Since 1985, childhood obesity has tripled reaching epidemic proportions, and causing outcry over the way our country looks at the problem of overweight children the future health problems that they face. Today, about 16% of this nationâ€™s children are considered overweight with their BMI (body mass index) falling between 85th and 95th percentile. Around half of overweight children grow up to become obese adults ( a BMI in the 95thpercentile) and end up suffering fromÂ long term health problems including type 2 diabetes and other physical complications like orthopedic problems, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. Being overweight can also lead to psychological problems like depression, low self esteem, anxiety and loneliness.
Why children are getting fatter
The rise of affordable fatty foods that are high in sugar and empty calories is cited as one of the major reasons why kids, especially children in low income households, are becoming overweight. Cheap, fast food can be found on every corner and even in school vending machines that are stocked with high calorie snacks and heavily sweetened beverages.
Along with round the clock access to these foods, advertising also plays a major role into what children and their parents choose to eat. Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, points to the 3 million dollars spent by the US government on their â€œ5 a Dayâ€ nutrition education program, compared to the nearly 3 billion dollars that the fast food industry has spent of advertising. Having spent 1000 times as much on ads than the government, it should come as no surprise that Ronald McDonald is the second most recognized figure in the world, right after Santa (who is also reportedly a fan of Ronald).
Portion sizes also play a factor in this countryâ€™s expanding waist line.Â For example, 6 oz used to be the standard size for soda, now the smallest you can get is around 20 oz. Children reportedly get 11% of their daily calories from soft drink which equals around 5 tablespoons of sugar a day! Our nationâ€™s preoccupation with super sized meals, super big gulps, tubs of pop corn and all you can eat buffets has led to poor eating habits for children and adults alike.
How we eat also play a factor. Most people seem to be too busy to prepare a healthy meal at home relying on take out and fast food to feed their families. This means bigger portions, higher fat intake and much less fruits and vegetables.
Our sedentary lifestyle has also contributed to our increasing problem with obesity. A few decades ago, before the dawn of video games and the internet, kids tended to get more physical activity into their day. Nowadays, they spend all of their free time in front of their high definition television or computer. Schools also can be blamed for eliminating physical education and after school programs.
Addressing the problem and taking steps to prevent it can be done, but it may be difficult. Behavior modification problems can be a challenge but can also be very effective at tackling the problems of childhood obesity and overweight. The good thing is that it is easier to change the behavior of a child in danger of becoming obese that it is to change the habits of an adult who already is obese. Family based programs focused on specific behaviors that lead to excessive weight gain seem to be the most promising way in helping the next generation overcome this epidemic.
Here are some things that you as a family can do:
- Turn family time into active time: Instead of plopping down on the couch to watch television.Â Try going for a hike or family bike ride, Walking to the museum, garden or even the mall is also a good idea.
- Let your children play outside. Keeping your kids inside to punish them can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. While discipline is important, encouraging them to play outside in order to burn off that excess energy might even help you keep a more orderly household.
- Start with a good breakfast: Eating a good breakfast in the morning helps kids stay focused, do better in school and leads to them eating less junk throughout the day.
- Eat healthier dinner: Investing time and money into healthy, well prepared dinners will pay off in the long run. Including fresh fruit and veggies, and cutting down on sugar and fat will help you and your family lead healthier and more active lives.
- Drink more water: Water is important for cleansing and repairing your body. Try adding some fruit to it to make it more palatable to your kids. Also, when you drink juice, make sure you are drinking real juice without any added sugar.
- Lead by example: If you are trying to get your children to eat healthy, you can start by eating better yourself. Eat a smaller portion in lieu of super sizing it anf be active yourself instead of just sitting down and watching your kids play.