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What is Childhood Obesity?

Updated on March 29, 2012
The True Cost of A Cheap Meal
The True Cost of A Cheap Meal

What Is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity in America is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents”. Pretty simply, childhood obesity is a state of overweight in children from ages 2 to 18 which can lead to serious health conditions. In years past, chronic health issues like Type II diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease were predominantly late-life conditions, and older adults were the main sufferers of these types of weight-related conditions. The rise in childhood obesity has fast forwarded these health conditions so that they affect more children and adolescents today than ever before.

Childhood Obesity Causes

The causes of obesity are many, and they vary according to individual families. Most of the time, it is simply a matter of families stocking and eating the wrong types of foods on a daily basis, and living stressful, busy or sedentary lifestyles. Who doesn’t love pizza? Who hasn’t ever enjoyed fresh, hot french fries followed by a long cold draw from a straw plunged into a frosty, cold milk shake? Who hasn’t wheeled through a drive-through lane to grab a quick meal on the go? Most of us Americans have certainly experienced fast food, aptly named for its speed and convenience (not to mention flavor-thanks to plenty of sugar, fat and sodium). My reward for going to the dentist as a child was stopping for a chocolate-dipped Dairy Dip ice cream cone on the trip home. It made the whole experience worthwhile, and my mother and I enjoyed that reward cone together all through my youth. When I grew up and had a daughter of my own, we continued the tradition. I was not obese, but as a young child I was very active and played outdoors daily. My friends and I rode our bikes everywhere, played ball, ran around catching fireflies on summer evenings, walked to and from school, and spent time in other physically demanding activities so those forays to the ice cream shop had little effect. It was a big deal to eat out occasionally (usually on Sundays after church), the majority of the time we ate home-cooked meals consisting of a meat, two vegetables and a glass of tea prepared by our stay-at-home mother. Today, more children play games on their computers, munching on chips and other high-fat snacks as they wait for both parents to return from long workdays. Most of them spend far less time on their bicycles or on the ball field. Junk food and fast food are a daily meal experience, since most parents are working and time is not made available for that healthy home-cooked meal. Fast food is cheap and sold on every street corner, junk food for snacking fills many cupboards, fridges and freezers, and lots of families succumb to convenience and flavor- ending up with obesity conditions from Mom all the way down to the two-year-old. Chubby babies are adorable, but obesity can begin at a very young age and quickly loses its charm as it begins to create health problems. An obese four-year-old is at risk for developing health conditions that in the past were only found in overweight adults.

Prevent Childhood Obesity

Children “learn what they live”, and in the case of eating patterns they learn from their parents and from their cultural background. Every culture has both healthy and unhealthy food choices available, but American fast food is now available in almost every country in the world and is causing epic growth in the problem of obesity and the development of formerly adult health issues in children. Parental guidance is the key to children making the proper food choices, and in order for this dangerous trend to be corrected parents or responsible caregivers such as siblings, aunts or grandparents need to be educated on the results of chronically poor dietary choices as well as what constitutes a healthy diet. Making only healthy foods available at home is the easiest way to start working on this problem if it exists for your family. If you as a parent eat healthy, your children will soon follow suit. Making snack foods the healthy kind, like fruit, raisins, rice cakes and soup cups can put your family on the right track between meals. If schedule constraints are the main reason your family doesn’t eat the right foods, some quick and easy meals that offer great nutritional value include light frozen dinners following these WebMD-recommended guidelines:

1. Aim for those that keep calories in the 250-300 range (journal as light frozen meal).
2. Choose meals with less than 4 grams of saturated fat.
3. Choose meals with less than 800 milligrams of sodium.
4. Select meals with at least 3-5 grams of fiber.

Reading labels is important when you want to keep calories down and nutritional value up. Another thing you might want to do when you do have time to cook healthy meals for your family. Cook more than you need for the meal you’re about to serve and freeze the excess. When you don’t have time to prepare a fresh meal because of soccer games or dance class, simply re-heat your own pre-cooked frozen dinner and voila! a great meal can be enjoyed by all.

Another way to prevent childhood obesity is to encourage active play with your children. Bike riding and outdoor games like a basketball goal set up in the driveway encourages the types of activity children need to work off the caloric intake of the day. If you have the time and energy, you can get out there with them and make family memories as you help yourself and your children get back in shape. Making time for activity for yourself and your family and making sure they eat well is the best way to care for and monitor their health and wellbeing- so show them you love them by taking the best care of them you can.


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    • healthwriterbob profile image

      healthwriterbob 5 years ago from United States

      Hi Laceylinks,

      You give a timely reminder to parents about the negative health effects on children who are overweight. I think it is clear that the computer age has its drawbacks--sedentary children who are spending time on facebook or video games instead of being out walking, jogging or playing basketball in the driveway as you suggested. I have often wondered why it is that foods that taste really good are in many cases not very good for you. Voted up and useful. Take care.

    • Laceylinks profile image

      Mary Green 5 years ago from Alabama

      Hi OM,

      I think if your granddaughter has only healthy choices she will be able to find one or two she likes. My daughter is a bit older and her tastes have changed- she loves grapes, apples and bananas to snack on. When she was younger it was more challenging finding a snack she liked. Melon cut into fun shapes (with a cookie cutter) might tempt a three year old- just because it looks like fun. She could help make them fun to eat, too, you know how kids love to help in the kitchen. You can make those shapes with watermelon, honeydew, pineapple and banana. Have fun making things with fruit and then gobble them down.

    • OMGirdle profile image

      OMGirdle 5 years ago from United States

      This is a very helpful article. I was a fat kid, but I grew up when being overweight wasn't an issue. Those were the days of home cooked meals and family dinners. I am trying to help my grandchildren eat the right type of food. But my granddaughter doesn't like any type of vegetable or fruit (except for banana's). She is an extremely picky eater. I'm going to refer your article to her mother. Although my granddaughter is not overweight, yet, her mother needs to show her proper eating habits starting now at the age of 3. Thank you for the information!