Childhood obesity in children and teens who are considered overweight or clinically obese is on the rise, according to research studies on the prevalence of overweight and obese children and adolescents in the U.S. Child obesity statistics speak for themselves, with the term “childhood obesity epidemic” creating concern for parents and health officials, as well as city and state government officials searching for ways to reduce and even prevent obesity in children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over nine million kids and teens between the ages of 6-19 years of age have been diagnosed as being overweight or morbidly obese, an alarming number that has tripled since 1980.
The CDC reports that over the past three decades child obesity rates have more than doubled for preschool children between the ages of 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years.
Childhood Obesity Statistics
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Resources, overweight kids and teens have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults, which jumps to 80% if one or more parents is overweight or obese themselves.
In the U.K., parents of overweight school kids are to receive a letter from schools telling them their child is underweight, a healthy weight, overweight or very overweight. Included in the letter are tips and advice on getting kids to eat healthy, the risks of being overweight and physical activities their child can do to lower their weight and risk factors.
In 2008, child obesity statistics show a dramatic increase in the U.S. obesity rates per state, showing only one state (Colorado) with a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.
Child Obesity Definition
What is obesity? The definition of child obesity and overweight is simple and easy to understand. “Obesity” means an excess amount of body fat, or body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, while “overweight” is defined as a body mass index of 25 or higher. BMI is calculated from a person’s weight and height, which provides a good indicator of unhealthy body fat and weight that may lead to serious health problems.
Most health professionals use published guidelines based on the body mass index, or a modified BMI for age, in order to measure obesity in children. Other professionals classify fat or overweight kids as being obese if they have a body weight ratio of at least 20% higher than a healthy weight for a child of that height, or a body fat percentage above 25% in boys or above 32% in girls.
Childhood Obesity Facts
The facts about childhood obesity cannot be ignored, and some parents have actually been arrested and charged with child abuse and neglect because their teen is morbidly obese, creating a firestorm of controversy around the country. The health risks and long-term effects of obesity in children are numerous, with very serious consequences, such as:
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes (also referred to as adult-onset diabetes)
- Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Dyslipidemia (high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
- Liver diseases, gallbladder diseases and asthma
- Sleep apnea (interruption of breath while sleeping) and respiratory problems
- Orthopedic problems/Osteoarthritis (breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
- Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)
Causes of Childhood Obesity
What causes obesity and overweight in children?, you may wonder. According to the Mayo Clinic, obesity in children is caused by kids eating too much, eating the wrong kinds of foods (ie. junk foods, high calorie, high fat, high sodium) and not getting enough exercise. Television commercial ads intentionally marketed to kids and school cafeteria food menu items deserve to share at least part of the blame for increased obesity trends in children.
Genetic disorders and hormonal causes appear to play a part in some cases but are far less common than lifestyle issues and poor eating habits, and is not commonly viewed as a viable excuse. Genetic diseases, such as Prader-Willi syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome, affect only a very small percentage of children, but the primary cause of child obesity is poor eating habits and leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Lack of regular, “natural exercise” is a major contributing factor in childhood obesity rates. Children who spend too much time watching television programs, playing video games too much or internet surfing for hours each day, have a greater risk of being overweight or becoming morbidly obese than kids who regularly engage in active play or sports.
According to research studies, “children’s food preferences and food-intake patterns may be shaped largely by the foods parents choose to make available to children and persistence in presenting a food that initially is rejected.”
The same study found that “picky eaters were breastfed for fewer than 6 months,” suggesting that breastfeeding that lasts longer than 6 months may help prevent kids from becoming picky eaters in the first place. Recommendations for dealing with a picky eater are to prepare one healthy meal for the entire family, and if he or she does not want to eat the meal prepared, don’t force them to eat it but don’t give the child something else to eat.
Weight Loss Diets for Children?
Child obesity prevention programs, weight loss camps and diets for kids under 13 years of age (and older) are popping up all over the U.S., but are diets for children safe? These programs are hoping to stop the obesity epidemic from growing and help kids learn about proper nutrition, food choice, self esteem, portion control and getting enough exercise.
National weight loss programs and grants are being put into place to help children achieve and maintain a healthy body mass index, or BMI, and lower their risks of health problems. These obesity programs also help parents of overweight or obese kids learn how to promote healthy lifestyles and eating habits, and how to give helpful support and encouragement effectively.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid for kids program called MyPyramid for Kids offers printable meal tracking worksheets in Spanish and English to help preschoolers (ages 2-5 years) and older kids (ages 6-11 years) keep track of their food choices and level of physical activity, as well as providing tips for parents and families.
We Can! or “Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition” is a national education program developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help prevent childhood obesity in youth ages 8–13. We Can! focuses on programs and activities for parents and families as a primary group for influencing youth. The program provides turn-key resources and programs for parents, caregivers, and youth to encourage healthy eating, increase physical activity, and reduce screen time.
Fad diets are a dime a dozen, and that includes “diets for teens” and even “diets for kids” who are overweight, so before you go signing your kid up for any diet programs – research diet scams and talk to your family doctor to make an informed decision for your child.