THE HEALTH RISK OF OBESITY IN CHILDREN
Statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that today, about 16 percent of all children and teens in the United States are overweight. More than twice as many children and almost three times as many teens are overweight as there were in 1980. Even our nation’s preschoolers are affected. Among children ages 2 to 5, the prevalence of being overweight has increased by more than 40 percent since 1994. Obesity has also risen dramatically in U.S. adults. Since 1991, the prevalence of obesity among adults has increased by more than 75 percent. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It increases the potential for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Recent research suggests that obesity shortens the average lifespan by at least four to nine months. If the trend for childhood obesity continues it could cut from two to five years from the average lifespan. That could cause our current generation of children to become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents. We need to take action by making better food choices and becoming more physically active. Americans are eating too much of the wrong foods. Fast-food restaurants are everywhere. The traditional home-cooked meal is becoming a thing of the past as more Americans than ever are eating away from home or picking up fast foods to take home. These foods tend to be higher in total fat, saturated fat and sodium and lower in fiber. Portions are larger. When children and teens eat fast food, they consume more calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sugar sweetened beverages. They also consume less fiber and milk, and fewer fruits and non-starchy vegetables. Fast-food restaurants are not the only culprits in the expanding waistlines of Americans. Portion size has grown in homes and conventional restaurants as well. We are simply eating too much of the wrong foods. Our nutritional needs are not being met. Most Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables to meet the minimum daily recommendations. Although the USDA recommends several daily servings of whole grains, in 1994-96 the intake of whole grains for children was one serving or less. Milk consumption is also lower than it should be. In 2001-2002 children drank about the same amounts of milk and soda. Unhealthy eating and insufficient physical activity go hand in hand as causes of the obesity epidemic. In the United States today most children and adults don’t get as much physical activity as they should. At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week is the recommended minimum. However, nearly 23 percent of children and nearly 40 percent of adults get no free-time physical activity at all. Many children now use their time watching television, surfing the Internet and playing video games in the place of sports, games and other physical activity. In previous generations children’s playtime included highly physical activities. Obesity is a serious threat to our nations health. We must take action now. Our children follow our examples. Americans must make better food choices and become more physically active if we are to improve the health of our children now and in the future.