Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity

The Problem

In 1999, 13% of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years in the United States were overweight. This prevalence has nearly tripled for adolescents in the past 2 decades.

Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, occur with increased frequency in overweight children and adolescents compared to children with a healthy weight.

Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult disease, has increased dramatically in children and adolescents. Overweight and obesity are closely linked to type 2 diabetes.

Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80% if one or more parent is overweight or obese. Overweight or obese adults are at risk for a number of health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.

The most immediate consequence of overweight as perceived by the children themselves is social discrimination. This is associated with poor self-esteem and depression.

Source: The Surgeon General's Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, Overweight Children & Adolescents,

How do I know if my child is overweight?

Your doctor will use a chart to find out if your child might be overweight. Your child is overweight if he or she is heavier than 85 percent of other children who are the same age and height. If your child has bigger bones, he or she may weigh more because of that, not because of too much fat.

Source: American Academy of Family Physicians,

According to surveys conducted in 1977-1978 and 1994-1996, reported daily caloric intakes increased from 2239 kcal to 2455 kcal (calories) in men and from 1534 kcal to 1646 kcal in women. Eating more frequently is encouraged by numerous environmental changes: a greater variety of foods, some with higher caloric content, the growth of the fast-food industry, the increased numbers and marketing of snack foods, increased time for socializing, and a growing tendency to socialize with food and drink.

At the same time, there are fewer opportunities in daily life to burn calories: children watch more television daily; many schools have done away with or cut back on physical education; many neighborhoods lack sidewalks for safe walking; the workplace has become increasingly automated; household chores are assisted by labor-saving machinery; and walking and cycling have been replaced by automobile travel for all but the shortest distances.

According to Koplan, the American lifestyle of convenience and inactivity has had a devastating toll on every segment of society, particularly on children. Research shows that 60% of overweight 5- to 10-year-old children already have at least one risk factor for heart disease, including hyperlipidemia and elevated blood pressure or insulin levels.

According to CDC research published in the October 13, 1999, issue of JAMA, more than two-thirds of American adults are trying to lose weight or keep from gaining weight, but many do not follow guidelines recommending a combination of fewer calories and more physical activity. The 1996 Surgeon General's report, Physical Activity and Health shows that more than 60% of adults are not participating in the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity most days of the week. The report stresses that physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits.

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