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How Can We Turn The Tide Of Childhood Obesity?

 width= Over the past few years, we have often written on the subject of children and obesity, sharing suggestions on how to prevent this. And yet, has anything changed? Sadly not. Of course obese and overweight children mean more obese and overweight adults. Recently I watched a video showing some 15 to 20 young girls dancing the "twist" back in the 1960s - and the first thing that struck me was how slim they ALL were. If you put together a random and similar size group of young girls today, the sad truth is that many or most of them would be overweight.

Childhood obesity numbers continues to rise

The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. And that figure was high even then. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) is obese. When children are overweight or obese, they are at a disadvantage on several different levels:
  • They have a higher risk for chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health including asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems and type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease.
  • In the long term, childhood obesity is also associated with the risk of being obese as an adult which can result in more serious conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and several types of cancer.

What is obesity?

Obesity is defined as having excessive excess body fat while being overweight is described as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water or a combination of these factors. Body mass index (or BMI) is a widely used screening tool for measuring both overweight and obesity. BMI percentile is preferred for measuring children and young adults (aged 2 to 20) because it takes into account that they are still growing - and also growing at different rates depending on their age and sex. Health professionals use growth charts to see whether a child’s weight falls into a healthy range for the child’s height, age and sex.

How is the difference between being overweight and being obese measured?

  • Those children with a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile are considered overweight.
  • Children at or above the 95th percentile have obesity.
And the situation in the UK is not much better.

What is the solution to obesity in children and beyond?

There has to be a concerted and massive effort on several fronts to resolve this problem. Surely our children and grandchildren are worth more time and effort from us all?
  • Many experts believe schools are a key setting for efforts to prevent childhood obesity. Looking across multiple studies, teams of scientists have found that a comprehensive school-based approach is effective at preventing obesity.
  • Restaurant chains have to change their habits. They have to downsize their portions considerably and they have to stop serving loads of sugar and other junk.
  • Legislation is urgently needed to ensure manufacturers are no longer permitted to include added sugar in foodstuffs, beverages and more. Sodas and children's cereals are two examples.
  • Disadvantaged families should be helped and encouraged to include more fresh whole foods in their children's diets while cutting back on processed, sugary foods which are often the cheapest on offer.
  • Children need to get moving again. Children under the age of 5 – including babies who can’t even walk yet – should exercise every day while those who are walking should be physically active for at least 3 hours a day.
  • Parents need to be educated on the considerable dangers to their health and well being when they allow their children to become obese. Adopting the suggestions in the infographic below would make an excellent starting point.