Over the past five years, researchers, nutritionists, and politicians have been calling attention to the growing national crisis of childhood obesity. This generation of children is frequently referred to as the Supersize Generation. Indeed, during the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for children ages two to five and twelve to nineteen, and it has more than tripled for children ages six to eleven. At present, approximately 10% of children ages two to five are considered obese (Trifiletti, Shields, Bishai, McDonald, Reynaud, and Gielen, 2006).
Obesity refers to excess fatty tissue in the body (Bright Futures, 2006). Children are deemed obese if their weight is more than 20 percent greater than the ideal weight for a boy or girl of their age and height (University of Michigan Health System, 2007). Even though the terms obesity and overweight are frequently used interchangeably, there are actually three ways of accurately determining obesity:
- Height and weight plotted on a growth chart
- Skin-fold thickness measured on the back of the upper arm with special calipers
- Body/mass index (BMI) determined by a mathematical calculation involving height and weight (This is the formula for body/mass index: BMI = [(Weight in pounds/ (Height in inches) x (Height in inches)) x 703]. However, because children's body fat changes over the years and because maturing girls and boys differ in body fat, the BMI for children and teens is plotted on gender-specific growth charts.
Obesity is prevalent in both developed and developing countries, reflecting changes in behavioral patterns, such as decreased physical activity and overconsumption of high-fat, energy-dense foods. Many other individuals become obese because of a biological predisposition to gain weight readily (Deitel, 2003). Current research into childhood obesity reveals numerous causes:
- Birth weight
- Obesity in one or both parents
- More than eight hours TV a week at age three
- Sleeping less than 10.5 hours a night at age three
- Size in early life—measured at age eight and eighteen months
- Rapid weight gain in the first year of life
- Rapid catch-up growth between birth and age two
- And early development of body fat in preschool years—before the age at which it should be increasing (at the age of five to six) (Daily News Central, 2005).
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