Obesity is a topic that arises anytime lifestyle related health issues are discussed. The correlation between obesity and high cost disease such as Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease is irrefutable. When looking into the numbers of childhood obesity, specifically, it is clear that obesity is not just an adult health problem. That may not be a surprise, but this discussion has persisted for many years among the health and wellness industry while the statistics worsen. The question is, “Why?”
The National Center for Health Statistics’ (NCHS), a department of the CDC, latest report on childhood obesity illustrates a United States obesity rate of 18.5% in 2015-2016. This is up from 13.9% in 1999-2000. Childhood is defined as ages 2-19 in this report. If you are wondering if the rate is significantly skewed as kids reach late teenage years when they have more independence, the numbers don’t indicate that…..
- Age 12-19: 20.6%
- Age 6-11: 18.4%
- Age 2-5: 13.9%
The first thought for ages 2-5 is thank goodness it’s lower since these children have had less time on earth, but note that this rate now equals the prevalence of overall childhood obesity in 2000. The scary part to yours truly is while I was studying exercise physiology (1994-1997), this same discussion about the epidemic of childhood obesity took place, yet the numbers continue to worsen.
The point of this month’s installment is not to simply regurgitate statistics. The numbers are important so the trend can be shown. Nearly 1 of 5 kids are obese (up from 1 of 7). After letting the numbers sink in, offering a reason for the trend is the next step. A quick internet search will list unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity, and genetic factors…….no kidding! Sarcasm aside, we all know the direct, controllable causes of being overweight…..eating too much and not moving enough. The question becomes, “Why are kids eating too much and not moving enough?” The only rational reason is because that is how they learn (or are taught) to live. No two year old suddenly decides that eating more than is healthy is the way to go and that chilling in the playpen is more fun than exploring the surroundings. This type of scenario is created by parents/caretakers. As kids age through each stage, parents and families are most influential in their lives and eating behaviors and physical activity levels are part of that. Consider the 6-11 age group from the report. At this point kids are little people. From a physical activity aspect, they can perform all sorts of activity. From an eating habits aspect, they are learning from what (and how much) they are given and what they see mom and dad eat. This stage also happens to reflect the mean of childhood obesity prevalence, 18.5%.
The above may seem like a sweeping guilt trip for parents across the nation, but the numbers don’t lie. The 2015-2016 prevalence of adult obesity was 39.8% (at least we came in under 40%), up from 30.5% in 2000. Considering that 2 of 5 adults in our nation are obese, it’s plain to see that the old adage, ‘monkey see, monkey do’, is not a far-fetched concept. Kids are only replicating adults’ behaviors. One can put the blame on any number of exterior influences/excuses for childhood obesity. The scapegoats are usually technology and advertisers’ sugary snacks. Although there are exceptions within the numbers, obesity statistics cannot be denied. The “Why” is adult guidance. Until adults show a decrease in obesity prevalence, children will continue down the same path.