It’s no secret that obesity is a major issue in the United States, but just how serious is it? Nearly one in five deaths in America is linked to obesity, as stated by the American Journal of Public Health (Laidman, 2013). Furthermore, American obesity rates are more than three times the global average, which is 13% of the world population, at 42% (Ritchie,2017). These statistics may be associated with the adult population, but childhood obesity rates have grown in recent years. A total of 14.4 million children, from ages two to nineteen, in America alone are considered obese; this is about 19.3% of the American population in this age category (CDC). Childhood obesity can lead to health issues, including Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Cardiovascular Disease, Asthma, joint problems, and Fatty Liver Disease, but unfortunately, that’s not all. Childhood obesity is linked to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, as well as a low self-esteem and body image (CDC).
So, how CAN America combat childhood obesity? Luckily, there are proactive steps that can be taken to help children grow and develop into healthy adults.
Create a healthy relationship with food early on
Children are malleable to what they see and hear, meaning that they mimic the actions of those around them. When children are exposed to disordered eating habits, they are 7 to 12 times more likely to develop an eating disorder as well (Schilling, 2019). Disordered eating habits are most associated with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa; however, Binge Eating Disorder, or BED, is just as prevalent and serious; nearly two-thirds of the people with BED are overweight or obese (NEDA). To create a healthier relationship with food for your child, food guilt and self-deprecating comments must not reach children’s ears. As a parent, it is important to demonstrate a healthy relationship with food in front of children, so that they will adopt similar habits. By establishing a healthy relationship with food, children are less likely to binge or eat as a coping mechanism. Approximately 60% of children and teenagers use food to help calm and soothe anxiety and fear (Pingel, 2020). Many health professionals believe that this statistic contributes significantly to the high rates of obesity in children.
Another way to help lower childhood obesity rates is by educating families, schools and communities about nutrition. There are many online resources that can help families create balanced meals for their children, to make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need to grow and develop. MyPlate.gov is very helpful when planning and prepping healthy meals for children or adults. MyPlate is a newer version of the famous food pyramid that shows divisions of macronutrients and food groups, to help consumers visualize a healthy meal. MyPlate.gov also has resources for dietary guidelines, tips, and recipes for families. Another online resource is eatright.org. This website is run by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a great resource for families. There is an entire section for kids, which is divided into age groups. This website, like MyPlate.gov, is full of recipes, tips and tools to help families and communities get healthier. For excellent nutrition information and education, seek out Registered Dietitians! Licensed and credentialed nutrition experts are a great resource for families if they have questions or concerns about their health and wellness. By seeking nutrition education, families, schools and communities can make changes to better suit the nutritional needs of their children.
Exercise is one of the best ways for children to stay healthy; it is advised that children get one hour of exercise every day. It is also important to vary the type of physical activity to keep children interested and excited about exercising. Some of the best physical activities for kids are biking, swimming, and running, as well as climbing, jumping and dancing during play. The recommended amount of time for physical activity is the same for obese children; forcing overweight children to exercise more than their peers, friends and siblings may be damaging to a child’s mental health. It can also lead to a negative view of physical activity in the future (CDC).
To summarize, it is extremely important to take steps to avoid the progression of obesity in children as early as possible. The onset of Hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, Asthma and mental health issues can be slowed by the steps parents, schools and communities take to combat childhood obesity. Asking for nutrition advice from Registered Dietitians, removing harmful body image phrases from your vocabulary around children, and exercising more regularly can make all the difference! Children need to be supported in order to grow and develop in healthier ways, and with resources at parents’ disposal, America may be able to lower childhood obesity rates in the near future!
Edited by PreRD intern, Lauren Gatto
Written by Emily Hoy: Hi! I'm Emily and I am a sophomore at SUNY Oneonta, where I am in a DPD program! My favorite things to do (excluding studying nutrition!) include running, making friendship bracelets, baking and reading! I am so excited to write more on the PreRD blog as well as finding nutrition opportunities and experiences.
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