Childhood Obesity: A Growing Problem

Celebrations are in order!  Did you not get the message?  Childhood obesity is on the decline.  I mean only one in six children in the United States are obese now.  This definitely calls for cake, right?  Well before you go out and buy cake and ice cream, let’s review some facts.

Recently the CDC released a report saying childhood obesity for two to five year olds has dropped from nearly 14% to 8.5% from 2002 to 2012.  The media took this small bit of new information and ran with it, without taking a better look at the facts.  For starters, over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled and adolescent obesity has quadrupled  While there is a slight decrease in very young childhood obesity, the overall average for children in America is 17% being obese.  That’s not overweight… that is obese. 

How-to-Motivate-Lazy-KidsThink about that for a moment and let it sink in.

While the rate remained the same over the last eight years, it is up drastically from the nineties and any decade prior to that.  In 1988-1994 it was 11%, and 1971-1974 it was between 4 and 6% in the States.  Some states are worse than others with the south, generally, being worse.  For example, Alabama went from 17.9% childhood obesity in 2007 to 18.6% in 2011.  For those of you overseas reading this, you’re not off the hook.  The European Society of Cardiology released a study back in May stating that by 2030 the projected obesity rates in Europe could reach up to 47% (I’m looking at you Ireland!).  This is just obesity rates. The study projected overweight and obese male percentages to be 75% in the UK, 80% in Spain, Czech Republic, and Poland and up to 90% in Ireland.  So maybe we should hold off on cake for the time being.

So, if obesity is still a growing – in all aspects – issue why am I only discussing childhood obesity?  Well, other than the fact that I am a father who is concerned for my daughter, our children are the future and the way we raise them really sets them up for the future.  This has also been affirmed by research. For example, the Emory Health Sciences Study states that children in kindergarten who are overweight are eight times as likely to become obese by 8th grade.  This is staggering, especially when you consider that this same study says that 12% of children enter kindergarten obese.

Is being an obese child that bad? I mean “kids will be kids.” They just have some “baby fat,” right?  Dang scientists, let us normal folks be ignorant in bliss! Instead of allowing us to remain ignorant about the real life implications of obesity, Duke Medicine went ahead and burst our bubble.  Duke Medicine decided to study the cost comparison of health care costs between normal weight and obese children at age 10 and carrying over their life.  The results showed that if you are obese at age 10, you will, on average, spend $19,000 more on health care.  Wow, that’s a lot of money that these kids can be putting towards other things… such as a college education!!

Ok, so it might cost a little more, but that’s just the beginning of the issues.  The University of Strathclyde studied girls who were obese at age 11 and compared their academic achievements through school.  The results?  Obese girls averaged a full letter grade lower than their normal counterparts at age 11, 13, and 16 (the only ages being tracked).  So you have to pay more, and will likely earn less with a lower level of education.  Still, money isn’t everything in life.

“Kids will grow out of the chubby phase when they hit puberty though, right?!”  Well, not really. According to the University of Colorado Cancer Center the earlier obesity occurs, the earlier the negative medical effects begin to occur, such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, etc.  Another finding was that obesity is extremely hard to ‘cure’, and can lead to changes in the entire way someone’s metabolism works due to the timing of the presence of obesity. Research also shows that a high percentage of individuals who have childhood obesity will have obesity through their entire lives, often only getting worse in severity.  Individuals who are obese at age 20 had three times the likeliness of developing a serious health issue or dying by middle age.  Risks listed by the CDC from childhood obesity include those discussed above as well as bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and social and psychological problems.

Not only is the body affected, the British Medical Journal recently published an article discussing the links of obesity and dementia.  An individual who is severely obese at 30 has three times the chance of developing dementia, and the earlier obesity starts, the higher the likeliness of dementia.

So it is apparent that childhood obesity is America’s (and most of the Western world’s) problem, but how do we combat it?  The University of Eastern Finland released results from a study showing that a child eating on a regular schedule drastically decreases the risk.  Additionally, the study found that having parents who were obese was an increased risk towards obesity development. 

While having regular meals is of extreme importance, the quality of the meals children are being fed is of great importance as well.  Studies find less than 20% of youth eat the recommended five fruits or vegetables a day.  Multiple studies have shown a strong connection between fast food advertisement and obesity in children.  Finally, receiving an adequate amount of physical activity in a day is of extreme importance when trying to prevent obesity.  With an increase in obesity and ADHD diagnosis concurrent with schools decreasing time for recess, the correlation is a compelling one, but we will discuss that on a different day.

So instead of getting cake to party, maybe we should follow some of these guidelines for our children:

– Do not use food (especially junk food like ice cream or candy) as a reward. This only connects eating with positive feelings in their subconscious, and creates a comfort-eating pattern from childhood.
– Create a regular eating schedule, where the whole family  sits down around a table and not in front of a television, tablet or any other form of distraction.
– Eat a clean, healthy, homemade meal that has a variety of vegetables and doesn’t have processed foods or foods with additives and preservatives.
– Create family habits around being healthy and active like going for walks, bike rides, hikes, or shooting hoops in the driveway.
– Encourage a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
– Limit television time to less than two hours a day, including computer time and gaming time.
– Help your children develop self-confidence and the ability to regulate their emotions and express themselves without needing to turn to food.
– Breastfeed infants for at least the first year of life. This has been linked to lower childhood obesity rates.

No one said raising kids was easy, and I can promise you that I am far from perfect at it. However, it is our job as parents to set our kids up to have the best shot at future success. Establishing a healthy lifestyle at a young age is a great way to do just that.

*** DISCLAIMER: Infants and younger toddlers naturally have a higher percentage of fat. This is normal, natural and healthy, and they should not be put on any diet unless specifically advised by a medical professional. The studies generally look at children from age two and upward, but obviously this doesn’t mean that what children consume in the first two years of life get a free pass. After six months, children should be getting a well-rounded diet, focused on vegetables, fruits, lean meats and plenty of activity time. ***


Kelvin_trainerAbout Kelvin Childress: Kelvin Childress is a trainer at Austin Simply Fit. As a trainer, Kelvin wants to help every person become the best self they can be. Kelvin believes in creating a personalized program for each of his clients to help them reach their goals by using strength development, flexibility training, speed development, a strong core, and a clean diet. In his free time, Kelvin enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, being active outside, and watching Nebraska football.