Fight against Childhood Obesity remains ‘an Uphill Battle’
Over the past 30 years, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, globally. Approximately 22 million children under five years of age are overweight. The fundamental causes behind the rising levels of childhood obesity are a shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other healthy micronutrients, and a trend towards decreased levels of physical activity.
As overweight and obesity have become more common, there have been some major changes in how we live. These changes have led to people either eating more or becoming less active, all of which has contributed to an increase in overweight and obesity. Weight status in children is determined by body mass index (BMI[link to CalorieCalculator]) -for-age percentiles. This calculates a child’s weight category based on their age and BMI. A child is deemed overweight if their BMI-for-age percentile is over 85% and deemed obese if it is over 95%.
The rise in the number of overweight children is disturbing, because it causes health problems and can lead to social problems. Obesity can have a major impact on how children feel about themselves and how they interact with others. Obese adolescents are more likely to have low self-esteem, which may impact on other aspects of their lives, such as the development of friendships and competency at school.
These significant increases have led to a rise in obesity-related health conditions among children and adolescents. Being obese as a child or adolescent increases the risk of a range of diseases and disorders in adulthood, regardless of whether the adult is obese or not. It’s important to identify and start to reverse the condition before children become adults. Ideally, overweight and obesity should be prevented. Most of the health problems associated with obesity will become obvious in adulthood. Overweight and obesity in children are among the most important risks to children’s long and short-term health. Overweight children are very likely to become overweight adults.
There is no doubt that the main causes of childhood obesity are an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. The majority of children fail to meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity and spend a huge amount of time sitting. The way we have structured our daily lives makes it hard for children to live healthily.
Substantial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages has helped to fuel poor diet and rising obesity rates among youth in the United States and around the world. TV fast-food ads encourage childhood obesity, TV advertisements for sugary and fatty foods are playing a role in childhood obesity. Child-targeted cereals have 57% more sugar and 52% less fiber than cereals marketed to adults. It is clear that lifestyle changes have had a significant impact on childhood obesity over the past 30 years. Children used to consume one snack a day, while 1 in 5 school-age children now eat up to six snacks a day.
When parents were asked for their suggestions for a change in their children’s lifestyle more than 72% supported stronger school lunch standards, and no advertising at all on TV to children under 8. The efforts of parents and other caregivers ultimately encourage healthy eating among children and prevent obesity. It is important to reduce the prevalence of NCDs and their common risk factors, primarily unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.
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