Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Child Obesity Epidemic

We hear, almost on a daily basis, about the obesity problem that exists in America today and that Americans are much fatter now compared to previous generations. What about the prevalence of obesity in children?

In the past, obesity was a condition normally associated with adults, especially those in their later years - not so much with children. Well today that gap has decreased significantly and continues to do so at a rapid pace. To show you what I mean here are some statistics (from the National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey):

From 1971 to 2000 the increase in obesity in boys (ages 6-11) rose from 4.3% to 16% respectively and similarly 3.6% to 14.5% for girls. In the same time frame, obesity prevalence in boys (ages 12-19) went from 6.1% to 15.5% and 6.2% to 15.5% in girls of the same age group.

If that’s not disturbing enough here is some news on diabetes occurrence in children and adolescents in America. According to Dr. Angela Liese, from the University of South Carolina, one out of every 513 children and adolescents has diabetes. Type 1 diabetes was found in all racial/ethnic groups except in American Indian youth.

Type 2 diabetes, however, was found in all ethnic/racial groups in youth between the ages of 10 and 19. Of all those cases, non-Hispanic whites represented 6%, blacks - 33%, Asian/Pacific Islanders – 40% and the highest prevalence was among American Indian youth at 76%.

Scientists believe that obesity is a strong factor in the development of type 2 diabetes and parents should educate and inform their children on weight control through proper nutrition, exercise and about the dangers of overeating (especially fast food). The only way to do that effectively is to lead by example.

If your children are not involved in sports get them involved in various activities. Take them on a stroll with the dog – take the whole family to the park and play Frisbee, football, soccer or whatever you feel comfortable with. Do this on a regular basis on most days of the week. This will benefit you equally as much as your children.

Prepare home cooked meals that contain low starch, fiber rich carbohydrates, and lean proteins. Teach your children to avoid or reduce junk food that is loaded with fat and sugar (fast food, candy bars, chips, etc.).

One of the reasons for this rise in child obesity is that the number of meals derived from fast food or processed food sources has steadily increased over the years. More and more Americans have been flocking to fast food outlets because the industry has been able to increase food portions, keep prices relatively low, while generating adequate profit margins.

And they promote these concepts (perceived benefits) with huge advertising campaigns most of which are targeted to children and play on their emotions. When this type of indoctrination is bred into people from very young ages, a simple glimpse of an advertising poster or the sound of a radio jingle can automatically trigger feelings of hunger – or rather, thoughts of hunger and desire for a particular food product.

One way to fight against this is to educate children. Teach them about the dangers and consequences of eating frequent and/or large amounts of certain fast or processed foods –that are loaded with fat, sugar and salt and have little nutritional value.

Remember that being overweight or obese is a major risk factor in developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and others. Stay conscious of it and pass on this knowledge to your children. Knowledge is power. I would appreciate your input on this topic, whether you agree with it or not.

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