Understanding Childhood Obesity (page 2)
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.
Lack of Physical Activity
Children in today’s society show a decrease in overall physical activity. The growing use of computers, increased time watching television and decreased physical education in schools, all contribute to children and adolescents living a more sedentary lifestyle.
Another major factor contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic is the increased sedentary lifestyle of children. School-aged children spend most of their day in school where their only activity comes during recess or physical education classes. In the past, physical education was required on a daily basis. Currently, only 8 percent of elementary schools and less than 7 percent of middle schools and high schools have daily physical education requirements in the U.S.
Only 50 percent of children, 12 to 21 years of age, regularly participate in rigorous physical activity, while 25 percent of children report no physical activity. The average child spends two hours a day watching television, but 26 percent of children watch at least four hours of television per day.
Heredity and Family
Science shows that genetics play a role in obesity. It has been proven that children with obese parents are more likely to be obese. Estimates say that heredity contributes between 5 to 25 percent of the risk for obesity. However, genes alone do not always dictate whether a child is overweight or obese. Learned behaviors from parents are a major contributor. Parents, especially of those whose children are at risk for obesity at a young age, should promote healthy food and lifestyle choices early in their development.
Over the past few decades, dietary patterns have changed significantly. The average amount of calories consumed per day has dramatically increased. Furthermore, the increase in caloric intake has also decreased the nutrients needed for a healthy diet. Food portions also play an important role in the unhealthy diet patterns that have evolved. The prevalence of “super size” options and “all you can eat” buffets create a trend in overeating. Combined with a lack of physical activity, children are consuming more and expending less.
Reprinted with the permission of the Obesity Action Coalition. © 2008 Obesity Action Coalition (OAC). All rights reserved.
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