Diseases & Conditions
Childhood obesity in the United States is becoming a serious national problem as the number of overweight and obese children continues to rise. This is particularly important because obesity is linked to the development of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers caused by or linked to unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity.
Since 1980 the percentage of overweight children in the United States has nearly doubled, and nearly tripled among adolescents. By 1999, 10 percent of two to five year olds and more than 25 percent of white children aged six to 19 are overweight; more than 33 percent of black and Hispanic children are overweight. If trends in obesity continue, one in three American children born in 2000 will go on to develop diabetes in their lifetimes. In fact, increasing numbers of diabetes cases diagnosed in childhood are type 2 diabetes—once thought to be exclusively an adult disease associated with obesity. Overweight and obese children are also at risk for other serious health conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol (once considered exclusively adult issues). They also are prone to low self-esteem from being teased, bullied, or rejected by their peers.
To address the issue of obesity among schoolage children, many public schools have been making an effort to change the way kids eat. Some of the major urban school districts such as those in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia are banning the sale of soda in their schools. Starting in September 2003, New York City’s school system—the country’s largest—stopped selling hard candy and doughnuts from in-school vending machines. In addition, fat and salt were trimmed from 800,000 lunches served daily in the schools.
The food and beverage industry is also considering signi?cant changes. Kraft Foods announced that it will alter how it produces, packages, and promotes its products, using recommendations from a panel of international experts in behavior, intervention programs, lifestyle education, nutrition, obesity, physical activity, and public health. Among Kraft’s plans are to cut portion sizes in sin-gle-serve packages, stop all of its in-school marketing, provide some healthier choices, and offer nutrition labeling in all markets worldwide.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that all food labels must list the exact amount of unhealthy trans fat (also called transfatty acids). Although companies have until 2006 to make the change, the expanded information will eventually help consumers make more healthy decisions about the foods they opt to eat. Some fast-food restaurant chains have changed the oil used to cook French fries, cutting the trans-fatty acids by half.
To help keep children at a healthy weight, parents should:
• avoid serving too much fruit juice or fruit juice drinks, which have lots of simple sugar
• not use food as a bribe, reward, or incentive for children
• not insist that children clean their plates. Instead, parents should reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they are hungry.
• not completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks from an overweight child’s diet, which could make a child overeat these forbidden foods outside the home
• schedule family meals together
• serve a variety of healthy foods in moderation
Because so many overweight children lead sedentary lifestyles, it can be important to make sure they have enough exercise. Families that make time for TV, computer, video games, and meetings can make time for exercise. Adults who model exercise will also tend to have children who participate in exercise as well.