Child Obesity Research Studies and Facts
This article has been reposted with permission from Whole Child Partner SPARK. SPARK is a research-based organization that disseminates evidence-based physical education, after school, early childhood, and coordinated school health programs to teachers and recreation leaders serving Pre-K through 12th grade students worldwide. Visit www.sparkpe.org for more information and additional blog posts.
In February of this year, First Lady Michelle Obama presented her ambitious Let’s Move campaign to battle the terrifying childhood obesity epidemic. Lady Obama was inspired not only from her family and children’s lifestyle, but also by some startling obesity statistics that have been gathered by medical researchers over the past thirty years.
A child is considered obese if their BMI (Body Mass Index) is 30 or higher, and this BMI level in anyone, especially children has the potential to cause very severe health issues. Recent studies using DEXA scanning devices show that this number is probably much higher than originally thought. There is no better time to solve the obesity issues among America’s children, and the adults of every generation.
- Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. In 1980, the obesity rate of 6-11 year olds was 6.5%, in 2008 had tripled to 19.6%. For toddlers and preschoolers aged 2-5, the obesity levels have risen from 5% to 12.4% in the same amount of time.
- If both parents are overweight, a child’s likelihood of being overweight is increased by 60-80%. The chance of an obese child growing into an obese adult is about 70%. Children perceive the number one immediate issue of being overweight is social discrimination, as reported by overweight children. This has the ability to prevent them from exercising with other children, which leads to antisocial and depressive tendencies, as well as lifetime psychological effects.
- There are a number of serious health conditions that arise from obesity, especially when a person’s joints and arteries are being challenged at such a young age. Some of the main illnesses that become incredibly more likely to occur due to childhood obesity include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, gall bladder disease and asthma.
- Heart Disease: One of the biggest killers in America today, heart disease prevention is very important in early life. Obese children that grow to obese adults carry the increased risks of heart disease with them.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Also known as adult-onset diabetes, the two main causes of this disease are related to an unhealthy lifestyle: lack of physical exercise, and obesity. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 does not generally have a genetic cause.
- Arthritis: While most arthritic patients are older, obese children can develop this disorder due to excessive weight and pressure on growing joints and bones.
- Asthma: Obesity often affects lung capacity, which can create dangerous and disconcerting asthma attacks.
- The cost of obesity is high. Not only are there lifelong health issues to consider, but those who are obese pay an average 30% more in health costs, and 77% more in medication costs. It requires more foods that are high in “empty” calories to provide energy, and larger meals in general are much more expensive.
Reasons Behind the Numbers
Many studies on current lifestyles have drawn a number of conclusions. It is generally accepted that a combination of poor lifestyle choices has greatly contributed to these disturbing numbers.
- Kids are eating more empty calories than ever before. Rather than healthy fruits and veggies and nutritious snacks and lunches, parents are serving processed snacks and various forms of high fructose corn syrup. Schools do not generally provide healthy food options, and kids with meal assistance plans have no choice but to consume unhealthy food items. Even kids with options often have an array of processed snacks, fried foods, sweets and sodas to purchase, and very few healthy options.
- Forms of entertainment have drastically changed. Just a few decades ago, kids spent the majority of their time playing outside with other kids from their neighborhood, or with their siblings in the backyard. Now they spend their time playing video games, watching television, and sitting in front of their computers.
- Physical education budgets in many school districts have taken huge hits. Programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act have begun to engulf exercise and activity time such as PE and recess. Low budgets have led to fewer teachers and less equipment for gym class and after school physical activities. Many schools now have to charge nominal fees for the students to participate in school sports. The less fortunate cannot afford these fees and are forced to opt out. The old strenuous and fun PE games for adolescents are being replaced by less-stimulating games that do not require the active involvement of all participants.
- Today’s children spend much more time in cars than ever before. They are much less likely to walk to school, the bus stop, or the park. They don’t bike a few miles to get to the pool in the summer, and they don’t jog to the local ballpark. Parents no longer walk their kids to their friends’ houses anymore, but rather drive them a few blocks away due to time constraints or safety reasons.