The Rise of Childhood Obesity:
What Can We Do?
Ever since its first official study in 1963, childhood obesity has been on the steady rise. Now experts disagree as to whether or not this epidemic is indicative of the modern era or if it’s been an ongoing trend for generations.
According to the State of Obesity, the obesity rate among children between 2 and 19 has tripled since the early 70s. It’s well established that obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, asthma, impaired glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. In addition to physical ills, children suffering from obesity are also more inclined to develop social or psychological problems.
Fighting obesity is a complex endeavor, as there are a number of factors and no one seems to be able to agree on which is the most important. For what it’s worth, these are the main factors associated with increasing childhood obesity:
One of the leading causes of rising obesity is the state of modern entertainment. 50 years ago, spending the afternoon with friends meant going to the park or hanging out at the mall. Today, the same kind of fun can be had in the comment section of Instagram or a heated Call of Duty match.
ZDNET reports that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend, on average, 7.5 hours per day with electronics. This could mean phones, computers, TV, videogames. Every minute of that is one less minute for physical activity, so it’s easy to identify the correlation here.
So what makes electronics such a tough habit to kick for kids and teens? As it turns out, it’s the same challenges in overcoming any kind of addiction. A recent San Francisco study concluded that online media is a “dopamine goldmine”.
Scientists speculate that use of smartphones and tablets may have an adverse affect on development. By learning and socializing through screens, children are not acquiring the ability to detect nonverbal cues and smaller nuances of communication.
The best way to teach your kids proper techno-etiquette is to practice it yourself. Kids learn their electronic behavior from watching their parents, so make sure your kids don’t catch you with your head buried in your phone (too often).
This one may come as a no-brainer to some, but diet is a crucial variable in managing weight. What may come as more of a surprise is that one strategy to curbing overeating is to make sure you eat breakfast. Often called the most important meal of the day, breakfast helps to pace your digestive system throughout the day. Skipping that first meal is likely to trigger irregular bouts of hunger throughout the day, causing people to overeat in response.
Several fad diets will try to convince you that the key to maintaining a healthy physique is to phase out a specific kind of food, or even worse, to not eat for large stretches of time. Truthfully, the best way to keep a balanced diet is to consume a moderate amount from each of the major food groups: fruit, vegetables and beans, grains, meat, and dairy. For more specific instructions on daily intake per age group, refer to this helpful guide.
Eating out less and frequent, smaller portions will also help curtail weight gain.
Keep in mind, healthy eating is a preventative measure against childhood obesity. The concept that overweight children can get back into shape by simply going on a diet is a common misconceptions. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn calories, and the only way to do that is with exercise.
While genetics are often linked to obesity in children, it is very rarely the case that genes are the deciding factor. As this Harvard page explains, environmental factors have more of an impact on child obesity than genetics. Genes can, however, create biological circumstances within the body that are more conducive to gaining weight. Additionally, inconclusive scientific research suggests that genetically-linked behaviors may cause children to imitate their parents unhealthy lifestyles.
Even when your genetics are working against you, healthy habits can counteract your chances of gaining excessive weight. Exercise, healthy diets, and natural sleep schedules have a far more measurable effect on weight management than biology.
According to another study by State of Obesity, childhood (and adult) obesity disproportionately affected minority communities in America. While only 14.3% of white children are considered obese, 20.2% of Black children and 22.4% of Latino children fall into that category. Those gaps only increase as children get older.
So how can this be? If genetics has been proven to have little influence on weight gain, what could account for such disparity within racial groups? The answer, unfortunately, comes down to socioeconomic privilege and availability.
Low-income neighborhoods have less access to healthy eating options, and therefore can’t have the daily chicken salad sandwich and kale-shake needed to maintain a flawless physique. Gyms and health clubs are also less likely to appear in those same neighborhoods, and since residents in those neighborhoods often make due without cars, that nice YMCA on the
One more study found that kids whose parents had less than 12 years of education were 3 times more likely to be obese.
Staying Fit on the Playground
If there’s one thread that weaves everything together, it’s exercise. Regular physical activity can counteract any of the above-mentioned factors, and what better way to get your kids active than giving them access to a playground.
Studies have concluded that playgrounds have a positive overall effect on communities. They keep kids healthy and out of trouble