Childhood obesity has been called an epidemic and for good reason. In the past three decades, in the United States alone, childhood obesity rates have tripled. Nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States is now obese or overweight. That’s a huge increase! And it’s a huge risk to our children’s health and well-being.
What constitutes obesity in children? Much like adults, this is determined by a child’s BMI (body mass index) - though in children’s cases it is a BMI percentile to take into account the fact that they are still growing as well as the fact that they grow at different rates depending on age and gender. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines children & young people as being overweight when their BMI is at or above the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile for others of the same age and gender. They define obesity in children & young people as having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for others of the same age and gender.
The factors that contribute to childhood obesity are plentiful and diverse. Societies grow and change as time progresses but those changes aren’t always necessarily for the best. A negative change the U.S. has experienced in the past three decades is the increase in people eating out. As people have acquired more disposable income, they have been more inclined to take their families out for meals at restaurants. We all know the downfalls of restaurant dining - from oversized portions at chains to nothing but junk food & extra fat content at fast food places - so it’s no surprise that this has been a leading cause in the increase in childhood obesity.
Speaking of junk, another leading factor of the childhood obesity epidemic is what children are drinking. In fact, approximately 20% of kids who are currently overweight are that way due to excessive calories from beverages. Plus, did you know that soda consumption amongst children has increased 300% in the last 20 years? Um, that’s A LOT. Add that to the now humongous serving sizes of sodas and you have a problem. But wait! Juice, fruit drinks, and sports drinks aren’t much better. These beverages contain a significant amount of calories.
The fact that today’s children tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles is also not helping the situation. It used to be that P.E. was a daily requirement at schools. But that’s recently changed and now only 8% of elementary schools and >7% of middle + high schools require daily physical education. Take into account that children spend the majority of their time at school and you can see the issue. Children are also leading more inactive lives outside of school. Television, video games, and computer time take up a large chunk of kids’ free time meaning only 50% of kids & young adults, age 12-21, regularly participate in daily physical activity. 25% of this group say they do NONE.
Then there are the factors that aren’t so easily changed. Genetics obviously plays a role in whether one is prone to obesity or not and there’s nothing to be done about that. Along with genetics is one’s metabolism - whether it is fast or slow and whether it properly functions. Where one lives can also contribute. If a child lives in a city or town where good food is readily available, they will be less at risk for obesity, but if a child lives in a “food desert” where it’s harder to get items like fruits & veggies, they will clearly be more at risk. Along with location comes the very similar financial factor - can a child’s parents afford healthy items or are they reliant on junk food due to a lack of funds?
Finally, what is the cost of childhood obesity? Obviously being overweight puts your child’s health at risk but how much so? Well, children who are obese are most at risk for other chronic health issues such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and future risk of heart problems. In fact, obesity can harm pretty much every part of your child’s body - heart, lungs, bones, joints, muscles, plus it can wreak havoc on hormones. It’s not just physical health you should be worried about when it comes to childhood obesity though. This disease also takes a toll on your child’s emotional health. Kids who are overweight are more likely to be bullied and can suffer from depression and low self-esteem. And there’s more - children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults (and that way lies heart disease, higher risk of cancer, and diabetes). None of this is what you want for your children.
How can you help fight and eradicate the epidemic of childhood obesity? Start at home with teaching your children healthy eating habits. You can read our blog on how to instill good eating habits in your kids starting at a young age HERE. If necessary, talk to your child’s school about adopting policies that help kids eat better and incorporate more physical activity during their days while there. If you are trying to help your child return to a healthy weight make healthy changes with them - don’t make them be the only one in the family who is making changes. The family that adopts healthy lifestyle choices together stays together after all!
An excellent way to stay on track with healthy living no matter your age is via our portion controlled, chef-prepared, balanced meals. From our kids’ meals to our low-carb offerings you’re sure to find what you’re looking for. Here’s to healthy eating and healthy lifestyles!