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A National Epidemic
Photo: J. Blarer
About nine million children in America, aged six to 11 years, are overweight. That amounts to 15 percent of our children. The numbers have actually tripled in the past 30 years. And the rates for being overweight are almost double amongst Black and Hispanic kids.

Not only is the pediatric population as a whole getting fatter, but the fatter children are also getting more obese, with super-obesity having increased almost 100% over the past two decades. Obese children are at high risk of becoming obese adults, and the more obese the child becomes, the greater the risk of obesity when they reach adulthood.

After a passage of time the overweight child can experience elevated blood lipids, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and other problems. Almost seven million American children and teenagers are believed to have high cholesterol levels. Results from the Bogalusa and Muscatine studies indicate that children with elevated LDL cholesterol levels are at high risk of becoming adults with elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

Overweight kids are on a fast track to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, diseases that we usually associate with middle-aged adults. Pediatricians are alarmed at the rapid rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. They believe we are on the verge of a national epidemic of diabetes. In addition to these health problems, the overweight child also experiences emotional and social problems.

Why do we see so much obesity in children today? Lifestyle factors are surely to blame. Many young people today follow a very sedentary lifestyle. Leisure time is so often spent watching television and DVD movies, playing computer games, surfing the web, or chatting on the internet, rather than outdoor play and activities.

Fast Food Fat

In addition, the eating habits of children have substantially changed over the past two decades. Children are obtaining a greater proportion of their calories from fast foods and snacks that are typically high in fat, salt, and sugar. These foods include ice cream, soda pop, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, pizza, french fries, shakes, chips, and candy bars, rather than fiber-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Furthermore, portion sizes have increased quite dramatically leading children to consume more food. Over the past two decades, the average portion sizes of food have increased by about 100 calories, while the average beverage serving increased from eight to 20 ounces. As the portion sizes increase so do the waistlines of our children.

Changes to help stem the national epidemic are long overdue. Children should be encouraged to engage in a greater amount of physical activity including walking, cycling, and other outdoor activities. School lunch programs need to provide more low-fat and low-calorie choices. Proper meal patterns should be established for the entire family with parent’s role-modeling good eating habits. Children should be encouraged to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and less fast-food and processed food that is high in fat, calories, sugar, and salt.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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