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Childhood Obesity on the Rise

Posted Sep 19 2009 6:20pm
In 2004, the National Center for Health Statistics showed that 66% of US adults between the ages of 20 and 74 were overweight or obese. According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, most adults in the US will be overweight or obese by 2030.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), since the 1980's obesity has been on the rise in the United States. Colorado was the only state in 2008 that had an obesity rate less than 20%. Thirty-two states had an obesity rate equal to or greater than 25%. Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia had obesity rates equal to or greater than 30%.

The bigger shocker is the increase in the percentage of obese children. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES ) taken from 1976-1980 showed that 5% of children ages 2-5 were obese, 6.5% of children ages 6-11 were obese, and 5% of children 12-19 were obese. Compare that to similar NHANES surveys taken from 2003-2006 which showed 12.4% of children ages 2-5 were obese, 17% of children ages 6-11 were obese, and 17.6% of children 12-19 were obese.

Because of these dramatic increases, more and more children are at risk for health problems during their youth and as adults. Just like obese adults, obese children have a greater chance of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. Also, obese children have a greater chance of becoming obese adults. According to the CDC, one study showed that 80% of children who were overweight at ages 10–15 were obese adults at age 25. Another study showed that children who are overweight before the age of 8 are more likely to be more severely obese.

There are a lot of possible culprits to blame for this epidemic of obesity in the United States. The dawn of video games (remember Pong in the 70s?! Man I'm old!), personal computers, the remote control, and 24/7 television programming have all contributed to more sedentary livestyles for children. The increased focus on testing has decreased or eliminated recess and even PE in many elementary schools across the country. Refined grains and the onslaught of packaged cakes, cookies, crackers, and other snacks have flooded the supermarkets. And...portion sizes are grossly out of proportion.

When I was a wee lad, a meal at McDonald's (the one in our town was a drive-up, it had no inside seating) consisted of a hamburger, fries and a soda. The portion size of that meal was comparable to the size of a regular-sized Happy Meal today! So even though it was a fried burger, fried potatoes, and a regular Coke (they didn't have Diet Coke back then), the number of calories was a fraction of a calories in an adult-sized value meal at McDonald's (or any fast food restaurant) today.

Another big culpret is our busy, non-stop lifestyles providing much less time for meal planing and preparing meals at home where you have better control over content and portion size.

So what can we do about this epidemic? Research shows that parents and family dynamics play a big part in the establishment of a child's eating habits—good or bad. Exposing kids to a variety of fresh foods and eating them with your kids will help. Kids watch what you do. If they see you eating healthy foods, they're more apt to eat healthy foods. Even better if they can help you prepare the healthier foods. If they see you exercising, they're more likely to be more physically active. It's recommended that adults be physically active at least 60 minutes most days. That's hard to do, but try. Break it up if you have to. Park at the far end of the parking lot at work. If it's close by, walk to the grocery store. Take the stairs not the elevator.

If you do these simple things, your kids will take notice and it will become ingrained into their daily habits. Take a walk with your kids each afternoon before dinner (even if it's only 15 or 20 minutes). This also provides you time to talk to your kids about their day. Plan one day a week where the entire family participates in a physical activity like flag football, tag, badminton, volleyball, or kickball. Let the kids pick the activity/sport so they feel like they have a say.

Go for a family run. Pick a local 5K as a family goal. Not everyone has to run. Many 5Ks have a walk or a kids fun run as a part of the race festivities. In a recent post "How Running changed My Life: Noah's Story," Noah shares about his healthy transformation. He also talks about his upcoming marathon which is going to be a family affair. His wife is running the 10K and his young son is running the 1-mile kids run. Just a little more than 2 years ago, Noah would have never pictured his family running, much less running a full marathon, a 10K and a kids 1-miler. Noah's son has great role-models and has a great chance of never having to deal with childhood obesity.

So, give it a try. Make healthier choices for meals and get your family active! Below are some websites to help you get started.
BAM! Body and Mind —wealth of ideas on nutrition and fitness for kids
MealsMatter —How to plan healthy meals —20 Lighter Family Favorites —recipes & menus, nutrition & health —20 Lighter Family Favorites —Fitness for kids: Getting your children off the couch —Getting Kids Active–10 Minutes at a Time! —All Kinds of Active Play Ideas —Fitness and Exercise Guide
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