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American Epidemic: Childhood Obesity and Its Implications for America’s Kids

Sep 08, 2020

national childhood obesity awarenesss month
While America has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another disease that is stealing the health of our kids: childhood obesity.

Obesity affects nearly one in five children in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the prevalence of obesity reaches 13.7 million children and adolescents ages two to 19. And researchers have found that COVID-19 lockdowns may be worsening childhood obesity as kids are eating more junk food and watching more TV.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and while childhood obesity is unfortunately nothing new, we have learned from the current pandemic that people with obesity are at a greater risk of becoming severely ill from diseases such as COVID-19. 

Taking steps now to combat childhood obesity may help in the next global health pandemic. The good news is that there are simple changes every parent can make to help improve their child’s health and ability to fight disease.

What are the implications of childhood obesity?

Children who are obese often suffer from a wide range of health issues along with social issues such as bullying and isolation, leading to long-term issues like depression, negative body image and low self-esteem. Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, increasing risk for health concerns in adulthood such as: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even some cancers. Obese children are also more likely to be at greater risk for bone and joint problems as well as sleep apnea.

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, made a sobering statement in regards to childhood obesity. He said, “Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."

What causes childhood obesity?

Generally speaking, obesity is the result of caloric imbalance — too many calories are consumed and too few are expended. There are also genetic, behavioral and environmental factors at play. Some of these contributing factors include:

Screen time — Today’s children spend far too much time watching television or playing games on digital devices. The average child spends 30-40 hours a week watching a screen.

Poor sleep habits — Children need at least eight hours of sleep each night (if not more), but many children get far less sleep for any number of reasons.

Lack of physical activity — Many children do not have access to community centers or gyms where they can participate in physical activity and physical education and recess in schools has been all but wiped out across the board.

Easy access to unhealthy food and beverages — This is the fast food generation. Without a doubt, food served by the fast food industry is high in calories, sugar and fat, and lacking in essential nutrients. Sugary beverages such as juices and sodas also contribute to the epidemic.

Lack of access to affordable, healthier foods — Particularly in low-income households, access to fresh, healthy, whole foods is limited, whereas highly processed foods are most affordable in the grocery stores. As a result, children aren’t getting the recommended daily nutrients found in fresh produce and low-fat protein sources.

What can we do to stop the epidemic and improve the lives of our children?
At Nicholson Clinic, we believe that in understanding the causes of childhood obesity, we can change the course for our children. Parents must lead the way, by making simple lifestyle changes for themselves and their children. By encouraging small, gradual changes in a child’s lifestyle, we can produce long-term, sustainable results in that child’s long-term health. Here are a few tips every parent can use to improve their child’s health.

  • Make sure your children get adequate sleep.

  • Follow recommendations on daily screen time. Children under two should get no screen time, while children between the ages of two and five should have no more than an hour of screen time each day. For kids six and older, set consistent limits on screen time and encourage regular breaks for physical activity. (For more details on screen time recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, click here.)

  • Make physical activity part of your daily routine, whether through team sports or exercising as a family each day.

  • Carefully monitor your child’s food intake to ensure they are getting the right amount of calories from healthy, whole food sources such as fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains and lean meats. Serve fruits and vegetables in place of sugary snacks. The American Heart Association makes these dietary recommendations for children.

  • Encourage your child to drink water and limit or eliminate your child’s access to sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and juice.

Ending the childhood obesity epidemic requires a collaborative effort by state and federal government, schools, childcare providers and parents. Ultimately however, a healthy lifestyle begins at home. As a parent, ensure you are setting a healthy example for your children by making good nutrition and regular exercise a priority for your family.

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  • National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

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