The epidemic of childhood obesity is one of the most serious and widespread public health challenges in modern history. Childhood obesity has increased at an alarming rate over the past several decades. The percentage of obese children (ages 6 to 11) tripled from 1980 to 2008, and the percentage of obese adolescents (ages 12 to 19) increased by nearly ten times over that same period. The trend is not limited to the United States; rates have been increasing worldwide in recent years.
Childhood obesity rates vary depending on a child’s race or ethnicity.
The highest rates are found in African-American or Latino children, followed by White children and Asian-American children. Rates are also higher for adolescent females than adolescent males, with no measurable difference between males and females found for children under age 12.
Obesity can affect a child’s physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being. Obese children are more likely to have asthma and sleep apnea; they are at increased risk of developing Type II diabetes in childhood or later in life; their heart disease risk is higher; they will likely face discrimination because of their weight, and they may develop low self-esteem as a result of negative peer responses to their obesity. Childhood obesity also increases the likelihood of children remaining obese into adulthood, resulting in higher risks for these diseases throughout adult life.
The main causes of childhood obesity
There is insufficient physical activity, excessive time spent in sedentary pursuits (watching TV, playing video games), and high-calorie diets. Other factors, such as genetics and socioeconomic status, may also play a role.
Based on extensive research by epidemiologists and public health experts, including NIH research on eating behavior among elementary school students published last month, we have learned that obesity is a complex condition, not simply one of inadequate physical activity or poor diet. The causes are likely genetic, but they also include biological factors and environmental conditions such as peer pressure from friends to consume high-calorie foods and beverages at school. We know something about children’s social networks – who their friends are and what environments they inhabit – which can influence eating behavior. But more research needs to be done on how these factors interact over time in affecting children’s habits throughout childhood toward a healthier lifestyle.
The effects of childhood obesity
Obesity in children has been linked to an increased risk of chronic health conditions later in life, including type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), hypertension, cancer, asthma, orthopedic problems, including knee pain and musculoskeletal disorders1. It is estimated that obesity causes approximately 300,000 deaths per year worldwide2. High-calorie diets are the primary cause of obesity, but lack of physical activity contributes as well.
Metabolic syndrome refers to the cluster of risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing heart disease or T2DM3: Increased blood pressure; high levels of triglycerides; low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol); high levels of fat in the blood (triglycerides and very-low-density lipoprotein, VLDL); and increased belly fat or waist/hip ratio.
These risk factors often develop together over time. Other names for metabolic syndrome include syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome, Reaven’s Syndrome, dysmetabolic syndrome, and lipid profile disorder. Obesity is an independent risk factor for developing a cluster of related diseases known as metabolic syndrome: type 2 diabetes mellitus, CVDs including myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, and peripheral vascular disease3. Metabolic syndrome significantly increases one’s risk of developing T2DM4. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 23% of the world’s adult population has metabolic syndrome.6
Excess body fat is linked to the development of several other health conditions, including sleep apnea, gallbladder disease, gout, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibromyalgia, and certain types of cancer.
Obesity in children is associated with psychosocial problems such as low self-esteem and poor social relationships.
- Obese adolescents are also more likely to be bullied. This may lead obese adolescents to avoid going out or participating in physical activities that allow them to develop healthy habits and feel confident about themselves.
- Obesity can also have long-term economic consequences for individuals due to decreased employment opportunities.
The economic costs of obesity
The health care costs for obese individuals in the United States have been estimated at $147 billion per year, while the annual cost to employers is $73 billion11. Preventing and controlling childhood obesity will require a comprehensive approach that includes improved social environments, healthy nutrition, physical activity, and effective behavioral interventions3.
As we work to end the epidemic of childhood obesity by 2022 through increased public awareness and prevention efforts, it is important not to lose sight of:
• The increasing prevalence of overweight children (i.e., those with excessive body fat);
• Those who are already affected (i.e., those with metabolic syndrome); and
• How these issues affect women differently than men
The solution to childhood obesity requires action
Individuals, families, communities, and government agencies will need mutual respect’s differences; it will need opportunities for all children to play sports safely, competitive and non-competitive; and it will need support by federal, state, and local governments. We can only hope that government agencies are empowered to take the necessary steps to help these children lead healthier lives now and in the future.
The NIH, which is at the forefront of biomedical research on health behaviors such as obesity, nutrition, and physical activity, is committed to continued action on this issue through its Obesity Research Task Force. The Task Force was established in January 2011 under Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers Jr., Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). It consists of 10 Federal members representing all institutes/centers (ICs) with obesity programs except for NCI and NIAAA. The Task Force is the first to examine how NIH can more effectively collaborate with other Federal departments and agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to implement the recommendations of IOM regarding the prevention of childhood obesity in a coordinated way.
The Task Force will also support collaborative efforts among scientists across the NIH ICs with similar or related research interests to maximize resources and facilitate communication. More specifically, it will coordinate efforts across NICHD, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), National Cancer Institute (NCI) as well as within NICHD itself, including in the Divisions of Adolescent Medicine, Nursing Research, and Behavioral and Metabolic Disorders.
This coordination will support the National Children’s Study, currently planned to monitor 100,000 U.S. children for 20 years from conception through adulthood to investigate environmental risk factors for disease. This study will provide opportunities for NIH-supported researchers across all ICs to work together on new research questions surrounding childhood obesity prevention that can be answered only through this large collaborative and longitudinal study.
The Task Force will also help assess opportunities for data sharing related to childhood obesity between agencies conducting similar or parallel studies such as CDC’s Growth & Health Study of 21,000 children living in diverse communities across the United States. And it will examine how best NIH can work with Congress and other Federal entities to spur effective prevention strategies for different racial/ethnic groups and low-income populations.
In addition, the Task Force will work to:
1) identify Federal programs supporting research on childhood obesity;
2) propose criteria for selecting projects within NIH to support through NIH mechanisms such as Intramural Research Program (IRP), Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), or large-scale program initiatives (LSIs);
3) advise NICHD leadership on how best to coordinate with other ICs working in this area;
4) identify opportunities across NICHD for productive collaboration among researchers focusing on nutrition, physical activity, and obesity control; and
5) identify an appropriate communication strategy for disseminating findings from research related to childhood obesity.
The first meeting of the Task Force was held on May 24, 2011. Please watch this site for more information on the agenda and other items of relevance.
In addition to its work within NIH, the Task Force will participate in efforts beyond NIH exploring ways to address obesity prevention better. In just one example, a special working group has been established by CDC’s IOM Health Equity Council to guide CDC’s new National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP). The Task Force will continue to track these and other initiatives as they emerge.
General tips to combat obesity
Obesity rates in children are at an all-time high. If you have a child or know someone who does, it’s important to be aware of the causes and effects of obesity so that they can live healthier lives while preventing future health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea.
Thankfully there are many ways we can prevent childhood obesity from happening in our kids now, which is why this article has been written. Some prevention methods include proper diet and exercise habits early on, with parents being role models for their children throughout life. It will also help if communities promote healthy living through community programs like walking groups where families get together for walks around town! You should also make sure your home doesn’t encourage eating too much by making sure the refrigerator is stocked with healthy food only and that TVs in homes are kept to a minimum.
Childhood obesity can be prevented with the following tips, but it needs all parents and communities collectively to come together for a healthier future!
#1) Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks
Sugar-sweetened drinks like regular sodas have no nutritional value whatsoever. All they do is increase your child’s risk of gaining weight while providing nothing beneficial. Drinks like fruit juices should also be limited as they contain high amounts of natural sugars, which increases your risk of gaining weight if you drink excessive amounts regularly. Sugary beverages account for almost 25% of children’s calorie intake from added sugars and empty calories. Save yourself and your child the unnecessary calories and all the negative effects of sugar-sweetened drinks by avoiding these foods altogether.
#2 Eat Breakfast (daily)
Try not to skip breakfast in the morning. Your body requires fuel after you sleep, and having a healthy breakfast will provide essential nutrients that convert into energy for you to get through your day. Not only does skipping breakfast make it much more likely for you to overeat later, but it also causes stress on your body because when you don’t eat in the morning, blood sugar levels drop, which leads to increased appetite throughout the day! Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast are less likely to gain weight than those who don’t. It’s also believed that eating breakfast helps control hunger during later parts of the day, so don’t skip this important meal!
#3 Limit Eating Out
It is much healthier to eat at home than it is to eat out. Restaurants often serve foods that are high in both calories and fat. Drinks from restaurants, such as smoothies, milkshakes, and fruit juices, can contain an excess of sugar which increases your risk of gaining weight if you have them regularly. If you choose to eat out, make sure you watch portion sizes closely because eating too much while dining outside can lead to unhealthy weight gain over time. It would help if you also tried substitute calorie-filled drinks for water when ordering your food or drink so that you aren’t consuming unnecessary sugars with your meal. Whenever possible, cook more meals at home and limit dining out to prevent weight gain!
#4 Limit TV time
Children watch an average of 2 hours and 38 minutes of television each day which means that they are much more likely to be inactive than those who don’t watch much TV. Children tend to eat more during the hours of television viewing because they become distracted by all the shows, commercials, and events happening on screen. They also tend to reward themselves for having been entertained with foods full of calories, such as ice cream or chips (by eating these foods after eating dinner). To help your child avoid gaining too much weight while watching television, limit it as much as possible so that your child can spend more time playing outside with friends instead of sitting inside watching mindless shows. If you live in a community where physical activity is scarce, consider moving to a safer area with more natural sunlight.
#5 Get Outside More
Make sure your child goes outside for several hours each day. Physically active children have lower levels of body fat than inactive children do. Physical activity will increase your muscle mass and prevent you from gaining flab, leading to weight gain over time. Playing sports is okay, but being active outside on the weekends or after school will help you get fit faster and avoid taking too much fat and calories into your body! If there are no places near you where your child can safely play outdoors, consider moving to an area with better access to open spaces to ensure that your child grows up healthy!
#6 Eat Vegetables
Vegetables provide much-needed nutrients for your body that allow it to function properly. Try making vegetables an important part of every meal you eat because they will help fill you up while providing essential vitamins like calcium which strengthens bones and teeth! Limit heavy foods such as cheese and meats during meals to avoid eating too many calories when dining.
#7 Eat Light Foods
Fats and sugars provide more calories than other nutrients in your diet, which means that you should avoid them as much as possible. Fats are often found in fried foods, desserts, bread, chips, and other snacks, whereas sweets are usually found in cakes, cookies, candies, and other pastries. To help limit the amount of fat and sugar that you’re regularly taking into your body, cut down on fats and sugars to reduce the risk of weight gain! Learn more about how carbohydrates affect your health by reading this article: Carbohydrates 101.
#8 Limit Alcohol Use
Drinks like beer or wine contain many calories, so limiting those alcoholic drinks can prevent you from eating too many extra calories each day. At the same time, foods high in sugar, such as alcoholic drinks, can cause you to gain weight, so try sticking with other kinds of drinks if you want to avoid gaining too much fat over your lifetime!
#9 Limit Sugar
Sugar makes you feel hungry again because it rapidly enters your bloodstream and causes sudden blood glucose levels to rise. The more sugar you consume, the more likely you will crave sugary snacks at night, which can cause weight gain over time. Try limiting the number of sweets you eat and drink throughout the week so that you aren’t eating too many extra calories per day!
I hope this article about weight loss for children has been helpful for those of us who want to help our children be healthy to grow up with a stronger body. Childhood obesity is a major problem in the United States and Europe because kids are being exposed to too many unhealthy foods, which causes them to gain weight over time! I plan to do more articles like this one in the future, so stay tuned for my next post about ways to lose weight quickly!
P.S. If you’re looking for ways to stay positive, check out this article: Bright-sided thinking strategies.