Guest Contributor, Corrine Smith
There’s really no questioning it: childhood obesity is a problem. Many have labeled it as an epidemic. In the past, the term “obesity” has only been associated with adults, but this idea has changed, as cases of child obesity are increasing every day. Studies show that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years —The Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that obesity among children from the ages of 6 to 11 years has increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.8% in 2008, and that obesity among adolescents from the ages of 12 to 19 years increased from 5% in 1980 to 18.1% in 2008 (and these statistics are now 5 years old). More often than not, obesity is the result of a flawed lifestyle, where the number of calories consumed far outweighs the number of calories expended. Although genetics can be a factor, it is more and more common now for children to be obese or overweight because of environmental and behavioral factors. With nearly 25 million children affected by it today, the bottom line is that obesity is a threat to our children. These 10 frightening facts illuminate just how dangerous and costly childhood obesity is.
- Only 2% of kids in the U.S. eat healthy: Based on diet specifications established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), only 2% of children in the United States have a healthy diet. It can be easy to dismiss statistics when so many numbers are thrown at you at once. Don’t be fooled. This means that 98% of American children eat unhealthy meals every day. This is a staggering number. In a survey of American high school seniors, only 3 out of every 10 report eating vegetables “nearly” every day. Of the vegetables consumed in the United States, one-fourth are in the form of french fries or potato chips. We hate to say it, but vegetables fried in grease hardly count as your daily dose of vegetables (even though they taste oh so good). Vegetables aside, soft-drink consumption has increased 300% in the last 20 years. 300%! To give us all a little perspective, one 16 ounce serving of regular Coke has 194 calories and 54 grams of sugar. That’s bad.
- Fast food consumption is rising: One of the primary contributing factors to obesity in both adults and children is fast food consumption. We all know that fast food is bad for us and yet we continue to eat it. Fast food can be easier and even cheaper when time and money are both scarce. However, the more fast food children consume, the further we get from remedying the epidemic of child obesity. In a survey of high school students, the average teenager in the United States eats fast food twice a week. Eating fast food at a young age develops the habit of eating fast food as an adult. Studies show that low income families are more likely to eat fast food than higher income families. Even more alarming, a study done of 200 neighborhoods reported that there were three times as many supermarkets in wealthy neighborhoods as there were in poor neighborhoods, leaving fast food restaurants as the most convenient option for many low income families.
- About 25% of kids don’t do any physical activity: When we think of being a kid, we think of running and playing tag or going t-ball practice. In movies and television shows little kids seem to be constantly running around and playing. Our idealized conception of childhood as a time of playful activity is what makes the following statistic so shocking: one in every four children does not participate in any free-time physical activity. What?! This means that one-fourth of all children under the age of 10 are not running and playing tag or hide-and-seek. No chasing each other on the playground? No climbing trees or jumping rope? More and more kids are spending their free time doing stationary activities. Furthermore, the importance of activity for children is going unnoticed as physical education classes are cut because of lowering school budgets. 92% of elementary schools do not have daily P.E. classes year-round and less than a quarter of high school students take a P.E. class once a day.
- Kids spend up to 5 hours daily watching TV: To further the problem, in addition to physical education classes being cut, children are spending more time pursuing sedentary activities. According to The Clinton Foundation, a typical American youth spends approximately 4 to 5 hours a day watching TV, using the computer or playing video games. It’s no real surprise that television watching is closely correlated to childhood obesity. After all, there is no way a child can burn the calories he or she consumed that day if nearly all of their leisure time is spent sitting in front of a television. Several studies indicate that television viewing should be regarded as an important contributing factor to childhood obesity. Among kids ages 12 to 17, the prevalence of obesity increased by 2% for each hour of television viewed, even after considering variables such as prior weight, race, and socio-economic status.
- Obese children make poor students: There is growing evidence indicating that children who eat well and lead an active lifestyle perform better academically. It’s not hard to believe that a healthy body makes a healthy mind. As discussed by the organization Action for Healthy Kids, a recent study of 5,000 children established a relationship between diet quality and academic performance. The lower the quality of diet, the lower a person performs academically. Research shows that regular physical activity aids in cognitive and academic development in kids between
- The risk for heart disease jumps:Cardiovascular Disease technically refers to any disease involving the heart or blood vessels. However, generally the term is used to refer to atherosclerosis, which is a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup inhibits blood flow, potentially causing heart attack or stroke. Now you’re thinking, “wait, weren’t we talking about child obesity here?” Most people consider stroke and heart attack adult concerns. However, in a population-based sample of children ages 5 to 17, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High levels of cholesterol and high blood pressure are two of the main risk factors for the development of heart disease. Most obese children have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or both. The primary way to manage cardiovascular disease is with diet and lifestyle intervention.
- Half of diabetic children are overweight: Type-2 Diabetes is also termed “adult onset diabetes” because originally, only adults were afflicted with it. This, however, is quickly changing. There is an alarming increase in the number of children and adolescents developing Type-2 Diabetes throughout the world due to being overweight. According toThe American Diabetes Association, 45% of children diagnosed with diabetes have Type-2 Diabetes due to being obese or overweight. Moreover, between the years 2005 and 2008, the number of children with Type-2 Diabetes doubled in America (if this rate continues that number will have doubled again this year in 2011). In some countries, type-2 diabetes has become the most common form of disease in children and in North America at least one in every 100 youth has been diagnosed with some form of diabetes.
- Sleep apnea is a growing threat: As defined by the Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea is a condition where one’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. A study preformed in 2009 suggests that sleep apnea is the most severe problem faced by obese children. There are two types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain doesn’t send the proper signals, and obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when throat muscles relax too much and the airway collapses. Obese children are at a greater risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea because their tonsils are so large that it can interfere with the ability of the chest and abdomen to fully expand during breathing. Sleep apnea is associated with decreased quality of life. Sufferers may also experience behavioral, neurocognitive, cardiovascular, metabolic, endocrine, and psychiatric complications.
- Health care costs are triple what they are for healthier children: The cost of obesity for both the national health care system and the individual has sky rocketed in the past few years as obesity quickly becomes an epidemic. In an examination of the cost of obesity for Americans, researchers report that Americans spend 9% of their total medical costs on obesity-related illnesses and that the national cost of obesity is approximately $45 billion per year. Moreover, children treated for obesity are roughly three times more expensive for the health care system than children of normal weight. To put this statistic into perspective, this means that children who are being treated for obesity and obesity related illnesses spend more on health care than smokers. The indirect cost of obesity, including missed work and future earnings losses, has been estimated at %56 billion dollars per year. As if the cost of your health and happiness weren’t enough, obesity also costs your bank account and the national health system a huge amount of money.
- Obese children will live shorter lives than their parents: Perhaps the most frightening facts study performed in 2005 projected that if obesity among children continues to increase, the current generation of children will live shorter lives than their parents. Let’s hear this just one more time: if childhood obesity trends continue, children born now may die before their parents. This is an utterly terrifying thought. This projection means that obesity is not only more expensive, but also, more dangerous to a person’s health than smoking cigarettes. With obese youth being 80% more likely to become overweight or obese adults and, therefore, more at risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis, it’s not too difficult to see that shorter lifespan could become a problem. Childhood obesity is a dire issue. These 10 facts underscore the necessity for a healthy diet and active lifestyle at all ages, but especially for children.