National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month: The Dangerous Trend Facing Our Children
By Melody Foster
Childhood obesity threatens the health of our children, now more than ever before. Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. Since the 1970s, the prevalence of obesity in children has more than tripled. According to the American Heart Association, childhood obesity is the leading health concern parents in the United States have for their children, topping both drug abuse and smoking.
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a month set aside to raise awareness about this growing problem and educate parents, teachers and caregivers on how we can improve the health of our children.
Implications of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity causes a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood, including: high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. Children who are obese are also more likely to have prediabetes or diabetes and are at greater risk for bone and joint problems and sleep apnea.
Sadly, the implications of childhood obesity go far beyond health. These children are also more likely to have social and psychological problems such as low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. They are also more likely to face bullying and other social stigmas.
Children who grow up obese are far more likely to be obese as adults, leading to lifelong health and medical problems such as diabetes and increased risk of certain cancers. Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, made a sobering statement in regards to childhood obesity. He said, “Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."
What Causes Childhood Obesity?
Generally speaking, obesity is the result of caloric imbalance — too many calories are consumed and too few are expended. There are also genetic, behavioral and environmental factors at play. Some of these contributing factors include:
Too much screen time — Today’s children spend far too much time watching television or playing games on digital devices. The average child spends 30-40 hours a week watching a screen.
Too little sleep — Children need at least eight hours of sleep each night (if not more), but many children get far less sleep for any number of reasons.
Too little physical activity — Many children do not have access to community centers or gyms where they can participate in physical activity and physical education and recess in schools has been all but wiped out across the board.
Easy access to inexpensive, high calorie snacks and beverages — This is the fast food generation. Without a doubt, food served by the fast food industry is high in calories, sugar and fat, and lacking in essential nutrients. Sugary beverages such as juices and sodas also contribute to the epidemic.
Lack of access to affordable, healthier foods — Particularly in low-income households, access to fresh, healthy, whole foods is limited, whereas highly processed foods are most affordable in the grocery stores. As a result, children aren’t getting the recommended daily nutrients found in fresh produce and low-fat protein sources.
How We Can Change the Course for Our Children
Although the facts seem devastating, it’s not too late to redirect our children and get them on a path toward health and wellness. Encouraging small, gradual changes in a child’s lifestyle is the healthiest way to produce long-term, sustainable results. Here are a fe
w things parents can do to ensure their child’s health.
• Make sure children get adequate sleep and follow recommendations on daily screen time.
• Take part in regular physical activity, whether through team sports or exercising as a family each day.
• Carefully monitor your child’s caloric intake to ensure they are getting the right amount of calories from healthy, whole food sources such as fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains and lean meats. Serve fruits and vegetables in place of sugary snacks. The American Heart Association makes these dietary recommendations for children.
• Encourage children to drink water and limit or eliminate your child’s access to sugar-sweetened beverages.
Ending childhood obesity requires a joint effort by state and federal government, schools, childcare providers and parents, but ultimately, a healthy lifestyle begins at home. Set a healthy example for your children by making nutrition and daily exercise a priority in your home.
About the Author
Melody Foster is a Dallas-based freelance writer and contributing author to the Nicholson Clinic blog. Melody researches and creates content for clients in industries ranging from health care, fitness and nutrition to interior decorating, legal and social good.