Thursday, April 06, 2006

Alarming Rates of Childhood Obesity & Related Diseases

The other day, WebMD reported newly released CDC statistics in "Obesity Epidemic Balloons to New Girth," that show 70% of adults are overweight or obese in the United States. Of that, 32% obese with a BMI greater than 30 and 5% super-obese with a BMI greater than 40. As stunning as those statistics are for the adult population - the statistics regarding the rates of obesity amongst our children are downright frightening!

  • aged 2-5 years, 26% currently have a body weight in the 85th percentile or higher, with 14% of all children of this age group in the 95th percentile or higher
  • children aged 6-11 years, 37% have a body weight in the 85th percentile or higher, with 19% of all children of this age group in the 95th percentil or higher
  • children aged 12-19 years, 34% have a body weight in the 85th percentile or higher, with 17% of all children of this age group in the 95th percentile or higher

Add to this, a study, Worldwide trends in childhood overweight and obesity, published in the premier issue of the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity this month - it paints a bleak picture of where we are and where we're headed with our children and their growing girth.

From the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, the prevalence of overweight or obesity in school-age children doubled or tripled in several large countries in most regions, such as Canada and the United States in North America; Brazil and Chile in South America; Australia and Japan in the Western Pacific region, and Finland, Germany, Greece, Spain and the UK in Europe.

Based on the secular trends reported here, and assuming they continue on a linear basis, we estimate that over 46% of school-age children will be the Americas by 2010; ...[b]y 2010, one in seven children in the Americas is predicted to be obese. The implications for local health services as these children develop obesity-related chronic diseases in later adolescence and early adulthood, are difficult to estimate, but planning for this disease burden needs to be undertaken urgently. For some countries the costs may not be easily absorbed into the domestic economy, and health outcomes may be correspondingly poor.

Folks, within the next four years, if we continue on the current path, 50% of our children will be overweight with one in seven obese! I don't even want to imagine what these statistics translate to in terms of type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other obesity related disorders for our children in the future.

To me, this is appalling and a clear indication we are failing our children.

We're quick to blame the marketers, manufacturers, television, fast food restaurants, childrens' characters, not having enough time, lack of safe play space outside and more - but the hard truth is, as parents, we control every last thing our children eat, do and see each day! Ultimately it is the parent who is responsible when their child has learned out-of-control eating habits and sits idle each day.

Am I being too hard on parents?

I don't think so - I speak from experience as a mom and understand the difficulty we parents face in maintaining healthy eating habits and levels of activity in an environment that encourages the exact opposite. But it is my responsibility as a parent to be up to the challenge and do the hard work necessary for my childs health and well-being.

If I don't step up and take that responsibility seriously, why would anyone else? Think about it - if marketers and manufaturers are working hard to convince my child to eat junk food and I buy it for him, are the marketers and manufacturers responsibile when he eats it, or am I when I buy it and subsequently feed it to him?

In my mind, the only person responsible in such a scenario is me - I bought the junk food and I fed it to my one made me do it, no one forced my hand and, conversely, no one can make me buy or feed it to my child.

So while many are quick to blame everyone and anyone to absolve themself - the hard truth is that we parents make the final choice of how and what to feed our kids, how often they get outside to play, and how often they're allowed to sit around doing nothing more than watching television or playing video games.

The statistics cited in the above two articles are frightening for our future. We are raising a generation of children who are getting fatter by the day - not only does the excess weight present a challenge for our children today, it is setting the stage for ill-health in the long-term! The Kansas City Star reported today "Study: More children using drugs that treat Type 2 diabetes" that researchers reviewing prescriptions dispensed in the last four years showed that drugs used to treat and prevent Type II Diabetes IN CHILDREN doubled in the last four years. Four years! Doubled!

Sadly, I'm not surprised. I am however concerned that many parents are ignoring the obvious - the lifelong complications they are imposing on their children because they aren't paying attention to the details and making their childrens' short and long-term health priority number one.

Yes, it's often easier to believe you don't have time, you are doing all you can and that somehow your child will be insulated from harm - obesity and type II diabetes only happens to other kids. The numbers tell us that we're in trouble in the United States - not impending, soon-to-happen if we do nothing trouble - but deep trouble today.

We're pretty good at wringing our hands and hoping someone will do something to reverse the trend. The truth is that only you - the parent - can do the hard work necessary to ensure your child is eating a healthy diet and is active every day!

Waiting for the government, schools, daycare, health organizations, politicians, doctors, the food industry or others to fix the problem for you is no longer an option any parent should consider viable for the long-term health of their child. It's time we parents step up to the plate and take responsibility for what we're feeding our kids, what messages we allow marketers to ingrain in their minds, and what activities we encourage them to engage in each day.

More importantly, it's time we parents stepped up to be the role model our kids need to learn from and want to emulate. It's time to put down the big gulp and bag of chips, grab a bottle of water and a bag of blueberries and go take a walk with you child, run with your child at the park and laugh together as you decide what the clouds look like today as you kick back, enjoy your snack and rest from all that fun together!

Trust me - your kids are worth the effort!


  1. While I agree in large measure with your argument, that parents must take more responsibility, I think that you place too much blame on them and on the idea that parents, if they do not act, are waiting for the government or some other bureaucracy to take charge.

    Thewre is a serious problem with the quality of the information that parents are getting. Even the most conscientious parents who makes dietary choices based on the erroneous low fat information available from most authorities is going to be contributing their children's ill health.

    A major source of the problem of childhood obesity and adolescent metabolic syndrome is the false information coming from people who ought to know better.

  2. Guess what? I agree!

    I'm also really concerned that we're reaching a point of no return if something doesn't happen to get parents to wake up and take a long hard look around and see the mess we're in.

    If the prediction, that by 2010, 50% of kids will be overweight or obese - good grief we're in bigger trouble in the future than I already fear.

    Part of my own fear is from being a mom to a toddler - my son is 19-months old now and as he goes out into the world, meeting new friends and playing with other kids, I'm struck by how many of them are, well, larger than average...and often are snacking on stuff that is clearly not healthful - sodas, candy, cookies, fruit rollups - regularly.

    I honestly have no problem if a child has occassional treats - IMO that's part of childhood. But when I see kids that are fed a constant diet of processed food, junk food and other assorted garbage - I fear for them in the long-term.

    They're unwittingly being set up for lifelong health problems and often it's the parents who teach them through example and decide what to buy and provide. Yes, the information out there is generally erroneous and parents are being misled in many ways --- but --- it really is a no-brainer that kids need to actively play each day and that fruit rollups are not a replacement for a real apple, nor is soda a good choice to quench thirst, ya know?