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The New Epidemic - Child Obesity


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Child Obesity. . . it's everywhere now. Over 1 in 5 kids are obese now. What is happening to our kids?

Things have changed a lot since I was a child, nearly 50 years ago. We had Physical Education in school every single day, it was mandatory. Most of us kids brought our lunches to school, consisting of a healthy sandwich, fresh fruit, homemade cookies, and juice or milk to drink. Or you could purchase milk and apples from the snack bar. Oh yeah, there was candy and Twinkies, etc. , But the Washington Red Delicious apples were so good who wanted candy?

After school we'd play tag football or ride bikes around the neighborhood, and on weekends helped our parents with the chores, and then played some more out in the street, or in the backyard with friends. In high school, I rode my bicycle to school, approximately 6 miles from home on a hilly road. Many of my friends had cars, but we couldn't afford it, and I didn't like riding the school bus. We rarely had any ‘fat’ kids in school. If there was an obese child, it most likely was a specific health issue.

We didn't have computers back then, video games, DVR with cable TV, cell phones to text messages on, chat rooms, or movie rentals. The only fast food restaurant that I recall was McDonald's and it was only on special occasions that we would ever go there. Eating out in restaurants was a treat, but we didn't do it all that often. Money was tight. It was more practical to buy the ingredients to make a nice meal at home. I loved to cook, and often would use my parents as ‘guinea pigs’ creating unique and interesting dishes. This is a fond memory, because many of those dishes actually turned out to be delicious and I still make them today. When my kids come to visit they always request them.

But I'm getting off topic. I want to talk about child obesity. It's become the new ‘epidemic’. Everywhere you go, the children are chubby. What is happening to our next generation? It's been reported that between 5-25 percent of children and teenagers in the United States are obese (Dietz, 1983). The prevalence of obesity in the young varies with ethnic groups. Is it based on economics? Junk and fast food is considered cheaper. It is estimated that 5-7 percent of White and Black children are obese, while 12 percent of Hispanic boys and 19 percent of Hispanic girls are obese (Office of Maternal and Child Health, 1989). Note that this quoted citation is as of 1989, so increase those percentages by another 5-10%, at least, since that was almost 20 years ago!

Is obesity among children on the rise? A study done by the National Children and Youth Fitness Study revealed in their finding that 6-9 year olds have thicker skinfolds than their counterparts in the 1960s (Ross & Pate, 1987). Other studies done during the same period, also disclosed their findings to show a 54 percent increase in the prevalence of obesity among 6-11 year olds (Gortmaker, Dietz, Sobol, & Wehler, 1987).

Defining Obesity in Children and Adolescents

Most folks know what obesity looks like, or what the ideal weight should be for children of a certain age. If not, their doctor will certainly tell them. When the total body weight is more than 25 percent fat in boys and more than 32 percent fat in girls (Lohman, 1987). Although childhood obesity is often defined as a weight-for-height in excess of 120 percent of the ideal, skinfold measures are more accurate determinants of fatness (Dietz, 1983; Lohman, 1987).

Skinfold measures are easy to obtain by a trained technician in a school or clinical setting. The triceps alone, triceps and subscapular, triceps and calf, and calf alone have been used with children and adolescents. When the triceps and calf are used, a sum of skinfolds of 10-25mm is considered optimal for boys, and 16-30mm is optimal for girls (Lohman, 1987).

The Problem of Obesity

I remember when my children were babies. They were just about the chubbiest little babies you ever saw. But they were 100% breastfed for over 6 months, and then gradually began to add bananas, cereal, and fruit to their daily diet. They were breastfed for nearly 2 years, all three of them. They lost their chubbiness when they started walking, and now, they are all in their 20's and by most standards, would be considered underweight. Today, they are all tall, handsome and beautiful, and not an ounce of fat on either of them.

It's true that not all obese infants become obese children, and not all obese children become obese adults. But it goes without saying that the prevalence of obesity increases with age among both males and females (Lohman, 1987), and there is a greater likelihood that obesity beginning even in early childhood will persist through the life span (Epstein, Wing, Koeske, & Valoski, 1987).

There are many health risks to the child that is obese. The challenge of dealing with the extra weight into adulthood is only one of the issues. Pediatric hypertension is of the complications resulting from obesity, and this health issue is associated with Type II diabetes mellitus, increases the risk of coronary heart disease, increases stress on the weight-bearing joints, lowers self-esteem, and affects relationships with peers. Obese children also suffer from social and psychological problems and these can cause additional emotional and mental problems long into adulthood.

For more information about Childhood Obesity, check out my book at Live Long and Live Healthy .


References identified with an EJ or ED number have been abstracted and are in the ERIC data base. Journal articles (EJ) should be available at most research libraries; documents (ED) are available in ERIC microfiche collections at more than 700 locations. Documents can also be ordered through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service: (800) 443-3742. For more information contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 293-2450.

Becque, M. D. , Katch, V. L. , Rocchini, A. P. , Marks, C. R. , & Moorehead, C. (1988). Coronary risk incidence of obese adolescents: Reduction by exercise plus diet intervention. Pediatrics, 81(5), 605-612.

Bouchard, C. , Tremblay, A. , Despres, J-P, Nadeau, A. , Lupien, P. J. , Theriault, G. , Dussault, J. , Moorjani, S. , Pinault, S. , and Fournier, G. (1990). The response to long-term overfeeding in identical twins. The New England Journal of Medicine, 322(21), 1477-1482.

Dietz, W. H. , & Gortmaker, S. L. (1985). Do we fatten our children at the television set? Obesity and television viewing in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 75(5), 807-812.

Dietz, W. H. (1983). Childhood obesity: Susceptibility, cause, and management. Journal of Pediatrics, 103(5), 676-686.

Epstein, L. H. , Wing, R. R. , Koeske, R. , & Valoski, A. (1987). Long-term effects of family-based treatment of childhood obesity. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(1), 91-95. EJ 352 076.

Health and nutrition is my passion.

Healthy people are happy people and it is possible!


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