The rates of childhood obesity in Canada has tripled in the last 25-30 years. Data reports from other developing countries is quite similar. Childhood obesity is becoming a worldwide epidemic.
There can be no question that the two most significant factors in the childhood obesity epidemic are diet and exercise. The abundance of nutritionally deficient foods and a sedentary lifestyle are creating a generation poised to become adults with significant morbidity.
For the first time ever experts are calling the current generation of children an energy positive generation meaning that they have more calories going in than being expended through physical exercise and the excess energy is stored in the body as fat.
Here are the fitness and nutrition facts regarding childhood obesity:
- Childhood obesity affects children in the same ways that obesity affects adults. Children who are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, lowered self esteem, and breathing disorders such as asthma and sleep apnea.
- Conditions that were once thought to be present only in adult populations are now being diagnosed in children. This would include conditions such as high cholesterol (hyperlipedemia), type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and gall bladder disease.
- Children who have overweight parents are more likely to be overweight
- Inactive children are more likely to grow up to be inactive adults
- Physical exercise is strongly influenced by family patterns. Girls with active mothers are more likely to engage in regular physical exercise and boys who are involved in community sports programs are more likely to grow up to be men who engage in regular physical exercise.
- Lower income and education levels correlate to lower physical exercise levels in developed countries.
- Portion sizes shown in print and television advertising are as much as three times larger than is needed to meet energy needs.
- Obesity during adolescence has been found to increase adult mortality.
- Childhood obesity has been linked to the consumption of soft drinks or soda pop.
- Food and beverage companies in the US spent 1.6 million dollars (2006) marketing their products to children and adolescents. The amount of money spent to market soft drinks was 43 times the amount spent to market fruits and vegetables.
- Families who eat their meals together are more likely to make healthier food choices that include the recommended daily allowances of all food groups.
- A depressed mood is strongly associated with childhood obesity. Research suggests however that the depressed mood is a result of the obesity and not the cause of it.
- Breastfeeding has been found to protect against obesity in later life.
- Inadequate sleep has been correlated to higher obesity rates in children. Even as much as an extra hour of sleep every night can lower the risk of childhood obesity by 30%.
- Television and computer screen time has been linked to childhood obesity. When screen time approaches 4 hours per day a child is more likely to be overweight.
- Children view between 12 and 21 commercials daily for food and beverage products.
- Television advertising of food and beverages directed towards children are usually for products that are high in calories, sugar, sodium, and fat.
These fitness and nutrition facts represent only a small portion of the knowledge base that is accumulating regarding the epidemic of childhood obesity. The data is clear that fitness and nutrition habits are established very early in life and are strongly influenced by marketing and the lifestyle of the family.
The best way to guard against childhood obesity is to reduce screen time, eat well, and move more. If you do these three things together as a family not only will you all become healthier, but as a result your family relationships will be strengthened.