recreational leagues provide opportunities for children to engage in sports. Many local businesses also promote health and wellness options to employees, allowing parents to be role models for their children.
Your local city, county, and state governments provide unique scenarios that can affect the childhood obesity epidemic. Think of the number of community centers and parks available, the zoning for rural, commercial, or residential use of land and buildings within a community; the transportation options available for residents, and the variety of healthy initiatives.
Your active participation, from voting for relevant measures to becoming a local leader, can help create an environment that promotes health and wellness for the overall community, and, by extension, help reduce childhood obesity.
At the federal level, there are many challenges to change the society for the better. For example, programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), help individuals and families in dire economic circumstances to get proper nutrition.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitor food production and importation, accurate information on food labels, as well as regularly reviewing and updating the US Dietary Guidelines and creating federal health initiatives such as Choose My Plate and Let’s Move!
Active participation in monitoring lobbying groups as well as advocating for changes in federal policy can help create a healthier world.
Still think you can’t help change the childhood obesity epidemic?
While prevention ultimately is the key, changes at all levels of society from policymakers to food production to the individual choices for you and your family will help defeat the childhood obesity epidemic.