Understanding Childhood Obesity
What is Childhood Obesity?
Childhood obesity affects more than 30 percent of children, making it the most common chronic disease of childhood. Childhood obesity is not just a cosmetic problem. Today, more and more children are being diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension and other co-morbid conditions associated with obesity and morbid obesity. A child is defined as “overweight” if their weight-to-age percentile is greater than 95 percent. A child is defined as “at risk for overweight” if their weight-to-age percentile is greater than 85 percent and less than 95 percent.
Overweight or Obese?
Throughout the “Understanding Childhood Obesity” brochure, “overweight” and “obese” are used interchangeably. The Centers for Disease Control prefers the term “overweight,” while mass media often utilizes the term “obese” when referring to children.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
Although the causes of childhood obesity are widespread, certain factors are targeted as major contributors to this epidemic. Causes associated with childhood obesity include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Heredity and family
- Dietary patterns
- Socioeconomic status
Today’s environment plays a major role in shaping the habits and perceptions of children and adolescents. The prevalence of television commercials promoting unhealthy foods and eating habits is a large contributor. In addition, children are surrounded by environmental influences that demote the importance of physical activity.
Today, it is estimated that approximately 40 to 50 percent of every dollar that is spent on food is spent on food outside the home in restaurants, cafeterias, sporting events, etc. In addition, as portion sizes have increased, when people eat out they tend to eat a larger quantity of food (calories) than when they eat at home.
Beverages such as soda and juice boxes also greatly contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic. It is not uncommon for a 32 ounce soda to be marketed toward children, which contains approximately 400 calories. The consumption of soda by children has increased throughout the last 20 years by 300 percent. Scientific studies have documented a 60 percent increase risk of obesity for every regular soda consumed per day. Box drinks, juice, fruit drinks and sports drinks present another significant problem. These beverages contain a significant amount of calories and it is estimated that 20 percent of children who are currently overweight are overweight due to excessive caloric intake from beverages.
Reprinted with the permission of the Obesity Action Coalition. © 2008 Obesity Action Coalition (OAC). All rights reserved.
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