Health Challenges Among Our Youth
Although the causes of childhood obesity are widespread, certain factors are targeted as major contributors to this epidemic. Causes include:
Lack of physical activity
Heredity and Family
Schools, families, and communities play a role in shaping children’s eating behaviors. Reducing the prevalence of obesity and changing the food environment will require numerous strategies. Some are top-down, such as federally mandated nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Others are bottom-up in the form of community and grassroots efforts such as providing support to parents, teachers, and administrators nationally who want to change the school environment.
Over the past few decades, the availability of unhealthy foods in school environments has increased dramatically. Cafeteria food, vending machines, a la carte cafeteria lines, and school stores have become sources of unhealthy food. When unhealthy foods are present they compete with the school meal program, and in turn, drain student participation and compromise student health.
Most school children spend a majority of their time at school, and for many children, school provides the only nutritious meal of the day. Schools are in a unique position of influencing large numbers of children, and improving this food environment may be one of the most efficient ways of changing how children eat.
Why Obesity Is a Health Problem
Childhood Obesity Rates and Statistics
Children have become heavier as well. In the past 30 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity has more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5, has nearly tripled among youth ages 6 to 11, and has more than tripled among adolescents ages 12 to 19. However, recent data suggest that the rate of overweight in children did not increase significantly between 1999 and 2008, except in the heaviest boys (BMI for age greater than or equal to the 97th percentile).
This rate, though, remains alarmingly high. About 17% of American children ages 2 to 19, or 1 in 6, are obese. Further, the latest data continue to suggest that overweight and obesity are having a greater effect on minorities, including blacks and Hispanics.
Health Problems Linked to Obesity
Obesity in childhood can add up to health problems—often for life. In adults, overweight and obesity are linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar), high blood pressure, certain cancers, and other chronic conditions. Research has shown that obese children are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults.
Data from the 2005-2006 NHANES survey show that in the United States, nearly 13% of adults age 20 and older have diabetes, but 40% of them have not been diagnosed. Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) accounts for up to 95 percent of all diabetes cases and almost all cases of undiagnosed diabetes. Pre-diabetes, which causes no symptoms, greatly raises the risk of a heart attack or stroke and of developing type 2 diabetes.
Though rare in youth ages 12 to 19 years, type 2 diabetes is increasingly being seen in children and adolescents, particularly among minority communities. Moreover, the 2005-2006 NHANES data show that about 16% of these youth have pre-diabetes. In a recent national study, 58% of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were obese.