In the last decade, the number of people with obesity has risen to epidemic proportions. Childhood obesity rates have increased as well. According to the World Health Organization, the global number of childhood obesity has climbed from 32 to 41 million since 1990. Childhood obesity is defined as excessive fat accumulation where the child’s weight gain is much higher in proportion to their change in height. This kind of excess weight gain can lead to adverse outcomes for the child’s health and well-being.
History Of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is a more recent phenomenon compared to adult obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that childhood obesity has more than tripled since 1970. Before the 1970s, many factors that today contribute to obesity were not as common. Studies suggest these recent increases will continue, but research and knowledge have increased and more is being done to educate and make positive changes to prevent an epidemic.
Global Outlook on Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is not just a problem in North America. According to the World Health Organization, one in five children between ten and eleven years old are affected by obesity in the United Kingdom, as well. In Africa, the number of children with obesity rose from four million to nine million between 1990 and 2016. Studies show these statistics are similar in other industrialized countries. The rates of childhood obesity are also climbing in developing countries, and residents here are more at risk of health complications due to a lack of financial and medical resources.
Childhood Obesity Can Lead to Adult Obesity
With childhood obesity continuing to rise, there is an increasing concern about the health and wellbeing of these children. Studies show that children with obesity are very likely to carry that into adulthood. And adults with obesity have a higher risk of developing serious health complications. Parents, health professionals, and educators want to know what can be done to prevent this growing health issue.
Psychosocial Risk Factors
The Childhood Obesity Foundation says children who live in environments that encourage obesity are at an increased risk. Psychosocial risk factors are emotional and social issues such as:
- too little access to healthy foods, too much access to energy-dense low nutritional foods
- multiple family members with obesity
- a lack of resources, finances, and time to make healthy meals
- encouragement toward a sedentary lifestyle
- high incidence of eating to help deal with stress or social problems
- living in high-stress environments
Physical And Nutritional Risk Factors
Some physical and nutritional factors also promote obesity, including
- eating foods high in sugar and fat
- not eating foods rich in nutrients and fiber
- lack of information and education around healthy nutrition
- limited access to physical activity
- limited daily physical activity
- spending too much time doing sedentary activities such as watching television or playing video games
Related Health Conditions
Since childhood obesity often leads to obesity in adulthood, overweight children are more likely to develop health problems later in life. However, several health conditions may develop at an early age as well. The rates of diabetes and premature heart disease have risen dramatically amongst children with obesity, according to the World Health Organization. Furthermore, children with obesity are more likely to experience emotional and mental health challenges.
Health Care Costs Of Childhood Obesity
The costs of health care for people with obesity have risen over the last few decades. These costs are in proportion with the rise in conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer that connect directly to obesity. A review in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates between two and seven percent of all health care costs in the developed world are attributed to obesity. Since children with obesity are likely to have obesity in adulthood, policy-makers are looking at preventative spending options to avoid future costs.
Psychosocial Prevention Strategies
Psychosocial prevention strategies aim to enhance a child’s social and emotional environment to promote healthy choices, support, and access. One approach is to improve family access to healthy food and physical activity. Also, developing healthy coping skills will enable children to deal with stress properly, so they don’t turn to over-eating or sedentary activities for relief.
Physical And Nutritional Prevention Strategies
Families and children need increased education and access to educational materials about eating well and exercise. Once families know the requirements, they can take steps to prevent weight gain through healthy eating and keeping active. Also, direct changes from policy-makers will give families the time, finances, and ability to access the right foods and activity resources.
What Else Can Parents And Educators Do?
The best thing parents can do is to encourage themselves and their children to eat well and exercise. Children learn a lot from their parents, educators, and peers. Educators have begun to advocate for healthy food decisions and access to activity in the school environment. When parents and educators make good choices, children tend to follow behind. Many programs exist to help families access affordable, healthy food and activities. Check with your doctor, social worker, or local health center for advice on the best options.