Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is on the rise, already affecting between 15 to 35% of children today. Obesity in America isn't promising either, with obesity statistics estimating that two out of every three adults in America meet the definition of 'obese'. What is obesity? That definition pronounces that having a body weight that is 10% higher than the recommended weight for the individual's particular age group signals an obesity issue.

So why all this concern? Simply put, obese kids are more likely to become obese adults. In fact, being obese between the ages of 10 and 13 means an 80% chance of being obese as an adult; unless, of course, some drastic life style changes are made. More importantly, experts are concerned because being obese is a risk factor for several life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Obesity is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year in the United States alone. It's estimated that the cost to society of obesity is approximately $100 billion dollars (for example, health care costs). While complications like cancer and heart disease may seem a long way off, a new study has shown that, even if your child is "just" overweight, his health may be seriously affected right now.

Fractures and Pain
A recent study of 355 children, 227 of whom were clinically classified as being overweight, found that overweight children and teens were much more likely to experience bone fractures and joint and muscle pain compared to children of average weight. Knee pain was found to be the most common complaint among the overweight youths, with 21% of study participants indicating they had some knee pain compared to just 16% of average weight respondents.

Additionally, scans of all the children and teens showed that those who were overweight had higher incidents of changes in their bone structure at the point where their thigh and lower leg bones met at the knee. Despite having a greater bone density, those that were overweight were also more vulnerable to bone fractures from falling.

Obviously, something needs to be done about obesity in children.

Causes of Childhood Obesity
The causes of childhood obesity are a complex interplay between biology, genetics and cultural and behavioral factors. This is why childhood obesity is one of the hardest health concerns to solve. Let's take a look at some of the issues behind these factors.

  1. Genetics
    A child has an increased risk of being obese if obesity runs in the family. Having one obese parent means the child has a 50% of being obese themselves. If the two parents are obese, the likelihood raises to 80%! It can't be said that these percentages are based mainly in genetics. Being raised in a family environment which has fostered lifestyles that lead to obesity definitely impacts those percentages.
  2. Behavioral
    Emotions play an important role in how we view ourselves and how we view our weight. These emotions have a big impact on our behaviors. It's frequently the case that when we're not happy about our physical image, we engage in a downward spiral of comforting ourselves with food. Behavioral factors also come into play in other ways. For example, does your child get hungry at school and march to the vending machine with only a variety of sugar- and additive-rich foods available? Does your child succumb to activities that require little physical exertion (video and computer games) versus engaging in sports or taking nature walks? Again, these kinds of behaviors are intricately related to other factors, such as cultural influences.
  3. Cultural
    This may be cliché, but in North America, we live in a society that favors time and savors shortcuts - anything that will save us precious time. Enter fast food chains. The food served at any fast food chain is notoriously poor in nutritional value; it's so poor in nutritional value that rather than simply not offering us essential nutrients, it harms our physical wellbeing. Parents also often have hectic schedules that make it hard to prepare nutritious snacks for children to eat. The end result? More fast food take out and fewer home-cooked meals.
  4. Biology
    This factor is about how our body processes certain foods. Eating fruits and vegetables has a better effect on our bodies than eating a lard-sodden hamburger. Also, did you know that if you exclusively breastfed your child as a baby, they are less likely to become obese as preschoolers?

Helping Overweight Children
Understanding what factors may be implicated in your child's obesity is half the battle! Now you need to brainstorm some life style changes that will work for your child's particular needs.

Generally, changing a child's dietary habits and promoting an exercise routine do a lot to combat childhood obesity. But you also need to pay attention to the emotional component. Are your kids getting the love and attention they need? Or are they filling a void with food and television or video games? Even the best parents may not be meeting a child's emotional needs; remember that kids have a lot to deal with and so they need a lot of support. Following the above advice means you're doing your part to fight child obesity.

Fast Food and Obesity : The Case for Saying 'No'
It's a fact that fast food is possibly the most significant factor in America's struggle with obesity today. Anyone who has seen 'Supersize Me' can attest to the negative impact of fast food on our society's wellbeing. Although the infrequent burger isn't a matter of life and death, the harmful effects of fast food on our body can quickly destruct our quality of life.

For those who haven't yet seen the film, it's a documentary of one man taking on McDonald's claims (despite overwhelming evidence) that their food won't harm your physical health. After feeding solely on items on the McDonald's menu for the duration of 1 month, the filmmaker's life quickly falls apart. Memorable moments include the instant where doctors report the damage this diet has wreaked on the filmmaker's diet - including extreme liver damage. Overall, he gained 25 pounds (an average of one pound a day) that took him over a year to lose.

Your Way to a Better Diet
Many people enjoy fast foods because of the taste. Others appreciate the time-savings fast food presents. There is an alternative that won't pose a serious health risk - in fact, it's good for your wellbeing! It doesn't have to cut into your time schedule either.

What is this miracle of modern nutrition? Good ol' wholesome food!

Next time you hit the grocery store or your neighborhood market, cut out foods that come in a box (for example, boxes that contain ingredients that can prepare a meal in under 10 minutes should be regarded with suspicion) and opt for fresh foods. It doesn't mean you have to spend lots of time preparing meals, there are some very simple things you can do to prepare yummy fresh foods that are more flavorful than greasy fast foods. Think spices and choose foods that have powerful flavors; grapefruits with honey, black bean dips with cumin and lemon juice, yellow peppers dipped in flavored cream cheese. You get the idea! For more ideas, check our healthy snacks for kids article.

Remember, children's nutrition doesn't have to be bland, despite what sugar-packed food companies would have your children believe. Also, we know that many parents are trying to incorporate healthy ideas into their kids diets and are frustrated by the resistance on the part of the child. Start by re-thinking how you yourself view health foods. Chances are that if you perceive health food as boring, you'll make dishes that lack excitement and vitality! Let out a sigh of contentment, because if you keep up your efforts, eventually your kids will realize that fruits and vegetables are delicious and help make you feel good about yourself!

Most importantly, be wary of fad diets. They address the superficial appearance of your body and ignore the underlying factors that cause weight gain. A healthy diet is the only way to lose weight the right way. The added bonus is that you don't have to change your portion sizes too much if you're eating healthy - so your child won't ever have to go hungry.

Make Exercising Fun
Adopting an exercise routine is important in your quest to change your life style and lose weight. Maybe your child isn't enthusiastic about nature walks. Finding an exercise routine that works won't be hard though. There are lots of fun ways to get out and exercise! Sports are a favorite with kids and are beneficial as they promote good social development. If your child feels uncomfortable with their physical stamina, there are many kinds of exercise that can be done at home. Exercise balls are fun to sit on and they help work your trunk muscles just by sitting on them! Have kids sit on them while doing their homework and let them know that by just sitting there, they're working out! You can also purchase fun at-home exercise videos, from pilates to yoga. These are easy on kids, since they're low impact and easy to perform.

A Note of Hope
Remember, although obesity is difficult to overcome, many children do achieve significant weight loss. Motivate and support your child in their efforts to lose weight; remember that you will often have to be the driving force. Keep your eyes on the prize.