Childhood obesity is a major issue in the United States, putting many children and adolescents at risk for poor health in the present and the future. The prevalence of fast food restaurants and easy quick meals, make them appealing to families and their children. Eating fast food and an unhealthy diet, plays a role in childhood obesity, but it’s not the only issue. As we’ll discuss in this piece, outside of what we eat, socioeconomic status plays a role in the chances of being obese and so does family history. In this Health Journal we are going to dive into the statistics behind childhood obesity and what you can do to help.
Childhood Obesity Statistics
No one is immune to the risk of growing up at an unhealthy weight and childhood obesity cuts across all communities and all categories of race, ethnicity and family income. Approximately 17 percent of U.S. youth have obesity and nearly one in three children and adolescents are either overweight or have obesity. Below we have included a few more statistics on childhood obesity and some may surprise you.
- Researchers estimate a staggering 9.4 percent of children ages 2 to 5 already have obesity.
- The obesity rate of children aged 6 to 11 has also more than quadrupled during the past 40 years – from 4.2 to 17.4 percent – as well as tripled for adolescent’s ages 12 to 19, climbing from 6 to 12.6 percent according to NHANES.
- An overweight adolescent has a 70 percent chance of becoming an overweight or obese adult.
- 6-to-8 year olds with obesity are approximately 10 times more likely to become obese adults than those with a lower body mass index.
- A third of the children born in 2000 in this country will develop diabetes during their lifetime.
- Since 1980, the obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.
- More than one in four 17-24-year-olds in the United States are now too heavy to serve in the military, a development that some retired military leaders have said endangers national security.
What can we do?
Now that we have seen some childhood obesity statistics, it’s important to remember that there are things we can do to help prevent this and allow our children to grow up healthier and reduce the chances of health related issues. It’s easy to say that all we have to do is eat healthier, but there are issues when it comes to this as well. At fast food places, unhealthier options are often cheaper and for some families, this food plays a pivotal role in allowing children to eat and not go hungry. Down below we have included some options that will help keep our children healthier that don’t necessarily involve diet changes.
- Staying active: Physical activity is an important part of a child’s development and can play an important role in keeping them at a healthy weight. Regular physical activity has many health benefits for children including strengthening bones, decreasing blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety and helping with weight management. It is recommended that children ages 3-5 stay active throughout the day while children ages 6-17 should be physically active for at least 60 minutes. Including aerobic activity is helpful, which is anything that makes your heart beat faster, while also including bone strengthening activities such as running or jumping and muscle strengthening activities like climbing and pushups. It’s also a good idea to add physical activity to your daily routine as the parent, since children are likely to imitate adult and parent behavior.
- Reduce sedentary time: Quiet time for reading and homework is important too, but it’s a good idea to limit the time children spend watching TV or playing video games to no more than 2 hours per day. Encouraging children to find fun activities to do with family members or on their own will help encourage physical activity which they will hopefully learn to enjoy.
- Ensure adequate sleep: Too little sleep is associated with childhood obesity, in part because inadequate sleep makes us eat more and be physically less active. Children on average need more sleep than adults but how much varies by age.
As we discussed above, although physical activity and sleep play huge roles, food is an important piece in childhood obesity as well. It’s not easy or cheap to eat healthy, but there are a few ways you can help your child even when on a budget. Here are a few ideas:
- Snacks: It’s not always our big meals that encourage weight gain, but it can often be the ultimate enemy, snacking. Snacks add many more calories to our diet, even when we don’t realize it. A small bag of chips can have more calories than a dinner meal, and this is where the calories can add up. Substituting a cup of carrots or broccoli, or having an apple or banana, is a cheap and effective way to make a direct impact on the calorie count. Reducing the availability of high-fat and high-sugar snacks will also help your children become more accustomed to eating healthy snacks and help build better habits for the future.
- Drinks: Outside of snacking, what we drink also plays a massive role on our health and our potential for both obesity and diabetes. A simple 12oz can of Coca-Cola contains 140 calories, 45mg of sodium, and 39g of sugar. These 140 calories are added to whatever we have eaten on the day and are just extra calories we put into our bodies with no nutritional value. These stats are also just from one 12oz can, so if this is two or three sodas in one day, you’re looking at close to 500 calories or what an average meal might be. What we drink plays a huge role in our calorie intake, so swapping out regular soda for water or at the very least diet soda, might help tremendously.