The problem of childhood obesity in the United States has grown considerably in recent years. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese.
by Karen Sibal
It was at my daughter’s 8th birthday party – a pool party – when I really started noticing how overweight some kids are becoming nowadays. There was this one little girl who consumed so much cake and pizza – enough to sustain both of my children for lunch and dinner. Then there was another chubby little girl, clearly huffing and puffing, trying her best to keep up with the others who were just splashing around and having fun, doing nothing really strenuous at all.
Why are our kids getting fat? Do we simply feed our kids more than our parents fed us? Or are we just not active enough? Maybe we’re just not eating right. How can we ensure our kids – the future generation of America – are fit and healthy? Read on to learn more about childhood obesity and for some interesting ideas on how you and your family and stay ahead of the battle of the bulge.
Childhood Obesity – The Facts
The problem of childhood obesity in the United States has grown considerably in recent years. According to this article from Discover Magazine, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity is among the easiest medical conditions to recognize but most difficult to treat. The annual cost to society for obesity is estimated at nearly $100 billion. Overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults unless they adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercise.1
Generally speaking, a child is not considered obese until the weight is at least 10 percent higher than what is recommended for the height and body type. Obesity most commonly begins in childhood between the ages of 5 and 6, and during adolescence. Studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult. 2
Causes of Obesity
The causes of obesity are complex and include genetic, biological, behavioral and cultural factors. Basically, a child can become obese when he or she consumes more calories than the body burns up. If one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent chance that their children will also be obese. However, when both parents are obese, the children have an 80 percent chance of being obese. Although certain medical disorders can cause obesity, less than 1 percent of all obesity is caused by physical problems. Obesity in childhood and adolescence can be related to:
- poor eating habits
- overeating or binging
- lack of exercise (i.e., couch potato kids)
- family history of obesity
- medical illnesses (endocrine, neurological problems)
- medications (steroids, some psychiatric medications)
- stressful life events or changes (separations, divorce, moves, deaths, abuse)
- family and peer problems
- low self-esteem
- depression or other emotional problems3
Unquestionably, food plays a big role in how fat we become. We all know that fast food chains, while typically an unhealthy choice to begin with, and even many restaurants have increased their portion sizes in recent years. Almost everything on their menus is accompanied with large or supersize fries and sodas and plate sizes have become enormous – all under the premise that they are providing the customer with more “value” for their money. This value translates into obesity, so don’t let it fool you. If you are dining out, opt to share a meal or make healthier food choices such as picking a salad (minus the dressing) instead of fries, and bottled water instead of a calorie-packed soda or milkshake.
Why Parents Need to be Concerned
There are many risks and complications with obesity. Physical consequences can include:
- increased risk of heart disease
- high blood pressure
- breathing problems
- trouble sleeping
Childhood obesity is also associated with increased risk of emotional problems. Teens with weight problems tend to have much lower self-esteem and be less popular with their peers. They can also be subject to teasing and bullying on the playground. Depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder can also occur.
Beating the Bulge
Before forming a plan of action to conquer obesity, parents of obese children need to ensure their child has a thorough medical evaluation by a pediatrician or family physician to consider the possibility of a physical disorder. If there isn’t a physical ailment, the only way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories being eaten and to increase your child’s level of physical activity. Lasting weight loss can only occur when there is self-motivation and tremendous parental support and encouragement.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, www.aacap.org. (notes1, 2 and 3)
- American Obesity Association, www.obesity.org.
Karen Sibal is a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant. She is the owner of Sibal Writing and Consulting, a firm that specializes in public policy research, effective communications and web solutions for all types of organizations. Over the past 16 years, Karen has done work for local and provincial governments and several not-for-profit organizations. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration in September 2006.
Karen has written extensively on children’s issues and has helped with launching an association for mothers and children in her community. She is a member of the Halton-Peel Communications Association and a board director with the Halton Multicultural Council. She has also served as the managing editor of a government child welfare journal.
Karen lives with her husband and two girls, ages 3 and 9 years, in Oakville, Ontario Canada. For more information about Karen, please visit her web site at www.sibal.ca or call 416-580-9097.
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