The word “obesity” is usually not applied to the population of youth in America – it’s reserved for adults with severe weight problems. A question that is easier to answer is: How many kids in America are overweight? How many of them are endanger of being obese when they grow up?
The answers to these questions are very alarming and while it’s easy to shrug off the overall obesity epidemic in the United States, when one stops to think about how today’s culture and environment affects the youth, suddenly there seems to be an emergency situation at hand.
The Surgeon General, in fact, has issued a call to action regarding obesity, especially because of how it affects children and adolescents. But how much of today’s youth are overweight? In America, 13% of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 were overweight in 1999 (according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services). And these overweight kids are at a heightened risk for many of the same health complications that overweight and obese adults are.
For example, overweight children and teens are more likely to endure high blood pressure and high cholesterol – in other words, heart disease, as well as type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes was originally considered a disease that only adults could be diagnosed with. However, recently children have developed it and this is probably linked to the increase in overweight and obesity rates in children.
If the future of America is our youth, then what does the future hold? Will the obesity epidemic fizzle out or will Americans continue to battle obesity? Unfortunately, youth who are overweight are 70% more likely to be overweight or obese adults. Moreover, if an overweight child has at least one overweight parent, they are 80% more likely to be overweight or obese in adulthood. And all those health problems associated with carrying around a few too many extra pounds will plague these individuals. Health risks include aforementioned problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, overweight and more so obese adults are at risk of glaucoma, cancer of the colon, breast, uterus and esophagus, hypertension, arthritis, stroke, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and much more. (There are, in total, 30 known medical conditions that obesity puts individuals at an increased risk for.)
But what do overweight children have to deal with in the here and now? Classmates can be cruel and because there is such a glaring social stigma about being overweight, many overweight kids must cope with a lot of teasing and embarrassment. Their self-esteem is really tested. Vulnerable youths may suffer mild to severe depression, which can lead to self-hatred and even self-abuse.
So how did so many children and adolescents get to this point? Are they simply following the example of their overweight parents? Are they being offered junk food in the cafeteria? Are they too busy playing Xbox or watching television to go outside and be active? The answer is: all of the above!
Children Need to Exercise
When one gains weight, they are simply consuming more calories than they burn. So a combination of eating unhealthy, high-calorie foods and leading a sedentary lifestyle early on practically destines an individual to a lifelong battle over their weight. Genetics always play a role, but they don’t add up to much if a child is physically active and has a healthy diet.
Children are increasingly tempted to stay indoors with computer games, the Internet, television shows, and the like all around them. Health and Human Services found that almost half of adolescents (43%) watch over two hours of television each day Parents can encourage their children to be more physically active by limiting the time their children spend on such amusement. Children may whine when they get their video game controls taken away but soon they’ll be riding their bike around the block, having fun, and burning calories too!! And because children naturally become more inactive as they age – especially girls – these early habits of watching television for hours, etc, must be discouraged.
But parents must model such a lifestyle for their children. As well, they must be supportive and not critical. Focusing on your child’s weight problems will have the effect of worsening the situation, not bettering it. Instead of telling your child he or she has a weight problem, simply encourage physical activity and healthy eating in the household – you can participate with your child in losing weight! Plan an event that the whole family can engage in that requires physical activity – perhaps a basketball game or a walk in the park.
A common mistake parents make is to restrict their overweight child’s diet too much. This will only lead to unhappiness and rebellion. It’s better to gradually incorporate healthy foods into his or her diet. Don’t ever use food as a punishment or a reward for you child – he or she must know that food is fuel for the body, not a source of guilt or comfort.
As well, remember that overweight children should not be put on “weight loss” diets typical of adults. Instead, you should work to maintain their weight as they grow taller. And diet pills are to be avoided at all costs. While they may come in handy for overweight and obese adults, they are never recommendable for youth who are still growing and developing. If you find you have too much trouble helping out your child and you need outside help, there are weight management programs available. However, you should ask your physician for guidance in picking one out for your child.
But how do you know if your child is of a normal weight or is overweight? Certainly not every kid should be ultra-thin. You can calculate your child’s body mass index in the same way you would an adult’s. However, because children change so much from year to year, you must then compare the BMI with the BMI of other children of the same gender and age – this is how you can figure out if your child is of average weight or is overweight. It’s also important to talk to your physician about such issues.