Health: Childhood obesity an increasing problem in the United States

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges facing the United States. More than 23 million children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese. This number represents a four-fold increase in rates over the past four decades.

Obese children have an 80 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This means that one child in three is now at greater risk of developing health problems and diseases directly related to their weight. These diseases – heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and some cancers – usually occur in adults.

The cost of medical care for overweight or obese people is over $14 billion annually. As obesity rates continue to increase in children, so will the cost of medical care. There are also psychosocial issues that negatively affect academic and social success as well. Minority children and children from low economic homes are affected the most. One in two of these children will be diagnosed with diabetes unless the epidemic is reversed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are environmental factors that determine if a healthy choice is an easy choice when it comes to food options and physical activity. The current environments in America promote the increased consumption of unhealthy foods and physical inactivity.

Children are exposed to these environments at home, in childcare centers, schools and the community where they live. Factors that influence healthier choices include access to affordable healthier foods and attractive places that encourage physical activity.

Childhood obesity is the result of eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity.

Sugary drinks and less healthy food choices are available all day long for children and teens to purchase in many schools. More than half of the middle and high schools in the U.S. allow advertising of junk food to students daily. In addition, most children do not receive the recommended level of 60 minutes of daily physical activity needed to acquire and maintain a healthy weight.

On average, children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend 7.5 hours using some sort of entertainment media. They are watching TV, playing video games, on a computer, on a cell phone or watching a movie. All of these activities promote limited physical activity and expose children to advertisements of less healthy food.

Of the 7.5 hours, 4.5 hours are spent in front of the TV. Advertisements for less healthy food choices and sugary drinks dominate children’s programs. Advertisements for healthier food choices are mainly non-existent.

While we know what causes childhood obesity, there is no singular solution for reversing the epidemic. Let’s Move, America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids, challenges everyone to become involved in changing the lifestyle choices. The program provides ideas for parents and caregivers, schools, daycare centers, health professionals, faith and community based organizations, businesses and government officials.

Healthierkidsbrighterfutures.org and LetsMove.gov provide excellent Internet resources with ideas and inspiration for turning the obesity epidemic around.

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