Child Obesity – Part I

Childhood obesity has been a problem in the United States for far longer than anyone would like to admit.  Obesity rates among children and adolescents between the ages of two to nineteen were stable in the 1960s and 1970s.  In the 1980s, there was a noticeable increase in the obesity levels of this population.  It has tripled over the past 4 four decades.

There are a variety of factors that contributing to childhood obesity including:

  • High-calorie foods and large portion sizes
  • Sugary drinks
  • Technology has moved kids to play on devices instead of swing sets and in playgrounds
  • A significant decrease physical activity
  • Genetics
  • Hormones

According to the latest data, childhood obesity rates are influenced by ethnicity with 25.6% of Hispanic children, 24.2% of Black children, 16.1% of White children, and 8.7% of Asian children considered obese today.

Obesity rates also differ by geographically. The top five states for childhood obesity rates are:

  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
  • West Virginia
  • Alabama

The bottom five states for childhood obesity rates are:

  • Wyoming
  • North Dakota
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Montana

While ethnicity and geography play key roles in which children and adolescents are more likely to become obese during their lifetime so does culture.  Eating habits, food sources, how food is cooked impacts obesity.  In the South, many foods are fried which results in a higher fat content.  Fast food may be cheaper to buy and more convenient for working parents, but it is significantly higher in fat and less healthy.   

Cultural background plays a significant role in childhood obesity. Things like belief systems regarding food, established daily eating habits, the role food plays in social situations, and how food is incorporated into religious practices are some examples of how culture influences a relationship with food.  Stress can also cause overeating, especially for teenagers.

Regardless of the ethnic background of American children, where they live, and what cultural practices they participate in, it is evident that as a society, we need to help children and adolescents form healthier eating habits and make exercise a normal part of their daily routine.

It is critical to address childhood obesity and change eating habits before the child reaches adolescence or adulthood where is it more difficult to change.   Obesity leads to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, emotional problems, and serious health conditions.  This can lead to bullying, body shaming and many other social challenges for the child.