According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About 1 in 5 (19%) children in the United States has obesity.” The American Heart Association reports another troubling statistic: “About one in three American kids is overweight or obese.” The AHA also reports that due to the upswing of children being overweight and obese, these same children now risk having a shorter life span than that of their parents. These alarming statistics frighten many, yet also raise several questions.
First, what exactly is childhood obesity? What are the factors that enable this health problem? Are certain groups of children more affected than others? And finally, what solutions are available for this unfortunately way-too-common health epidemic? With September being “Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,” the present is an excellent time to learn the answers to these questions.
How is Childhood Obesity defined? Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure used to determine childhood obesity. “Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state. The organization includes that “obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex.” How would one discover their BMI? There is a simple solution to doing this. “BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters,” the CDC says. “For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age.” With this said, a child’s weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI, rather than the BMI categories used for adults.
What factors contribute to childhood obesity? Now that we understand the mathematics behind what clinically defines childhood obesity, what are the factors that influence this health problem? Are certain children more inclined to struggle with this health problem? While there are several general factors that lead to this epidemic—such as eating and physical-activity behaviors, genetics, metabolism, and family and home environment—there are also specific factors for parents to be wary of, including:
- too much time spent being inactive;
- lack of sleep;
- lack of places to go in the community to get physical activity;
- easy access to inexpensive, high-calorie foods and sugary beverages;
- lack of access to affordable, healthier foods.
According to the US Newsarticle, “Understanding Childhood Obesity,” during the past 25 years, lifestyle and culture have led to this shift in why children are becoming overweight. Read on for a few examples.
- Today, fewer children walk to school than they did 25 years ago.
- Schools now require larger amounts of homework, which can lead to sedentary lifestyles.
- Technology now entices children more than physical activity.
- Today parents work longer hours, causing kids to make unhealthy food choices in their absence.
- Finally, kids now have access to, and enjoy more, heavily processed foods.
What solutions can help children avoid this health pitfall? Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure to childhood obesity. Every child is different and needs a unique plan of action to maintain a healthy weight.
First, parents and caretakers need to be aware of the various factors that can lead to a health problem. They can do this by simply monitoring the lifestyle of their child. Are they leading a sedentary lifestyle? Do they not have access to healthy, unprocessed food? If the answers to these questions are yes, then we need to take certain steps to avoid an unhealthy lifestyle.
Secondly, if one notices that a child is struggling with this, those who care for them need to be ready to provide consistency regarding healthy eating options, as well as love, support and motivation to help the child lose the weight. Specifically, a parent or guardian can keep a journal of their child’s sleep, exercise, and eating habits. This will enable the caretaker to notice the areas where their child needs support. For example, if they notice that their child is not getting adequate sleep due to video games, they can eliminate these for the time being by only allowing a short, set amount of time to enjoy these BEFORE dinner and bed.
While there is no simple solution to ending this health problem, there are many ways communities can support children with their journey to good health. Through working together to first understand this serious lifestyle problem, parents, guardians, and community members can take the steps necessary to help lower these startling statistics.