Looking out over the yard during recess, Mrs. Nyeberg saw Adam standing apart from a group of the other children who were playing. She knew that once again Adam had been left out of their games. He was endlessly taunted about his weight by the other children and had very few friends at school. At 8 years old Adam was already 40 pounds heavier than the other children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over 9 million children ages 6 to 19 years old are overweight or obese. In a frightening trend, this number has tripled since 1980. In this same time period, childhood obesity has doubled for preschoolers (2-5 years old) and adolescents (12-19 years).
This problem is not limited to the United States but is a growing epidemic in many countries. In a country that is apparently obsessed with weight issues we should be declaring this issue a national emergency.
Ignoring the Issue
Believing that children may surely have "baby fat" or grow out of their weight problems is a fallacy. Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This number increases to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese.
UCSF researcher Robert Lustig, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics at UCSF Children's Hospital notes that the Western diet is the key reason for childhood obesity.
Lustig offers that our high calorie, low fiber diets promote hormonal imbalances that encourage children to overeat. Other factors commonly attributed to the rise in obesity include frequent fast food dining, too little physical activity at school and home, larger portion sizes, and lack of sleep. Another key factor cited in numerous studies, and perhaps the most important – parents.
Parents play an important role in the growth, development, and socialization of children (Darling and Steinberg 1993). Additionally, overweight parents may pass on a combination of genetic predisposition to becoming overweight and unhealthy eating habits to their children. An Australian study showed that fathers who were permissive or disengaged were more likely to have children with a higher body mass index ( http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/70064.php ). Obesity in children is far more than a vanity issue. Along with the rise in childhood obesity is a dramatic increase in diseases and conditions that were previously more prevalent in adults.
A new study revealed that obesity in adolescents is related with reduced heart functions and excess cardiac mass. Combined with the tendency to become hypertensive this is a life threatening issue.
Being overweight puts a greater strain on the still developing bodies of children. Childhood obesity puts children at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, joint problems, sleep disorders and more. One in three obese children has excess fat in their liver. This excess fat could lead to hepatitis, cirrhosis or liver failure. Not to mention the emotional toll on children who are subjected to teasing and / or isolation by their peers.
Seek Medical Help
Your physician can determine if your child's weight is healthy. The doctor will use a growth chart to compare your child's BMI to other children of the same age and sex.Cutoff points on these growth charts, established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), help identify overweight children:
o BMI-for-age between 85th and 95th percentiles – at risk of overweight
o BMI-for-age over 95th percentile – overweight
Your doctor will also evaluate your family history, your child's calorie intake and eating habits, other health conditions, and activity level.
I was an overweight child and an obese teen. I understand the physical, emotional, and mental pain it can cause. On my blog, I will provide weight loss strategies for children and their parents. Stay tuned.