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Facts and Figures

Posted Jan 22 2009 12:47pm

Childhood obesity is one of our nation’s leading health threats. Today, nearly 1 in 3 youth, age 2 to 19, are already obese or overweight. The obesity epidemic is clearly taking its toll, as more and more kids are developing conditions and diseases typically associated with adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 individuals born in the year 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes. In vulnerable populations that number increases to 1 in 2 individuals. If obesity among kids continues to increase, many believe this current generation of young people will become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.

Consider these facts:

Obesity Related Health Care Costs are Soaring  

Americans spend about 9% of their total medical costs on obesity-related illnesses, [1] and that amount will only increase if the current trends continue.

High personal costs: Severely overweight people spend more on health care and medicine. In fact, they often spend more on health care than current smokers. [2]  

Direct national cost: The direct costs of treating obesity-related diseases are estimated at $61 billion. [3]  

Indirect national cost: The indirect costs of obesity (such as missed work days and future earnings losses) have been estimated at $56 billion dollars per year. [3]  

Rising disability claims: Being severely overweight makes it much harder to manage basic activities like bathing, dressing and getting out of bed. The number of people filing for disability is rising rapidly, and the fastest growing cause of disability is type 2 diabetes. [4]  


Obese & Overweight Children are at Risk for Serious Health Problems  

Rising levels of overweight and obesity are already having a negative effect on our kids’ health and quality of life.

Diabetes on the rise: Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes.” Now, the rise in childhood obesity is linked to a dramatic rise in the number of children suffering from type 2 diabetes. [5]  

Heart trouble at middle age: If current trends continue, adolescents with type 2 diabetes may experience heart troubles beginning as young as 30 or 40 years old. [6]  

Increased risk of heart failure: Being overweight or out of shape makes the heart work harder. [7] Overweight children are more likely to grow up to be overweight adults and more likely to develop heart problems. [8]  

Chronic medical conditions: Obesity is associated with more chronic (continuing) medical conditions than smoking or excessive drinking. [9]

Digestive problems: One in four obese children may have digestive troubles such as constipation. [10]

Higher risk of asthma: There may be a link between the rise in childhood obesity and the rise in childhood asthma. Extra weight can make it harder to breathe and can inflame the respiratory tract. Children with serious asthma are more likely to be overweight. [11]  


Obese & Overweight Children are at Risk for a Lesser Quality of Life  

Overweight and obese children often suffer from serious emotional and behavioral problems. Severely obese children may have a similar health-related quality of life as children who have been diagnosed with cancer. [12]  

Emotional impact: Overweight and obese children often suffer from low self-esteem, experience bullying, teasing and depression.



Eating Out

Today, more and more families are eating out, but it is often difficult to find healthy options and appropriate portion sizes.

Eating out more: In 2006, Americans spent over eight times more eating out than in 1976. [13] Over the last thirty-eight years Americans’ spending on fast food has increased from $6 billion in 1970 [14] to $156.8 billion in 2008. [15]

Teens and fast food: The average teen eats fast food twice a week. [16] Over a 15 year study, adults who ate fast food more than twice a week gained 10 pounds more than those who ate fast food less than once a week. [17]

Portions are growing: Kids are eating more than they need, which means they are getting extra calories. Adolescents today are eating on average 8% more than they were thirty years ago. [18]



Beverages are often overlooked, but they are a source of many hidden calories in our diets.

Too much sugar: The USDA recommends choosing foods that limit added sugars.

Two sodas a day: A child who drinks two cans of 12-oz soda per day consumes about 18 teaspoons of added sugar per day while consuming no healthful nutrients.

Taking bigger gulps: Boys today drink, on average, over two cans of 12-oz sodas a day, with girls averaging almost two a day. [19]


School Meals

Unhealthy foods and beverages are available throughout the day in many schools across the country.

Poor nutrition: Only about 20 percent of high school seniors report eating fruit and green vegetables five or more times a day.” [20]

Marketing to kids: Food and beverage marketing can enter schools via fast food retailers on campus, televisions in classrooms and advertising in vending machines.

Unregulated nutrition: Foods offered in school vending machines are often of little nutritional value and can be loaded with fats, sugars, salt and calories. [21]



Physical Activity and Education

While children are eating more, they are also exercising less. This can affect not only their weight but their attitude, academic performance and overall well-being.

Couch potato lifestyle: Almost one in four children do not participate in any free time physical activity. [22]

Less physical education: 92% of elementary schools do not have daily physical education classes year-round. [23] About 1/3 of high school students take daily physical education classes. [24]

Disappearing recess: Nearly one-third of elementary schools do not schedule recess on a regular basis. Some schools lack the space to play while others feel that recess is a waste of time. [25]

Increasing screen time: A typical American high school student spends 3 or more hours a day watching TV, using the computer or playing video games. [24]

Getting to school: 85% of children travel to school by car or bus – only 13% of children walk or bike to school. [26]

Lack of playgrounds: In more and more schools, playgrounds and physical education classes are becoming a luxury rather than a standard. In New York City, over half of elementary schools do not have playgrounds. [27]



General Facts

More children than ever are suffering from the effects of poor nutrition and lack of exercise. Without early intervention, these problems and habits are likely to continue into adulthood.

Soaring rates: The number of overweight children and adolescents ages 6-19 has nearly tripled in the last forty years. [28]

Overweight toddlers: Nearly 14% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight, up from 7% in 1994. [2]

Carrying health problems into adulthood: Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. [2]

Rising number of overweight adults: Today, over 65% of all Americans adults are overweight or obese. [2] If current trends continue, that percentage will rise even higher as this generation of children reach adulthood.


Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Different racial and ethnic groups are more at risk to be obese or overweight.

Impact on minorities: Overweight and obesity rates are highest among African American women and Mexican Americans. [2]

The widening gap: The numbers of overweight African American and Hispanic children are growing faster than the number of overweight Caucasian children. [29]

Less physical activity: African American and Hispanic children are less likely to play sports, either in school or after school. [30]

Skyrocketing diabetes risk: African American and Hispanic children are developing type 2 diabetes at much higher rates than their Caucasian peers. Almost half are at risk of developing diabetes. [31]


Economic Disparities

Childhood obesity is having a larger impact on children from low-income families.

Poor health care: Over 1.6 million children were unable to get needed medical care because the family could not afford it. Medical care for an additional 3 million children was delayed because of worry about the cost. [32]

Limited access: In part because they lack access to healthy food and sports facilities, children from lower incomes are more likely to be overweight or obese. [33]

Fewer opportunities to stay healthy: In a study of 200 neighborhoods, there were three times as many supermarkets in wealthy neighborhoods as in poor neighborhoods [34] leaving fast food restaurants as the most convenient meal option for many low income families.



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  2. Obesity and Disability. Santa Monica, California: Rand Health; 2004.
  3. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2008 Update, American Heart Association.
  4. Obesity and Disability. Santa Monica, California: Rand Health; 2004.
  5. Daniels SR, Arnett DK, Eckel RH, et al. Overweight in children and adolescents: pathophysiology, consequences, prevention, and treatment. Circulation. April 19 2005; 111 (15): 1999-2012.
  6. Obesity and Disability. Santa Monica, California: Rand Health; 2004.
  7. Li X, Li S, Ulusoy E, Chen W, Srinivasan SR, Berenson, GS. Childhood adiposity as a predictor of cardiac mass in adulthood: The Bogalusa Heart Study. Circulation 2004; 110:3488-92
  8. The Problem of Overweight in Children and Adolescents. Department of Health and Human Services Fact Sheet;
  9. Colditz GA. Economic costs of obesity and inactivity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999; 31:S663-S667.
  12. Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ. Treatment of Pediatric and adolescent obesity. JAMA. April 9, 2003; 289 (14): 1851-1853
  13. Food CPI, Prices and Expenditures: Food Away From Home, ERS-USDA
  14. Restaurants USA , February 1999,
  15. Fetto, John. American Demographics: Off The Map: projected statistics for US purchase of food at restaurants. October 1, 2002.
  16. Pereira MA, Kartashov AL, Ebbeling CB, et al. Fast-food habits, weight gain, and insulin resistance (the Cardia study): 15 year prospective analysis. Lancet 2005; 365: 4-5
  17. Enns CW, Mickle SJ, Goldman JD. Trends in food and nutrient intakes by adolescents in the United States. Fam Econ Nutr Rev 2003; 15 (2) 15-27
  18. Enns CW, Mickle SJ, Goldman JD. Trends in food and nutrient intakes by adolescents in the United States. Fam Econ Nutr Rev 2003; 15 (2) 15-27
  19. Harnack, L., Stang, J., Story, M. (1999) Soft drink consumption among US children and adolescents: nutritional consequences. J Am Diet Assoc. 99: 436–441.
  20. Smiciklass-Wright H, Mitchell DC, Mickle SJ, et al. Foods Commonly Eaen in the United States, 1989-1991 and 1994-1996: are portion sizes changing? J Am Diet Association. January 2003; 103 (1): 41-47,
  21. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2008 Update, American Heart Association.
  22. School Health Polices and Programs Study. Journal of School Health 2001;71 (7)
  23. MMWR2006; 55 (n0. SS-5).
  24. Donahue E, Haskins R, Paxson C, The Future of Children Policy Brief (A joint venture of Princeton University and the Brookings Institute) Fighting Obesity in the Public Schools. Spring 2006, p6.
  25. Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds. Menlo Park.: Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005.
  26. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fact Sheet. Kids Walk to School Program. 2002.
  27. Santora, M. (2006, January 12). East Meets West, Adding Pounds and Peril, New York Times.
  28. Hedley, A. A., C. L. Ogden, C. L. Johnson, M. D. Carroll, L. R. Curtain, and K. M. Flegal. 2004. "Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity among U.S. Children, Adolescents, and Adults, 1999- 2002." Journal of American Medical Association 291: 2847-2850.
  29. Strauss RS, Pollack HA. Epidemic increase in childhood overweight JAMA 2001:28: 2845-8.
  30. Physical activity levels among children aged 9-13 years- United States, 2002. MMWR 2003; 52(33): 785-8. [40] Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2006 Update, American Heart Association.
  31. Narayan KMV, Boyle JP, Thompson TJ, Sorenson SW, Williamson DF, Lifetime risk for diabetes mellitus in the United States. JAMA 2003; 290: 1884-90
  32. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital and Health Statistics. Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2004. Vol. 2006-1555. Hyattsville, Maryland: DHHS, 2005
  33. Powell LM, Slater S, Chaloupka FJ. The Relationship between physical activity settings and race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Evidence-Based Preventive Medicine 2004; 1(2):135-44.
  34. Morland K, Wing S, Diez Roux A, Poole C. neighborhood characteristic associated with the location of food stores and food service places. Am J Prev Med 2002;22 (1): 23-9
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