Childhood Obesity

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has doubled over the past 30 years—and obesity in adolescents has quadrupled. In 1980, five percent of teenagers were obese; in 2012, it was close to 21 percent. All in all, more than one in three children under 19 were overweight or obese in 2012. The World Health Organization call this explosion of childhood overweight and obesity one of the most serious public health challenges of this century.

This is why illnesses and conditions once thought to be exclusively the province of adults have started to be seen more and more in children and teenagers. Obese children are vulnerable to serious health problems, such as prediabetic conditions and type 2 diabetes, heat disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Like their adult counterparts, obese children are prone to sleep apnea and bone and joint problems. Moreover, as these children become adults, they tend to remain obese, and are more likely to suffer health problems than people who became obese as adults.

Studies have found that children who spend time in front of screens, such as watching TV, are more likely to be obese than children who engage in other activities, even if they get the same amount of exercise However, one significant difference between obesity in children as opposed to in adults is that children are not in charge of their environment—how much free time they have, and when, what food is in the house, what sort of exercise they are able to get, leisure-time activities, and other aspects of daily life are in the hands of their parents and guardians. So it is the parents and guardians, understanding long-term consequences, who have to take the lead.

That means making healthy food available to kids, and giving them plenty of opportunities for exercise. For a child to successfully adopt healthy eating habits, it is necessary for the whole family to do so—children pick up what they see. This means preventing a child from being overweight is an excellent opportunity for everyone in the house to eat healthy and get in shape. Talking to kids about the truth behind snack and fast-food commercials—without being scary or unduly condemning—can help moderate the temptations.

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