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Childhood Obesity and the Weight of Its Consequences

By Martha Michael

Child Obesity

Trimming the problem of childhood obesity involves a reduction in more than just waistlines -- children who put on too many pounds can suffer from sizable health issues. Decades of analysis shows that too many American youths consume more calories than they burn. The excessive food intake changes their body shape, but also brings to light a number of health issues that were previously attributed to adults, says an article by the Mayo Clinic.

Physical Health Issues

American health officials in fields ranging from pediatrics to psychiatry are studying the problem of childhood obesity to put into practice measures that educate the public and prevent the decline of children’s well-being. Kids gaining too much weight early in life can lead to a range of health issues.

High blood pressure - A diet that’s high in fat causes a buildup of arterial plaque. Narrow and hardened arteries increase blood pressure which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Diabetes - Children who don’t get enough exercise and/or eat too much food may develop type 2 diabetes. Their body becomes unable to properly metabolize sugar.

Sleep disorders - Excessive weight gain has been linked to obstructive sleep apnea which causes the child to stop breathing off and on during sleep cycles.

Behavioral issues - A greater proportion of overweight children develop interpersonal problems. They often experience more anxiety and withdraw socially.

Depression - Weight issues can erode a young person’s self-esteem, which sometimes leads to feelings of hopelessness.

Trends in Childhood Obesity

Using research on the nutrition of kids in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, the CDC website shares the data regarding childhood obesity. There are 18.5 percent of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years old who are considered obese, says the Centers for Disease Control. That is approximately 13.7 million individuals. The category in which obesity is most notable is the 12- to 19-year-old age group, with 20.6 percent of the population.

With the definition of obesity as “a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC BMI growth charts” as a unit of measure, there is good news about the trends for kids in America. National trends point toward a decline in obesity among children aged 2 to 4 years. The greatest reduction in that age group occurred among male Asian/Pacific Islanders.

There was also a decrease in overweight infants between three and 23 months old, according to the study. Among the combinations of race/ethnicity studied, the largest decreases occurred among Hispanics and American Indians.

Setting Healthy Patterns

Parents and caregivers devise a routine of mealtime habits in the beginning of life, but other factors become a part of a child’s overall training as they grow. For children who have been eating home-cooked meals for the summer -- or during the COVID-19 quarantine -- when they return to school there are new challenges to maintaining a balanced diet.

It requires effort to create school lunches with nutrition in mind, whether it’s a young person or a parent preparing the meal. Children with a lot of activities may not have time for a healthy meal, but instead turn to unhealthy snacking. And teens often join the whims of their friends who choose a diet heavy in fast food.

Some of the elements that erode the best intentions to maintain a healthy weight are:

Lack of exercise - Children who may not indulge in overeating may still gain too much weight by simply being too sedentary.

Family - When there are multiple members of a family with a weight problem, a child has a greater chance of being overweight as well.

Education - Obesity is a bigger problem among families with lower levels of education.

Where the health of Americans is concerned, more research and a continual search for solutions need to be implemented because the problem of obesity brings with it a variety of weighty concerns. To continue the downward trajectory, the best gains can be made with a reduction in food intake and a heavy side of education.

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