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Childhood Obesity – Causes and Prevention

Childhood obesity statistics, not only in the US but throughout the western world, are startling. All western countries have seen a dramatic increase in their childhood obesity statistics. In the USA, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 – 11 years increased from 6.5% – 19.6% from 1980 to the present. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 – 19 years increased from 5.0% – 18.1%.1.

The cause of the obesity is the same as with adults. Too many calories are being consumed and not enough calories being expended through exercise. So what is causing this dramatic change over the last 30 years? In my opinion, the following are the reasons that childhood obesity statistics have changed so dramatically over the last 30 years.

Kids eat more junk than real food. This is true now but I think it was also true in 1980 as well. I remember eating plenty of candy and sweets as a kid. But neither myself nor any of my friends were overweight. So while there definitely could be an improvement in the diet of the kids of today, I do not think the skyrocketing childhood obesity statistics are solely the cause of poor nutrition.

The latch-key generation. In 1980, a good percentage of mothers were not in the work force. But with the state of the economy there are very few families that can follow the ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ model from the 1950’s, where the father is the breadwinner and goes off to work while the mother stay home and looks after the house and the kids.

In saying this, I do not mean to criticize single-mothers or families where both spouses work. I am just pointing out that ‘the new economy’ has caused this to occur and it is one of the reasons for the childhood obesity statistics being what they are.

The Xbox generation. Like I said above, kids don’t get together after school or on the weekends and throw a ball around anymore. These days, kids set a time to play Call of Duty and can play with each other real time from their homes.
The internet has created a situation where these kids can talk to each other while play, and they even start making friends and playing with other kids from all over the world.

I was astounded by this when it first came to prevalence. I can remember my nephews sleeping over on the weekend and turning the Xbox on at 7am on a Sunday. They would sign in to play on of these games on Xbox Live and there would be over 200,000 people worldwide signed on. And that number wasn’t for the whole Xbox Live system. That was for one particular game!

These are my personal reasons that the childhood obesity statistics are as bad as they are. And the health effects of childhood obesity are as dramatic for children as they are for adults:

Children that are obese are more likely to have the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. In a recent study 70% of children that were obese had at least one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.1
Children and teenagers that are obese now are more likely to become obese as adults. And this means that they will have a greater likelihood of encountering weight-related health problems as adults, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke.1
So, now that we have talked about the problem let’s start to talk about the solutions. You may not be able to help every kid in the country but you can help out your own kids:

Be a good example. I can’t think of a better way for our society to overcome these dreadful childhood obesity statistics than for all of us to be a good example physically.
And I have to say that I was VERY disappointed with some of the government websites I read when I was researching this article. Not one of them mentioned what I felt was the most important part to combating the childhood obesity statistics that we are faced with today. And that is for parents to be good role models for their kids when it comes to their own personal health.

So, to me this means that helping our children overcome childhood obesity means helping ourselves. And how do we do this? By adopting a low saturated fat diet and through establishing a fitness program for ourselves which involves both strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. Children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. Of course, this doesn’t have to be considered exercise. It can be time they spend at karate, on the soccer field or just running around or riding their bikes.

Limit the time in front of the computer. These days this can be tough but it also means that you have to be a parent. I think this chore is easier when you have two kids and only one Xbox or computer. Make sure that while one is playing the other is outside, even if they are getting dirty. Make sure they get the physical activity in.
Limit the TV time as well. You can gauge this by the physical activity they have had during the day. If your kids have been active then let them watch TV. But if not they have to get their exercises in, even if that means they work out with you.
Encourage them to join after school activities such as the community soccer league, karate or intramural sports at school. This will help to build a discipline around their physical activity. They will also be around like minded kids who are physically active as well. And if your kid is surrounded by skinny kids then they will in all likelihood be skinny as well. If your kid hangs around with the fat kids they will be fat as well.

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