Childhood obesity is a serious, growing epidemic, cutting across all categories of race, ethnicity, family income and locale. Obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years, making childhood obesity one of the most serious health challenges of the 21st century. Additionally, we spend $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions, with childhood healthcare costs rapidly increasing that number.
More often than not, obesity is the result of a flawed lifestyle. Although genetics can be a factor, it is more common for children to be obese or overweight because of environmental and behavioral factors. These frightening facts display how dangerous and costly childhood obesity is in society. Luckily, parents can change the trend. See our hopeful hints to learn how.
1. Only two percent of kids in the U.S. eat healthy.
Based on diet recommendations established by the United States Department of Agriculture, only two percent of children have a healthy diet. In fact, in a survey of high school seniors, only three out of every 10 report eating vegetables “nearly” every day. Of the vegetables consumed, one-fourth is in the form of French fries or potato chips.
Hopeful Hint: Sneak veggies into your kid’s meals. You may not be able to convince them to choose an apple rather than chips at school, but you can mix spinach into their smoothie or chopped-up peppers and onions into meatloaf and burgers.
2. Obesity in children is mainly caused by a lack of exercise.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children exercise at least at the intensity of a fast walk for 60 minutes every day. Unfortunately, one out of every four children does not participate in any free-time physical activity.
Hopeful Hint: Look around the community; what do you see? I see awesome opportunities for family fun and fitness. You don’t need to get your kids to “work out.” Instead, suggest family nights that are active rather than sedentary. Bike to get frozen yogurt or take the dog to the dog park. If it’s cold outside, skate, sled or ski. The opportunities are endless!
3. Screen time correlates with childhood obesity.
A typical child spends approximately four to five hours a day watching TV, using the computer or playing video games. Studies have found that the more TV children watch, the more likely they are to gain excess weight. There’s also evidence that early TV habits may have long-lasting effects. Two studies that followed children from birth found that TV viewing in childhood predicts obesity risk well into adulthood and even into mid-life.
Hopeful Hint: Limit “screen time” to no more than two hours a day. Encourage fun, out-of-the-box ideas like these that won’t feel like exercise (for you or your kids):
- Balloon Ball – Blow up some balloons and play “keep it off the ground” or catch.
- Obstacle Course – Create a furniture course in your home or make a course outside with chalk.
- Follow the Leader – Add energetic movements like jumping or stomping and squatting.
- Dance Party – Turn on the music and shake your groove thang!
- Scavenger Hunt – Hide clues around your home for your kids to find.
- Hallway Bowling – Set up water bottles and use any ball you have.
4. Unnecessary snacking leads to weight gain.
Thirty years ago, kids ate one snack a day. Now, they are trending toward three snacks, resulting in an additional 200+ calories a day. Children in states with laws that restrict the sale of unhealthy snack foods and beverages in school gained less weight over a three-year period than those living in states with no such policies.
Hopeful Hint: Your home is where your child most likely eats the majority of his or her meals and snacks, so it is vital that your kitchen is stocked with healthy choices and treats. Follow these hints:
- Don’t ban sweets entirely.While many kids’ sugar consumption exceeds healthy limits, having a no sweets rule is an invitation for cravings and overindulging when given the chance. Instead, limit the amount of cookies, candies, etc. your child eats, and introduce fruit-based snacks.
- Limit juice and soda. Soft drinks are loaded with sugar—empty calories that don’t do anything healthy for your child. Many juices aren’t any better. Instead, offer your child sparkling water with a twist of lime, fresh mint or a splash of fruit juice.
- Keep snacks small. Don’t turn snacks into a meal. Limit them to 100-150 calories.
5. The risk for health issues are higher in children with obesity.
- Heart disease: Seventy percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Researchers predict that, if current adolescent obesity rates continue, there will be more than 100,000 additional cases of coronary heart disease attributable to obesity by the year 2035.
- Asthma: Being overweight or obese is associated with a 52 percent increased risk of a new diagnosis of asthma among children.
- Diabetes: Forty-five percent of children with type 2 diabetes were diagnosed due to being obese or overweight.
Hopeful Hint: You can make a huge impact on your children’s health by being involved with the details of their lives. Defy busy schedules and make face-time with your kids a priority. Treat it like a meeting and schedule the time on your calendar to ensure you stick to it. Spending quality time with your kids can also provide the self-esteem boost they need to make a positive change.
6. Healthcare costs skyrocket.
Did you know healthcare expenses directly related to childhood obesity are $14 billion every year? If obesity rates continue on their current pace, by 2030, medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 to $66 billion per year in the United States.
Hopeful Hint: There are no easy options when it comes to tackling childhood weight problems and obesity. Weight-loss surgery and medications are rarely recommended for children and adolescents. If you have changed your family’s eating and physical activity habits and your child has not reached a healthy weight, or if your doctor determines that your child’s health or emotional well-being is at risk because of his or her weight, you may want to consider a weight-control program.
Altru’s Healthy N Fit Kids and Families program can offer the education and hands-on support needed to make long-lasting change. With registered dietitians and health & wellness specialists on our team, the approach is comprehensive and fun for both kids and their families.
- American Heart Association: Preventing Childhood Obesity: Tips for Parents and Caretakers
- CDC: Childhood Obesity Facts
Emily Spicer is a health and wellness specialist at Altru Health System. With a positive approach to overall wellness, she inspires people to take control of their lives through a focused commitment toward better health and to make that choice a habitual and natural one. In her free time, Emily enjoys a good workout, playing tennis and spending time with her family and friends.