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Childhood Obesity: What are the Facts?

Updated on March 9, 2010
Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

"Childhood obesity is on the rise" is a headline that we have heard many times in the last decade. We also hear that childhood illnesses related to obesity are on the increase; diseases such as childhood diabetes and even hypertension are on the increase. Children's diet has been publicly discussed on television, magazines and other media as a mean of addressing the obesity issue, so why is it increasing? Parents, teachers, health care practitioners, journalists and politicians are concerned with this dilemma. What can we do to reduce childhood obesity and minimize its side effects?

What is childhood obesity?The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines childhood obesity as children and youth between the ages of 2 and 18 years who have body mass indexes (BMIs) equal to or greater than the 95th percentile of the age- and gender-specific BMI charts developed by the CDC. Buzzle.com defines childhood obesity as a medical condition which occurs when the weight of the child is disproportionate to his age and height. This condition is mostly observed in children below the age of 15 years.

Evidence that Childhood Obesity is on the Rise Globally:Childhood obesity is an international phenomenon. According to Obesityfoundation.ca, Childhood overweight and obesity rates are rising in Canada. Obesity rates in children have almost tripled in the last 25 years. Approximately 26% of Canadian children ages 2-17 years old are currently overweight or obese. According to the CDC, Data from NHANES surveys (1976–1980 and 2003–2006) show that the prevalence of obesity in the USA has increased: for children aged 2–5 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 12.4%; for those aged 6–11 years, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 17.0%; and for those aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 17.6%. According to the International Obesity Task-force website, the British Medical Association agrees that by the IOTF's international standards nearly 22% of boys and 27.5% of girls aged 2-15 were found to be overweight, including 5.5% of boys and 7.2% of girls who were obese in 2002. The IOTF analysis indicates a marked acceleration in the trend from the mid-1980s onwards. WHO reports that Globally, in 2010 the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries.

What are some of the causes of childhood obesity?According to activelivingresources.org, the rise in childhood obesity is due to complex interactions of social, environmental, and policy contexts that influence eating habits and physical activity of urban children. They point to urban and suburban designs that discourage walking and other physical activities; the consumption of convenient foods as families try to save time and money; lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in some communities due to affordability and access; decrease physical activities at school and the advent of television and video games as leisure activities as opposed to outdoors physical activities. I would also add that childhood obesity is on the rise because of lack of knowledge of adequate quality and quantity of foods that should be consumed by different age groups and based on level of physical activities involved. Lack of adequate parental supervision is another reason for the increase in childhood obesity. The latch key children are left to fend for themselves rather than having their meals prepared by a parent. Another reason for childhood obesity is the ease at which children have access to junk foods. Even though in recent years we have heard that most schools in Canada have removed pop vending machines from the school premises and are providing more nutritious foods at the cafeteria, this was slow to take effect in most institutions.

What are some of the effects of Childhood Obesity? Activelivingresources.org reports that some of the physical consequences of childhood obesity are Glucose intolerance and insulin 2 diabetes, Hypertension, Dyslipidemia, Hepatic steatosis, Cholelithiasis, Sleep apnea, Menstrual abnormalities, Impaired balance, Orthopedic problems. They also identify low self-esteem, negative body image and depression as some of the emotional consequences. Some of the social consequences of child hood obesity are stigma, negative stereotyping, discrimination, teasing and bullying and social marginalization.

What can be done to stop obesity in children?One of the first thing that we can do is to educate ourselves about healthy foods; becoming aware of the health benefits of feeding our families healthy foods. We can learn how to quickly and effectively prepare fresh, healthy foods without trans fats and loads of sugar and salt. According to an article entitle "What you Need to know about childhood Obesity, published on the About.com website, portion control is essential to reduce obesity among children. They suggest that you do not up-size kids' meals. Preparing meals from fresh fruits, vegetables, lean cuts of meats, whole grains and unsaturated fats can stem the increase in childhood obesity. For healthy food ideas, please see What Are We Feeding Our Children? Convenient foods may seem like a quick idea, but high sugar, sodium and fat contents make convenience at the expense of children's health.

Participation in physical activities as a means of burning calories can reduce childhood obesity. Children can participate in organized sports, such as baseball, hockey, basketball, football and soccer, in their community centres. They can also participate in swimming, skating, dancing and running for free at some parks and recreation centres in their community. Children can be encouraged to walk to school rather than take public transportation, if school is within walking distance. Some elementary schools have organized walking school buses, which much like the school bus,travels along a specified route and picks up children along the route. This is usually led by a teacher or a parent.

The prediction is that childhood obesity will continue to increase as more children become morbidly obese. The result of which will be more unhealthy children which will put a huge burden on our health care systems if nothing is done to reduce childhood obesity. We can change this prediction if we take action. According to activelivingresources.org preventing childhood obesity is a collective responsibility, requiring individual, family, community, corporate, and governmental commitments.

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    • DynamicS profile image
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      Sandria Green-Stewart 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      medwalls, thanks for your visit and your comments. I'm delighted that you find the information interesting. Childhood obesity is costly in terms of human life and expense on the health system.

    • profile image

      medwalls 7 years ago

      very good piece of information thanks

    • DynamicS profile image
      Author

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Lynda, thanks for your visit and your comment. I will be checking out your posts; I like to read up on getting healthy. We have become a society of fast food eaters; always on the run. We grab breakfast, luch and dinner on the run. Is it any wonder we are so unhealthy?

    • Lynda Gary profile image

      Lynda Gary 8 years ago

      You and I have an interest in the same topic. :) I posted a similar hub with a different angle including the cost of juvenile obesity (see: http://hubpages.com/hub/Why-Our-Children-are-Obese... ) A few days before posting that hub, I wrote another one that discusses HOW to get healthy and WHY we are so sick (See: http://hubpages.com/hub/Getting-More-out-of-Less-A... ) Like you said, people just don't get the true cost of convenience!

      Thanks for your hub. You clearly put a lot of hard work into it.

    • DynamicS profile image
      Author

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      JannyC thanks for your visit and for your great comment. I believe and hope that more schools in North America will do something about what they promote in their institutions where foods are concerned. I hope that within the next year or so all schools will remove unhealthy snack from their vending machines and cafeteria. I am also hoping that more schools will become involved in the Walking School Bus as a means of providing some physical exercise for children.

      MacDonalds claim to be getting rid of trans fats used in preparing their foods and they say that they provide healthy alternatives. Maybe they can go further and offer more healthy choices as well as get rid of the high sugar drinks and downsize some of their portions.

      Parents are going to be the ones to lead this change, however. So as parents we have to educate and set better examples for our children. I always ask my friends who complain that the children won't eat the healthy snacks, who does the shopping? Who is buying the weekly groceries? Who is selecting the high sugar drinks and high fat snacks? Children emulate what they see around them.

      For instance, when my son was about three and a half years old we went to a family gathering and some family members were surprised that he selected veggies and fruits over candy and other sweets. I suggested to them that he was trained from early to have the healthy foods and so it is now second nature to him. I'm sure that given the opportunity he would perhaps choose pop over a low sugar fruit juice, however, he knows that he can have pop as a treat rather than all the time. If we start early to introduce healthy foods, then there is a greater chance that children will make healthy choices. The same is true of physical activities.

    • JannyC profile image

      JannyC 8 years ago

      Our city has just now gotten into this and its offical that the pop machines are going to be taken out and replace with fresh furit drinks and healthy snack vending machines. I am not sure if this is going to help cause there is like a Mcdonalds right down the block from one of the local highschool near me and so what is stopping kids from geting their soft drinks there? It is sad really how this has gotten out of control and the goverment has to step in and laws have to be passed that says no more soft drinks in schools. Don't we have to be responsible in what we eat and in taking care of our bodies? It baffles me a bit that this has gotten so big and out of control.

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