Over the last 30 years childhood obesity has more than tripled in the United States and now over 12.7 million children are obese. The annual health care cost of childhood obesity is over 14 billion dollars per year and climbing! These overweight children can expect to live 14 years less than children of normal weight. If this problem continues to grow over the next decade, the average life expectancy in the U.S. will decrease by 5 years. Contributing causes of this health care epidemic include a lack of education and poor parenting in most cases. Any way you cut it, the parents are the ones who control their children’s diet and the physical activities their children participate in. Overweight children are much more likely to develop the following illnesses and suffer needlessly:
- Type-2 diabetes.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (excess fat and inflammation in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol).
- Osteoarthritis (a health problem causing pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or more joints).
- Some types of cancer (breast, colon, kidney).
How The U.S. Child Obesity Compares To The Rest of The World
We need to ask ourselves why the United States has over 60% more obese children than other countries in the world. The childhood obesity issue is increasing at an alarming rate with over one-third of children from the ages of 5-17 being either obese or overweight. We’re already seeing decreases in life expectancy with adults and Americans dying 5 years younger than in many other countries. Within the upcoming decades, even with medical advances, life expectancy is expected to drop 5 years due to early obesity in children. Some studies indicate that life expectancy for the overweight and obese will be 13 years less than someone of normal weight. For the first time ever, the next generation will not live longer than their parents. Illness and disease are on the rise for overweight and obese children. Type 2 diabetes, heart conditions, cancer and joint issues which were once considered adult diseases are know affecting our children. Children who are born to one obese or overweight parent have a 50% chance of becoming obese or overweight. If both parents are obese or overweight, the child has an 80% chance of becoming obese or overweight! This statistic is not due to genetics, but due to the environment the child is raised in. Let’s face it, most obesity issues are due to poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity which are instilled by the parents.
What are The Main Causes of Children Being Overweight or Obese?
Poor Diet – A lot of kids are eating high calorie, low nutrient foods and beverages. This includes processed foods, cereals packed with sugar, fast food, juices, and snacks loaded with sugar like cookies and candy. The sad fact is that the parents are actually endangering their own kids with all of the processed high-fat, high-sugar foods that they feed them or allow them to eat. Many parents are just too busy or don’t really even care and they are allowing their children to completely control their own diets. Many children eat fast food every single day because that’s their normal routine and they are exceeding their daily caloric intake by hundreds, if not thousands of calories! Most of the fast food items have very little nutritional value. When you add in all of the other sugary snacks that children are consuming each day it starts to become very clear why one-third of our kids are either overweight or obese!
Lack of Physical Activity and Lifestyle Changes – 77% of all children do not get enough exercise. Nowadays, kids rarely go outside and play. Instead, they are fixated on watching TV, playing video games, surfing the Internet and texting on their smartphones. A lack of physical activity and a poor diet are clearly the driving force in the epidemic of overweight and obese children. The reality is that most children are completely sedentary and this inactivity easily leads to weight gain.
Genetics – Genetics can come into play in some instances. Many parents like to blame genetics for their child’s weight issues. The reality is that most childhood obesity cases are not genetic at all and mainly center around lifestyle factors such as a poor diet and a lack of exercise. Worldwide obesity statistics support this. If it was a genetic issue, then U.S. childhood obesity rates would increase along with other countries around the world, which is not the case.
Preventing Childhood Obesity – The Parent’s Role
Parental Role Modeling – Currently, there is approximately 71% of the adult population in the U.S that is overweight or obese. Sadly, their poor lifestyle choices in diet and a lack of physical activity is being passed down to their children. Children often mimic the behaviors of their parents from a nutrition and a physical activity standpoint. Parental mindset must change as it relates to taking care of their children. Parents control both of these areas and the current negligence in caring for the one-third of the overweight and obese children is shortening lifespans and eroding the self-esteem of their own kids. Parents need to set the example for their children by eating and providing healthy foods along with being involved in their children’s physical activities. Parents also need to be better role models by limiting their own use of electronic devices and technology. Children are sponges and they take in everything around them. They watch “mom and dad” spending hours each evening watching TV, surfing the Internet and constantly texting people throughout the day. It’s no wonder today’s children are not involved in physical activities and spend 4 to 5 hours every day with electronic devices.
Supervision of Children – Parents need to monitor their children’s activities and limit the use of TV, video games and cell phones. Limits on these types of activities should be established in the household. In addition, parents need to involve their children in physical activities. Team sports are great for a fun activity and social development standpoint. Parents can also take their kids out walking, running, swimming, biking, hiking or take them to the gym for a workout.
Nutrition – It’s critical to ensure a child is eating properly. There is no doubt that “you are what you eat”. Good eating habits start with a healthy nutrition plan. Parents clearly control and influence this category, so they need to take charge. Here are a few tips:
- Parents need to set an example when it comes to healthy eating habits. Most children mirror their own parent’s diets and this is a big reason why 71% of the overall U.S. population is overweight or obese.
- Start the day off with a healthy breakfast like oatmeal, sugar-free cereal or fresh fruit. Not only will healthy eating improve your child’s health, but it also helps to improves your child’s performance in school because it helps to increase their mental focus and attention thus improving their overall academic performance.
- Cut out all the sugary juices, cereals and snacks, as well as all the refined and processed foods. Children are eating way too many things that provide little to no nutritional value.
- Limit fast food intake. Fast food items are very high in calories, fat and carbs and provide very little nutritional value to your child.
- Be aware of what type of food is being served for school lunch programs. If your kid’s school is serving up unhealthy foods, then make sure to voice your concerns to the school’s administrators or even the school board.
- Eat balanced meals with lean protein, healthy fats and clean carbs. Limit high carbohydrate foods like white bread and pasta. Replace these foods with lots of fruits and vegetables. Read ShapeFit’s Nutrition 101 article for a long list of healthy foods.
- Ensure your child is getting plenty of exercise. Team sports are great along with fun activities like bike riding, going to the park, walking and hiking. These are just a few of the many physical activities that will help children and parents stay fit. It is easy for adults to say they don’t have time, but if you want your child to have a healthy future then you need to make the time.
- Participate in your child’s activities by attending games and school events. If you make it important, then the kids are more inclined to stay involved and reap the benefits.
Negative Impact of a Child Being Overweight or Obese:
- Overweight and obese children have lower self-esteem.
- Obese children will live 13 years less than a child of normal weight.
- Overweight and obese children get sick more often.
- Overweight and obese children are more inclined to perform worse academically in school versus a child of normal weight.
- The average medical cost for an obese child versus a child of normal weight is $20,000 more over the course of a lifetime. This does not include potential catastrophic illnesses that plague many overweight or obese people.
There is Good News!
Childhood obesity is preventable through proper education and child supervision. Awareness and parental involvement are key components in preventing this devastating and preventable illness from taking charge. Parental commitment to provide a healthy lifestyle for our children will help keep our kids safe and allow them to live a healthy and prosperous life. Here are some tips to follow:
- Parental role modeling is key. Kids follow the lead of their parents.
- Proper education is crucial for developing healthy habits.
- A nutritious diet is the cornerstone of maintaining a normal weight.
- Proper lifestyle choices need to be implemented.
- Adequate exercise every day is critical for achieving success.
- Regular medical check-ups with your doctor are very important.
Things Parents Can Do To Reverse Childhood Obesity:
- Proper role modeling for children when it comes to eating and physical activity.
- Contact your local politicians to share your concerns over this epidemic. If they are not taking a stand on health issues then they are probably not the right people to serve the public.
- Contact your kid’s school and voice your concerns about unhealthy school lunch programs or a lack of physical education classes.
- Educate yourself on health and fitness. There are so many great resources available for free on the Internet. Start by reading the great articles that are published every week by the talented writers here on ShapeFit!