Would you like that meal super-sized? Before you answer, remember—you are what you eat. Unfortunately, the extra-large portions being served up across America are contributing to a growing number of super-sized children.
The Latest Statistics
- Thirteen percent of American children aged six to eleven are overweight—up from 11 percent from 1994.
- The number of overweight teenagers aged twelve to nineteen increased from 11 to 14 percent over the same period of time.
- The number of overweight children between the ages of six and seventeen has doubled in the past twenty years.
- Children who are overweight are 20 to 30 percent heavier now than they were ten years ago.
- More than half of obese children aged five to ten have at least one risk factor for heart disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- More than 25 percent have two or more of these complications.
- In November 1998, the United States Surgeon General declared an epidemic of childhood obesity.
- If one parent is obese, there will be a 40 percent chance the child will be obese.
- If both parents are obese, there will be an 80 percent chance the child will be obese.
- When a parent of a child under three is obese, the child even if thin, has a 30 percent chance of becoming obese later on in life.
- In 1970, 4 percent of American children aged six to eleven were overweight. By 1999, that number swelled to 13 percent.
- Children aged one to five are as likely to drink soft drinks as orange juice.
- National studies show that 5 percent of our children have high blood pressure.
- The rate of obesity for children has roughly doubled since 1980.
- An obese adolescent has a two-fold greater risk than his peers of dying prematurely before age seventy. This risk does not change later in life even if the child loses weight.
- The groups most affected in America are children of African-American or Hispanic descent.
This year, the Surgeon General issued an urgent call for the nation to fight its growing weight problem, a move sparked in part by the epidemic rates of childhood obesity. Overweight children are more than twice as likely to have high blood pressure or heart disease as children of normal weight. Even more alarming is the number of children with Type II, or non-insulin-dependent, diabetes. Once known as adult-onset diabetes, before so many children started getting it, Type II diabetes puts kids at risk for very adult ailments. These ailments include blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, and cardiovascular disease. The complications of childhood obesity are the risk factors that actually become the diseases of adulthood.
What can parents do, or not do, to keep their children from packing on the pounds?
1. Start early. Kids are most vulnerable to ballooning weight in early childhood and then again in adolescence. Educate them on a balanced lifestyle including nutrition and exercise before they get into the habit of eating high-fat, high-sugar foods, and out of the habit of exercising regularly.
2. Stop insisting that children clean their plate. This rule can teach kids to eat when they’re not hungry. Children are attuned to how many calories they need. They know when they’re hungry and when they’re full.
3. Parents can influence what their children like to eat. Kids are born with a sweet tooth and a salty one, but they have to learn to enjoy other tastes. They often need repeated introductions to healthy fare such as beans and veggies. A good technique is to put several items on the plate and get kids to try them.
4. Do not give food as a reward. If given one food as a reward, they’ll learn to prefer that food.
5. Learn to serve appropriate portions. Remember, super-sizing our plates leads to super-sizing our children. A good technique is to use a salad plate instead of a dinner plate.
6. Use fatty snacks and sweet drinks sparingly.
7. Encourage more physical activity. American children are getting less exercise than ever before, due in part to television, computers, and videogames.
8. Turning off the tube can help kids keep the weight off. According to a recent Nielsen report, kids between the ages of two and eleven watch an average of twenty hours of TV per week, an activity that doesn’t burn many calories and encourages snacking by exposing kids to all manner of food and beverage advertising.
9. Parents should look for weight-loss camps that teach kids to make lasting changes in their eating and exercise habits.
10. Involve the entire family. Build exercise into your daily lives by taking walks together after dinner.
11. Focus on schools. While physical education and recess are going the way of art and music, cash-strapped school districts around the country have turned to soft-drink bottlers. These vendors offer as much as $100,000 a year for exclusive “pouring” contracts to place vending machines in schools. Schools have opened their cafeterias to fast food franchises such as Taco Bell and Burger King. If our task was to make American children as unhealthy as possible, could we do much better than fast food and soft drinks in the cafeteria?
Restraint and self-control have never been America’s strong suits. Parents need to educate children while they are young. Parents need to teach children to listen to their bodies, to eat when they’re hungry, to taste and enjoy what they are eating, and to eat appropriate proportions. We all need to fight this battle together, one bulge at a time.
Do you have a wellness related issue you would like to resolve? Send your questions to Dr. Patrece Frisbee by clicking on her name at the top of this story, then clicking on “Contact This Member.”