Why is childhood obesity increasing at such an alarming rate?
Researchers have identified many reasons for childhood weight gain, primarily based on living conditions of higher-risk populations. The drastic rise in childhood obesity levels is evident in a number of recent studies, which reveal statistics that concern parents, health professionals and public health officials alike.
One study that has gotten a lot of attention looked at nearly 711,000 children ages 2 through 18 who belonged to the Kaiser Permanente Southern California integrated health plan in 2007 and 2008. That study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, found 6.4 percent of the children were "extremely obese," with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 or above. That translates into a 4-foot 10-inch individual weighing 167 pounds or more. Worst off were black teen girls — 11.9 percent were extremely obese — and Hispanic teen boys — 11.2 percent of whom were extremely obese.
Other recent studies have come up with similar findings. A study in the March issue of Health Affairs reported that the childhood obesity rate inched up from 14.8 percent in 2003 to 16.4 percent in 2007. The authors found that obesity was more common with neighborhoods without a park or rec center, and in neighborhoods that parents didn't think were safe. Both factors would likely reduce the level of activity that children get on a day-to-day basis.
Another study in the same journal blamed children's snacking patterns for weight gain. The researchers reported in 2003-2006, 98 percent of children ate snacks between meals, up from 78 percent in the late 1970s. They also averaged 168 calories more in snacks every day. The biggest increases were in salty snacks (including crackers and potato chips); candy scored high, too.
On its Consumer Health Information Web site, the Cleveland Clinic says there can be a genetic predisposition toward obesity, but eating unhealthy foods and sitting too much also play a major role. The clinic offers guidelines for parents who want to help their children control their weight, including:
- Organize activities that get family members moving, such as walking or biking in the neighborhood or at a park. Help children find activities they enjoy and that aren't embarrassing or too difficult.
- Reduce the amount of time the family spends in front of the television, at the computer, and with video games.
- Eat more healthfully, making changes gradually. Keep plenty of fruits and vegetables on hand both for meals and for snacking.
- For more guidance, see http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/childrens_health/obesity.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Hugo Melgar-Quinonez, nutrition specialist with Ohio State University Extension and the Oho Agricultural Research and Development Center, and assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.