Childhood Obesity (Part 1)
32%, 1 out of every 3, this is the percent of young people (ages 2-19) who are considered overweight or obese (1). This number is nowhere near the adults 70.2% (2), but if not acted upon soon, will begin to approach rapidly. Many reasons why young people are so overweight is because no one tries to prevent unhealthy habits from forming, like eating bad food or not exercising regularly. This 3-part blog posts will discuss how obesity became such an epidemic in young people, the problems that can develop from being obese and how the government has responded to the issue.
Issue number one, restaurants. They have taken control and become a staple in the American diet. In 1970, Americans spent 27% of their food budget on food not made at home. In 2006 the number had almost doubled and currently sits at 46% (3). This means that people are spending nearly HALF of their food budget on food that, on average, is higher in calories, salt, unhealthy fats (yes, there is such a thing as healthy fats!) and has bigger portion sizes than what the average person requires to fuel their day. This is because that food is becoming more and more available to us. Everywhere you go you can find some place that sells food. Generally it is not the most healthy option because since the 50’s portion sizes have tripled (4). This has made it hard for families to try and make sure their kids eat healthy because the temptation is to just buy the cheeseburger from McDonald’s than to go to the grocery store then go home and make them dinner. Because of this, men and women have added 250 calories to their daily diet in the time span from 1971-2000 (5). Fast food restaurants in particular have added many of these calories to our diet. On average, a “super-sized” meal from a fast food restaurant contains 1,500-2000 calories or more. For the average person, that is a whole day's worth of calories (6) in one meal!
Issue number two, bad nutrition habits learned at a young age. Moreover, young people have got to make a change to their diets while they are still young, otherwise they will make a habit of being unhealthy and it will be infinitely more difficult for them to take the weight off later in life. This is because as you age, your metabolism slowly starts becoming less efficient (7). Many factors lead up to this. When you are young and still growing your metabolism is operating at a very high level, because it has to. A young body requires more sleep, more food, more of everything to make sure you meet your full potential in everything. Because of this, the caloric needs of younger people are much greater than that of adults. On average, kids need 400 more calories than adults do, per day. This is almost a double-edged sword, because yes kids need to eat more and their body tells them to, but one thing their body does not do is tell them when to stop. Studies show that if there is food still on the plate then you are more likely to eat it than not, even if you are already full (8). This makes it easy for kids to gain weight and keep it into adulthood. Since the body does not need that many calories as you grow older, you become accustomed to eating too many calories you will continue to gain weight without even realizing it, until you can’t fit in your clothes anymore or worse yet, you develop a chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease. In the next article in this series we’ll discuss some of the health issues that develop from a lifetime of obesity.
Issue number three, lack of physical activity. This does not have to be a focused exercise activity like team sports, gym class or training programs (although these are all great). For a child’s development, both of their body and their mind, they simply need to play with other children! As a matter of fact, the NFL has had a program for the last 10 years called Play60, which encourages kids to play outside for at least 60 minutes a day (9). This is a move in the right direction but it’s hardly adequate for the needs of a child. They need more than 60 minutes of outside play time each day!
(1) The New York Times,Childhood Obesity Numbers, June 2, 2008, n.p.
(2) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Overweight & Obesity Statistics, 2014, n.p.
(3) Harvard Health Publishing, Why people are becoming overweight, April 11, 2017, n.p.
(6) Harvard Health Publishing, Why people are becoming overweight, April 11, 2017, n.p.
(7) SFGate, Do Teens Have Different Nutritional Needs Than Adults?, 2017, n.p.
(8) Harvard Health Publishing, Why people are becoming overweight, April 11, 2017, n.p.
(9) NFL, Play60, 2018, n.p.