About 1 in 6 children in the United States is obese.
This month’s blog posts will highlight various aspects of childhood obesity. September is Childhood Obesity Awareness month and because we care about our Nation’s children, we want to give their health special attention.
Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. A child with a BMI at or above the 95th percentile has obesity. Childhood obesity is a major Public Health concern and a growing epidemic in the United States. Obesity goes beyond the weight; comorbidities associated with obesity are serious and life threatening. Comorbidities are diseases or conditions that are present at the same time, co-occurring with a primary disease or disorder. Obesity can cause an increase in comorbidities. These include; Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, and abnormalities of the endocrine, psychosocial, neurologic, dermatologic, pulmonary, orthopedic, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems. General functional limitations increase as the prevalence of obesity increases as well.
The CDC provides a great calculator for Child and Teen BMI. BMI-for-age is used to show how a child’s weight compares to other children’s weight of the same age and gender.
Causes and Risk Factors
Many factors influence the development of childhood obesity. Behaviors associated with eating and physical activity play a large role in developing childhood obesity. Taking in calorie dense foods over the daily recommended amounts and not getting enough physical activity can lead to an increase in weight. Over time this leads to obesity. Genetics, metabolism, environment, and other social factors can lead to an increased risk of obesity as well.
Diet: Eating a regular diet of high calorie foods, fast food, vending machine snacks, and sugar laden snacks and drinks can quickly increase your child’s risk for weight gain.
Family: A child that comes from a family with overweight family members is more likely to gain weight. This is due in large part to the child taking on the eating and activity habits of those around him or her.
Psychological: Children who live in stressful environments may eat to cope with stress, thereby increasing the rate of weight gain. Eating out of boredom is another way in which children gain weight quickly.
Physical Activity: Children with sedentary lifestyles are more likely to become obese due to missing out on opportunities to burn excess calories.
Socioeconomic: Some communities have limited access to healthy food options. These areas are often termed food deserts. This often results in having to eat convenience foods that are generally processed and high in calorie and low in nutrient value.
Childhood obesity rates reported to the CDC for 2011-2014 show that 17% of all youth (ages 2-19) are obese. This rate has increased substantially since 1970, when the rate of obese children in the same age category was only 5 percent. Obesity rates for high schoolers is highest among males, at 16.8 percent versus 10.8 percent.
In 2011-2014 For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years:
• The prevalence of obesity has remained fairly stable at about 17% and affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents.
• The prevalence of obesity was higher among Hispanics (21.9%) and non-Hispanic blacks (19.5%) than among non-Hispanic whites (14.7%).
• The prevalence of obesity was lower in non-Hispanic Asian youth (8.6%) than in youth who were non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, or Hispanic.
• The prevalence of obesity was 8.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds compared with 17.5% of 6- to 11-year-olds and 20.5% of 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.
Improving your child’s eating habits is one of the most effective ways of reducing childhood obesity. Encourage your child to eat fruit or low-calorie foods as a snack instead of high calorie chips, crackers, and other processed foods. Making whole foods like fruits and vegetables, low fat meats, and whole grains available at meals times will aid in reducing your child’s risk for obesity. Reducing the number of sugary beverages to as close to none as possible is highly recommended. These drinks are full of a lot of empty calories.
Physical activity is a major factor in your child’s risk of becoming overweight. Make physical activity a part of your family time by going on walks after dinner, taking hikes or bike rides on the weekends, or playing catch in the yard. During the summer and warm months encourage swimming as a way to cool off! Limiting screen time to two hours or less, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, may help you see a positive impact in your child’s weight as well. The Academy also recommends at least one hour of physical activity a day.
Speak to a dietitian. Dietitians are available to assist you and your child in reaching his or her health and weight goals. They can give you great advice on ways to make simple changes that will have a big impact on your child’s health. Call your local health department, pediatrician office, or children’s hospital to locate a dietitian that may be able to help.
*This blog provides general information and discussion about supplements, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.
*Many areas of nutrition tend to elicit controversy. As with most health topics there are varying opinions and research.