Despite numerous local and national campaigns, commercials, educational messaging through various outlets, the US still has a weight problem, especially among its young people. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Adults rated childhood obesity as the top health-related issue for children in 2014—beating alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, gun-related injuries, and stress. The annual poll conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital takes the opinions, perceptions, and priorities of US adults about child health issues and uses this information as a way to help prioritize medical and public health programming. The poll showed 55% of those surveyed listed childhood obesity as their primary issue (followed by bullying, drug abuse, and smoking). Obesity has remained in the top three for every year of the survey.
With this annual survey comes the hope that this issue stays fresh and that we begin to really combat the issue. Parents need to understand how childhood obesity can lead to health problems later on in life, and that it is important to tackle this now, to develop good habits young that will last a healthy lifetime.
A study published in January 30, 2014 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine reinforces that point, as researchers found that overweight kindergarteners were four times more likely to become obese by eighth grade than their normal-weight peers.
Some other alarming findings about childhood obesity:
- Seven out of ten obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Obese children have a four-times higher risk for developing high blood pressure as they get older.
- Nearly 3,700 children and adolescents under age 20 are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year, a disease that used to be called adult-onset diabetes
There are promising signs that some progress has been made in at least one age group, though. The obesity rate among preschool age children has dropped from 14 percent to 8 percent in recent years according to the CDC. From new labeling to the “Let’s Move” campaign by First Lady Michelle Obama, differences are being seen.
Education and Practice at School
Continue to encourage good eating habits at school–and under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, cafeterias have to offer lunches that include whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, low fat milk, and limit calories. However, some schools have had challenges meeting the guidelines and have dropped out of the National School Lunch Program.
According to Anastasia Snelling, Ph.D., at the School of Education, Teaching, and Health at American University in Washington D.C., over 21 states have implemented programs that mandate public schools to collect data on students’ height, weight, and Body Mass Index (BMI). Some states even require schools to send letters to parents with the results and advising further medical intervention. The efforts are meant as a means to start constructive conversation in families, however, some parents see the actual implementation as degrading and humiliating.
Education and Practice at Home
Parents are the primary influences and role models for their children. Simply involving your kid in the kitchen and having them help prepare meals, they can learn to identify healthy foods they like, which can then be prepared more often. Children are also more likely to try foods that they have helped to prepare.
Limiting TV viewing is important. Each extra hour of TV a toddler watches can potentially result in a 13 percent decrease in physical activity, according to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Additionally, that same group is also 5 percent more likely to have a higher BMI.
Healthypeople.gov reveals that physical activity in children and adolescents can improve bone health, lower levels of body fat, improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and reduce symptoms of depression. This physical activity should be a family affair—it’s not enough to tell them to do it, parents need to do it too. This way, the child doesn’t feel as though they are singled out as unfit, but that it’s a family activity that benefits everyone.