Childhood obesity has been rising in the United States and in developed countries throughout the world for many years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2017 to 2018, the prevalence of obesity was 19.3% in children. Sanyaolu et. al. (2019) highlight that these are epidemic levels and that the prevalence of childhood obesity has more than doubled in the United States in the past three decades.
These statistics are very concerning because it is much more than just chubby children, it puts them at risk of countless health conditions later in life. This can include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, sleep apnea, various cancers, and major depression.
Defining Obesity in Childhood
The CDC defines obesity as “a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts” (“Childhood Obesity Facts,” 2021). These are body weight to height ratios corrected for specific age groups, and serve as a reference point for body fat content.
While BMI is not the most precise measure, it is telling for a certain level of risk when it comes to being obese and is therefore still useful.
Obesity is a complex issue that cannot be attributed to a single factor. Level of physical activity, caloric intake, genetics, environment, socioeconomic status, stress levels, and many others factors are associated with the issue, so it is not an easy one to tackle.
What is true, however, is that obesity is not a harmless issue and should be taken seriously by parents and caregivers.
Trends Behind Childhood Obesity
While some of the more obvious reasons behind childhood obesity include inadequate physical activity and excessive caloric intake, other less obvious factors play a significant role.
Sanyaolu et. al. mention that maternal BMI before conception, ethnicity, stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders (such as binge eating), sleep, television, and education are all mentioned in literature as related to childhood obesity as potential contributors to the issue (2019).
Binge eating disorder, for example, can lead a child to consume excess calories and contribute to weight gain. Stress and depression can be related to a child’s unhealthy eating patterns and potential loss of control when it comes to food intake.
Inadequate sleep is associated with disturbances in hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin which play a key role in regulating food intake and satiety.
Consequences of Childhood Obesity
In childhood, the consequences are dire. According to the CDC, children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults and to be more severe.
Obese children are more likely to suffer from bullying which can lower their self-esteem, socially isolate them, and predispose them to eating disorders. They are more prone to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer including breast and colon.
Sleep problems are not uncommon in obese children, sleep apnea is can interfere with breathing at night and obesity correlates with severity of asthma (“Childhood Obesity Facts,” 2021; Sanyaolu Et. al., 2019).
Take Home Point
It is important to build healthy habits and promote a healthy weight from childhood into adulthood. Obesity is a complex problem that is not always easy to fix, especially when not given the education, tools, and encouragement to succeed.
As adults, caregivers, and parents, adopting healthy lifestyle habits including daily exercise and eating plenty of produce is important. Santa Cruz CORE offers a Functional Integrative Nutrition program to promote optimal health through both diet and lifestyle.
- Childhood Obesity Facts. (2021, April 05). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html
- Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences. (2021, March 19). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/causes.html
- Sanyaolu, A., Okorie, C., Qi, X., Locke, J., & Rehman, S. (2019). Childhood and Adolescent Obesity in the United States: A Public Health Concern. Global pediatric health, 6, 2333794X19891305. https://doi.org/10.1177/2333794X19891305