Childhood Obesity : The Problem

Think about your child’s class at school. The average class size for public elementary schools is around 20 children. Odds are, based on the latest statistics, that at least six children in your son or daughter’s class are overweight or obese. That is one third of the class, and an alarming statistic. Those six children are at greater risk for high cholesterol and prediabetes, as well as bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and psychological problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And those are just the immediate health effects. In the long term, overweight or obese children are at greater risk for an even longer list of serious health problems and diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

What is even more troubling is how quickly childhood obesity has shot up to its current numbers. In the thirty years since many of us were in elementary school, the rate has more than doubled. Some of the reasons for this drastic rise include increased consumption of processed foods, particularly ones high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and a decrease in the level of physical activity that kids engage in on a daily basis. Fast food locations, soda consumption, caloric intake, and time spent watching TV have all risen markedly over the past thirty years, and the effects of these trends have clearly started to show in the waistlines of younger generations.

We have begun to make strides, however.  All the relevant actors – parents, schools, the food industry, and government regulatory bodies and policy makers – have pressed for and in many cases accomplished changes that might begin to reverse the childhood obesity trend. Parents are educating themselves about nutrition and pressuring schools to offer healthier lunch options. Many school districts are making healthy changes of their own accord, replacing sodas and junk food with water and healthier snacks in school vending machines, and working to open up gyms and playgrounds for student use during after school hours. Many states are showing modest declines in childhood obesity, as lawmakers have directed attention and funds toward this important problem. There is still a long way to go and government officials and the health and food industries must continue to approach this problem with diligence and creativity. But our role as parents is equally as important. It starts with us, and we owe it to our children to guide them in developing healthy eating and exercise habits.