Is the Average American Child getting Fatter?
edited: Tuesday, March 05, 2002
By Poornima Shankar
Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2002
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Blame it on the lifestyles and attitudes...the experts say...read more to find out facts..
IS THE AVERAGE AMERICAN CHILD GETTING FATTER?
childhood obesity is on the rise in American society. Get to
know the facts and see what you can do to control it...
You have observed overweight people whom you seem to
bump into at every corner. And you are no longer surprised.
You have come to accept it and it is now a part of life.
You are right! The number of obese and overweight people
is on the rise since the past two decades. These are very
sensitive people who have somewhere down the line lost
control over their own weights and who need some gentle
guidence that highlights the benefits of a healthy living
with optimal weight. Before I delve into the prevalence
rates, I would like to explain how a child is judged as
overweight or obese.
The measurement used to make this judgement is called
BMI(Body Mass Index). This index is used for adults too.
The body mass index basically is a number that tells you
whether you weight is appropriate for your height. In other
words, it is the height /weight ratio of a person. It is
calculated by two ways, using either the metric or the US
BMI in metric system = weight in kilograms divided by
height in meters
BMI in US system = weight in pounds X 705 divided by
height in inches divided by height in inches again.
Being overweight means that you or your child has a body
mass index that is above the 95th percentile for his or her
age. A body mass index that is above the 85th percentile
for his or her age puts your child at risk of becoming
overweight. The percentile is your rank among 100
measured subjects. Which means, that at 95th percentile,
only five others are above your rank. Since body mass index
doesn't directly measure body fat, it is possible to be over
weight but not obese. Some kids who are very athletic and
have a large muscle mass, may be overweight, but if they
do not have excess body fat, then they do not need help
with weight loss. However, the vast majority of children
who are overweight are also obese and do need help with
For an adult, a BMI of over 30 is considered obese, a value
between 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, that which is
between 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy and that less
than 18.5 as underweight.
What is the prevalence rates of obesity in the US?
The CNN report on May 28th, 1998 says that in spite of the
diet pills, the fitness craze and more detailed nutrition
labels in foods, Americans are getting fatter. The authors
of a new health study carried out in the University of
Colorado Health Science Center in Denver show that 34% of
all adults in the USA are overweight and 22% are obese.
The percent has increased by about one third in the last
two decades. The study also shows that 25% of today's
children are obese and the level has increased by 40% over
the last 16 years.
The most affected are the obese and overweight children,
who apart from being at risk for serious health problems
like high cholesterol, related high blood pressure and heart
disease , face peer pressure, ridicule, labeling and lowered
self esteem. These act as the general precursors to
mentally disturbed and emotionally unstable children,
conditions which persist in to their maladjusted obese
adulthood too. Such people need immediate help and that
help can be sought from several organizations that are
sensitive to their feelings and help them lose weight
professionally with time tested methods.
People are urged to sit up and take notice of what they are
eating and how their habits need to be modified to lead a
happy and more satisfactory life.
The numbers for seriously overweight kids has doubled in
the last three decades. 30% of children and teens are
overweight and an overweight teen has the highest
chances of becoming an obese adult.
And the numbers are still on the rise.
What are the health risk factors in obese children?
The MED SERVE news (26th february 2000), reports about a
new analysis of a ground-breaking study on overweight
children. It shows the majority have at least one additional
risk factor for developing heart disease. The Bogalusa
Heart Study in Louisiana was conducted from 1973 to 1994
and for years has provided physicians and researchers with
a wealth of information on obesity in children.
Health Scout Report( Jan. 9 2000 ) states that overweight
kids show the same kind of bloodstream inflammation that
adults have when they're at risk for heart disease, a new
study shows. Obese children have higher amounts of a
blood substance called C-reaction protein, or CRP,
researchers found. In adults, high CRP levels are
considered a risk factor for heart attacks, stroke, arterial
disease and diabetes.
What is known is that the increase of C-reactive protein in
children gives them the potential, early on, to develop
cardiovascular complications from their obesity, as well as
metabolic complications like Type II diabetes. That used to
be called adult-onset diabetes, but more and more of an
increase of this disease is being seen in children.
It has also been shown from studies that there is no risk
involved when dietary modifications are made to reduce the
fat intake in children as many concerns regarding the
importance of fat in the body during growth and puberty
What is the cause of the increased obesity among kids?
Experts believe that children are becoming heavier due to
the decreased physical activity that the modern day
transportation , Television, computers and video games
have put forth. The average child is found to spend about
20-30 hours per week in front of the television!
They have also blamed the increased availability of high
calorie foods like fast foods, high fat convenience foods
Among the behavioral changes that have been
uncontrolled, the experts point at the general tendency to
eat larger portions, constant snacking, eating fried foods,
eating junk foods, using foods as rewards and eating in
front of the television.
These unhealthy habits when considered in totality, lead to
the 'vicious cycle of childhood obesity'.
The increased body weight among children, leads to
decreased physical activity and low self esteem. They are
labeled 'lazy' as their weights limits their movements, with
a reduced endurance and pain in the joints. This in turn,
makes them emotionally disturbed, and leads to further
eating disorders and lower physical and social activities.
This leads to increase in weight. And they come a full
Or you can blame genes and evolution.
The leading theory right now is that people evolved in an
environment where food was scarce and there was a lot of
need for physical activity as part of day-to-day life, that led
to the development of a genetic makeup that, in the right
environment, causes human beings to become obese.
But most doctors agree that it has to do more with the
lifestyle than with the genes.
What is the need of the day?
The need of the day is to increase the sense of urgency
about controlling obesity among the public and health care
workers. I had a friend tell me about the most common
favorite 'reward' food in day care centers as sodas and fries
and chips. The parents left the caregiver with these items
when they left the children and often brought some more
with them when they came to pick up the kids. Day care
center caregivers could help the community by giving
suggestions to parents to make changes in these areas by
being educated about the dangers of childhood obesity
The need to require schools to have at least 30 minutes of
rigorous exercise daily. The obesity increase -- now at least
11 percent of U.S. kids -- occurred during the same period
that many states dropped requirements for daily gym
classes, going against a recommendation by the U.S.
surgeon general. In fact, only one state, Illinois, still
requires daily physical education in schools.
The need to encourage restaurants not to use food portions
to attract customers in a competitive issue. The industry
responds to demands on the other hand, so the more the
public demands for a healthy approach to eating, the better
the food industry responds.
The need to increase the availability of low fat foods in
public places, office catering, mall food courts, child care
sectors and schools.
The need to help parents realize their roles as being good
'role models' at home and outside.
The need for governmental action and intervention in
taking preventive and curative steps by conducting
appropriate relevant and conclusive studies and surveys so
as to begin implementing support groups activities and
health care programs in schools.
What actions can be taken in schools?
The CDC archives documented studies conducted in various
schools to take necessary steps in the direction of
preventing childhood obesity by collecting in depth data on
the current determinants of children's eating and exercise
habits. This was done mainly to explore building support of
school based policies that support healthier habits.
The results showed that the in the school environment, the
children had high fat and high sugar foods whereas in the
home environment, they consumed more highly processed
foods and fast foods.
They also found that over enrolment in structured activities
led to a decrease in actual time when children were active.
Similar at home scheduled activities left less time for
children to enjoy high quality good family meals.
With more unstructured times of 'empty time zones' for the
kids, the physical activity levels could be enhanced in the
schools. Taking the help of kids to prepare home food
along with a parent could make them more aware of the
food groups, their uses and importance in the diet. Making
every family accessible to community diet charts and health
foods by local governmental bodies would go a long way in
With local government taking notice, many community
organizations and agencies that serve or touch the
population aged 2 to 5 years are now actively involved in
promoting three strategies for emergency supplies
management with fresh foods by :
Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption
Increasing low fat dairy
Increasing age appropriate physical activity programs.
What action can be taken at home?
Recommendations at home should focus on small but
changes in eating habits that may work better than a
series of short term changes that cannot be sustained.
There has to be a substantial decrease in dietary fat, but
favorite foods should not be forbidden. Limiting the
quantity goes a long way in decreasing the craving. So,
when your son wants some chips, give him some chips and
lots of grapes in the same plate! And you will be surprised
when he finishes both and does not ask for more.
Parents: I know with jobs and long tiring working hours, its
difficult, but some effort to reduce the temptation of
opening packets, sachets, cans, bottles and tins to have a
ready made meal on the table, will go a long way in
helping your child learn good habits. so, please, moms,
make that extra effort to make a healthy meal by COOKING
it yourself. That way, you ensure that all those extra
calories, preservatives, chemicals, and added flavours
entering your systems is minimized.
Physical activities should be increased by encouraging an
environment that supports it. Make your child chase those
ducks in the nearby pond or bicycle to Rick's home two
Parents should be involved to the fullest. Most obese kids
have obese parents which may be a direct result of
unhealthy eating and exercise habits of the entire family.
Parents should be good role models and often need to be
seen eating a fruit to send the child a message to eat the
fruit instead of the chips. So dear parents please put on
sports shoes to encourage the child to begin playing sports
than sitting and watching television. So,join your child in
the jog upto Rick's house.
Social support is very important for the healthy weight loss
in obese kids. The feeling of security and confidence should
prevail to make the child more adjusted. When you have
your relatives or friends home, make sure that they do not
ridicule your obese child or send negative feed back.
Request them to help you help him. Promote good foods
and eating habits when in a group so that the message
spreads. Serve low calorie snacks and healthy meals. Try
arranging some engaging physical activity for the kids when
in a group than watch movies together.
What are some important diet and exercise management
Important dietary management techniques should include
the teaching in the difference between hunger and craving.
Hunger being a physical necessity whereas craving is
stimulated by feelings or environment.
Label reading is an important consideration in the dietary
management of an obese child.
For example, Low fat snacks should have less than 5 to 10
grams of fat of which saturated fat is less than 2 grams.
Low sugar snacks should have less than 5 to 10 grams of
added white sugar or fructose syrup or these should not be
listed in the first three ingredients. Lower than 100-200
calories per snack.
However irrisistable it may be, parents, please do not
overuse the soda at home and teach children to respect the
goodness of water. The partial reason for addiction to soda
is because it never quenches thirst. Sodas just do not
replace water when it comes to feeling satisfied. Hence,
one ends up drinking more and more and hence, begins the
vicious cycle. So, folks, what a sip of water can do, 10 cans
of soda cannot. Apart from cheapening you of your dollars,
it is just empty calories that does no good to the body. The
extra calories knows its way to convert to 'ugly unwanted
fat' in the body.
I was truly amazed to discover that a bottle of water
costed more than a bottle of soda! Now, this is just how
ridiculous lifestyles out here has made it!
Kids get a false sense of satiety or 'fullness' as the free
sugars get absorbed easily and give the energy boost
needed, but do not last long or provide the necessary
nutrients. With the result, kids are full, yet get hardly any
good quality nutrients...and become hungry early. Fruit
juices, at least have some excellent natural flavours,
fortified vitamins and minerals, but sodas cannot even
boast of that! The bicarbonates that bring out that thrilling
'fizz' in the long run only harms the teeth.
Important exercise tips should include the calculation of
calories burned during the entire day. 3500Kcal is
equivalent to 1 pound of fat. For example, from the 24
hours in a day, after subtracting 8 hours of sleep, a person
is left with 16 hours of waking period. The difference in
calories when a person sits in a chair and when he is
walking essentially gives an idea as to how much excess
calories a person gets.
Calories used during sitting in a chair
50Kcal/hourX 16 hours/day = -----------
150Kcal/hourX16hours/day = ----------
difference = -----------
Are there any organizations that could help?
Several organizations now operate to help the community.
One such agency is the CTK or committed to kids , which
runs specialized programs for kids at different levels of
obesity. The programs are a mixture of progressive
strength, aerobic and flexibility building exercises,
presented by user friendly videos, educational materials,
functionaries who interact with parents and kids at every
stage to help make appropriate diet and exercise changes.
That apart, talking to your pediatrician about obesity and
taking his advice can be the best beginning to take care of
the weighty problems.
So, my sincere urge is to make those lifestyle changes and
see your kids and yourself slim down!