1 in 3 Children in America Are Overweight: What Are We Going to Do About It?

In May 2008 The Washington Post ran a 5-part series called Young Lives At Risk: Our Overweight Children. Numbers were shocking then and they have only gotten worse. Obesity rates are increasing as well as Type 2 diabetes and studies are now showing this disease progresses at higher rates and is harder to treat in children than it is adults.

What is Considered Overweight and Obese?

We need to know how much body fat we (and our children) are carrying relative to the rest of our body. In order to prevent disease and have a higher quality of life including being more active and living longer, we have to keep our body fat in check. This is measured by our Body Mass Index (BMI). ‘BMI does not measure body fat directly, but it is a reasonable indicator of body fatness’ for children, teens and adults. (CDC).

Obesity is defined as a BMI over 30 and overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9.

For example, if you are 5’5 and weigh 185 (84 kg), you have a BMI of 30.8. (Reuters). To measure your BMI click here.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

A child’s weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI rather than the BMI categories used for adults because children’s body composition varies as they age and varies between boys and girls.

CDC Growth Charts are used. For children and adolescents aged 2—19 years :

  • Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.1
  • Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.1

Why Should We Care?

These statistics are taken from the Washington Post’s 5-part series article Young Lives At Risk: Our Overweight Children.

  • In ways only beginning to be understood, being overweight at a young age appears to be far more destructive to well-being than adding excess pounds later in life. Virtually every major organ is at risk. The greater damage is probably irreversible.
  • Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily: boys and girls in elementary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and painful joint conditions; a soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in pediatricians’ offices; even a spike in child gallstones, also once a singularly adult affliction. Minority youth are most severely affected, because so many are pushing the scales into the most dangerous territory.
  • One in three children in this country overweight or worse
  • Although the rest of the nation is much heavier, too, among those ages 6 to 19 the rate of obesity has not just doubled, as with their parents and grandparents, but has more than tripled.
  • Studies indicate that many will never overcome their overweight — up to 80 percent of obese teens become obese adults — experts fear an exponential increase in heart disease, strokes, cancer and other health problems as the children move into their 20s and beyond. The evidence suggests that these conditions could occur decades sooner and could greatly diminish the quality of their lives. Many could find themselves disabled in what otherwise would be their most productive years.
  • The cumulative effect could be the country’s first generation destined to have a shorter life span than its predecessor. A 2005 analysis by a team of scientists forecast a two- to five-year drop in life expectancy unless aggressive action manages to reverse obesity rates. Since then, children have only gotten fatter.  How Obesity Harms a Child’s Body. Click here to learn more about the specific effects on the body.

     

  • Treating a child with obesity is three times more costly than treating the average child, according to a study by Thomson Reuters. The research company pegged the country’s overall expense of care for overweight youth at $14 billion annually.
  • The cycle of obesity and disease seems to begin before birth: Women who are overweight are more likely to give birth to bigger babies, who are more likely to become obese. “And so you build it up over generations,” said Matthew Gillman, associate professor of ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard Medical School. “You get an intergenerational vicious cycle of obesity and disease.”
  • The extra pounds appear to weigh more heavily on bodies that are still forming. Fat cells, researchers have found, pump out a host of hormones and other chemicals that might permanently rewire metabolism.
  • A recent study said the United States will face more than 100,000 additional cases of coronary heart disease by 2035.

On a playground, obesity exerts a cruel price. “It robs them of their childhood, really,” said Melinda S. Sothern of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. “They’re robbed of the natural enjoyment of being a kid — being able to play outside, run. If they have high blood pressure, they have a constant risk of stroke.”

  • Physical therapist Brian H. Wrotniak, who works with overweight youth at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, hears resignation more than anger in his patients’ voices. “They complain of simple things like tying their shoes. They can’t bend down and tie their shoes because excess fat gets in the way,” he said. Their usual solution: Velcro sneakers.
  • Obese children are victimized and bullied,” said Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of California at San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Not only do other children treat them differently, but teachers treat them differently. And if you look at obese adolescents, their acceptance into college differs. For obese girls, their socioeconomic status is lower. It cuts a broad swath.”

Only within this decade, as studies started to corroborate what doctors were seeing firsthand, has child obesity been recognized as a critical public health concern. For the longest time, the signs were all there, in plain view but largely ignored.

Getting Real

This isn’t about appearance, this is about our lives, our children’s lives and our health. With statistics like these, I do not believe this is a subject to be taken lightly. Many have called this a national crisis, but we know that in order to change this, we have to be the change we want to see in the world. It starts with you and me being examples to our kids of what health looks like and how to eat to fuel our bodies rather than destroy them. As we do this, our kids will be set free. This is personal for me (as most things are when we are passionate about them) because of the cancer I faced at 19. When we walk down a grocery store aisle we shouldn’t have to filter almost everything we see, but this is our current reality. High-fructose corn syrup, genetically modified everything, partially hydrogenated oils, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, sodium benzoate preservatives, MSG, nitrates and nitrites in our meat and the list goes on. Our food isn’t safe anymore. It is slowly killing us, literally, in one form or another whether it be through obesity, cancer, food intolerance and addiction, fatigue, or poor quality of life.

Maybe if we had better statistics I wouldn’t make such a strong statements, but look around. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that ‘by 2030, 42 percent of U.S. adults could be obese, adding $550 billion to healthcare costs over that period’ (Reuters). Not getting better people, so what are we gonna’ do about it?

Next up: School Lunch Policy and Michelle Obama’s Controversial New Program

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Sources

Washington Post, May 2008. Young Lives at Risk: Our Overweight Children

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 2012. Childhood Obesity Facts

Reuters, September 2012. Fat and getting fatter: U.S. Obesity Rates to Soar by 2030

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, October 2012. Calculate Your BMI

Pic: Rodale News



1 Comment

  • Crystle Venner says:

    Being extremely obese means you are especially likely to have health problems related to your weight. The good news is that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity. You can usually lose weight through dietary changes, increased physical activity and behavior changes. In some cases, prescription medications or weight-loss surgery may be options. :'”:

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