Childhood Obesity and Its Alarming Growth in the United States

Childhood obesity is one of the most alarming diseases in the United States that is fast on the rise. Today, about 1 in just 5 school-age children (those between ages 6–19) has obesity. Now if that isn’t enough for you to put down that Twinkie, I don’t know what will.

This is a very serious medical condition that affects children as well as adolescents. Children who are overweight or obese are those who are above the normal weight for their age and height.

The body mass index (BMI) is the accepted measurement of overweight and obesity. This index provides a guideline of weight in relation to height.

Childhood obesity is quite troubling because those extra pounds that at first we find cute and adorable will tend to lead these children on the path to plenty of health problems. These issues include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, early heart disease, bone problems, and diabetes.

More than likely, if you are obese as a child, you have the tendency to be obese during adulthood.  

Causes of Childhood Obesity

There are many possible factors that lead to childhood obesity. Let’s go ahead and discuss each of them one by one.

Diet

Without a doubt, a lot of the food that we have easily available now is unhealthy. They are very high in calories. If eaten on the daily, these will cause childhood obesity to plenty of kids. Children nowadays in America usually consume fast food, baked goods, and vending machine snacks.

Sweets and other desserts also cause weight gain, as well as sugary drinks, like fruit juices.

No Physical Activity

Children who don’t engage in any kind of physical activity are more likely to gain weight. This is because they are unable to burn as many calories as those kids who do get out more.

Also, the generation right now prefer staying indoors and doing indoor activities, like watching TV, playing video games, and being online. Too much time spent doing these sedentary activities contribute to the rise in childhood obesity.

Socioeconomic Factors

It’s a fact that if you want to eat healthy, you have to shell out more than a few dollars in order to get those healthy food. And unfortunately, here in the US, there are plenty of people in communities who have limited resources and have no access to these kinds of food.

As a result, they have no choice but opt for food that’s convenient for them and food that are relatively cheap.

These, of course, include fast food, junk food, processed food, etc.

Genetics

Sometimes, a child doesn’t have a say when it comes to developing childhood obesity. If a child comes from a family of overweight people, his or her chances of becoming overweight as well are very high.

This is especially true of the environment the child grows up in encourages an unhealthy lifestyle, like always having high-calorie food available, overeating is encouraged, and any form of physical activity is discouraged.

Psychological Factors

Stress is another factor of childhood obesity. If children are experiencing different issues—from their parents, their peers, school work, personal problems, etc.—this can increase their risk for gaining weight.

In order to cope with these problems, some children turn to food in order to deal with their emotions.

Consequences of Childhood Obesity

Of course, gaining too much weight will definitely have some negative effects, either right away or in the future.

Below are some of the effects that stand out.

Sleep Disorders

One of the most scary sleep issues is obstructive sleep apnea. This is when a child’s breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. This causes the child to wake up more than once in the middle of the night. And of course, this makes it impossible for one to enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Kids with sleep apnea will feel sleepy during the day, and their concentration and daytime performance are at stake.

It’s best for parents to be aware of the daytime and nighttime symptoms of sleep apnea. Nighttime symptoms include snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, restless sleep, mouth breathing, and difficulty getting up in the morning.

As for the daytime symptoms, they are usually hyperactivity, inattention, behavior problems, and sleepiness.

Diabetes

Twenty years ago, children with diabetes was almost unheard of. In fact, in the hugely popular Babysitters Club series, one of their members, Stacey, had diabetes, and it was considered a taboo subject back then.

It sounded like something only adults had to deal with, like paying taxes or going to work.

Unfortunately, in recent years, type 2 diabetes in 10- to 19-year-olds has increased 21 percent between the years 2001 and 2009.

And for experts, the main culprit of this rise is childhood obesity. This is a condition that affects the way a child’s body uses sugar (glucose).

According to a study from the University of Michigan Health System, obese children are twice as likely to have diabetes than children who are of normal weight.

Heart Issues

Having a poor diet can cause children to have high cholesterol as well as high blood pressure. These two conditions contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. These plaques can cause arteries to narrow and harden. This then results to a heart attack or a stroke.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

This is a condition that causes fatty deposits to pile on in the liver. It usually shows no symptoms. But if you see that your child is having a very unhealthy diet, chances are, they have NAFLD. This particular disease can lead to scarring, liver damage, and cirrhosis.

Low Self-Esteem

Childhood obesity will cause your child to have feelings of low self-esteem, of not feeling good about themselves, of not liking what they see. Kids who are perceived as not of the norm (those who look fatter than most) are usually at the receiving end of bullies. And of course, this lowers their self-esteem even more.

Depression

The effect of depression is closely connected to feelings of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can create feelings of hopelessness and loneliness. This will eventually lead to depression and possible suicidal thoughts.

According to a study published in Pediatrics magazine, the longer a child is overweight or obese, the more the child is at risk for depression and other mental health disorders.

Behavior and Learning Problems

Childhood obesity can lead to the children having more anxiety and poorer social skills. Overweight kids usually either act out and disrupt classroom settings at one extreme, or withdraw socially at the other.

Childhood obesity also impacts learning as well. In obese people, there is a loss of brain tissue. This results in less brain to think, which results in a lower IQ. A child’s long-term memory is also impaired. There is then limited retention of what the child does manage to learn.

And finally obese kids experience a loss in the ability to regulate attention. This means sometimes an obese child is unable to remain focused long enough to absorb any information. This means lesser learning takes place.

Kate B. Forsyth is a writer for Be Healthy Today, who specializes in health and nutrition. Her passion is to help people get an overall transformation of health that lasts a lifetime. In her blog posts, she goes beyond research by providing health-concerned citizens doable and simple tricks to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

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