Obesity has become an extremely serious epidemic in our country. It was estimated that in 2008, annual health care costs related to obesity cost our nation $147 billion…double what it was a decade ago. Today, 31% of Americans are considered obese and they estimate that if current trends continue, the number will rise to 43 percent by 2018. But even more staggering are the statistics around the prevalence of weight issues, including obesity among children.
One of my recent episodes of The Healthy Living Show covered the realities of childhood obesity. During the show, I interviewed Dr. Joanna Dolgoff – pediatrician and author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right: The Food Solution That Lets Kids Be Kids. Not only did she reaffirm that childhood obesity is a problem today, but she drove home the point that the numbers of today represent a generation that will be in bigger crisis tomorrow.
- Exponential Increases: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 – which equates to over 9 million children – are overweight or obese — a number that has tripled since 1980. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that over the past three decades the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years.
- Higher Risk for Obesity: Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese. (United States Department of Health and Human Services).
- Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, 30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls born in the United States in 2000 have a lifetime risk of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In case reports limited to the 1990s, Type 2 diabetes accounted for 8 to 45 percent of all new pediatric cases of diabetes, in contrast with fewer than 4 percent before the 1990s. (“Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005,” Institute of Medicine.)
- Early Risk of Heart Disease: In a population-based sample, approximately 60 percent of obese children aged 5 to 10 years had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor, such as elevated total cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin or blood pressure, and 25 percent had two or more risk factors.
- Life Expectancy: Probably the most disturbing prediction is that today’s children may have a lower life expectancy than their parents, resulting in an effect equal to that of all cancers combined.
Obesity in general is an issue we need to address, but even more importantly, childhood obesity needs to be addressed. To do so, we need to emphasize the importance of health education in our schools, provide healthier school lunch options, encourage our children to be active and take an active role in helping them understand the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. Also, government needs to stop subsidizing unhealthy foods and start subsidizing those that are healthy to encourage parents to choose healthier foods that are also cost-effective. Most importantly, we need to lead by example.
Does childhood obesity concern you? What are you doing to help combat this “epidemic?”