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Youth Obesity: Causes and Interventions

By the Numbers


Overweight and obese children and teens present an ongoing challenge that the fitness community has been unable to surmount. According to the State of Obesity Project of the Trust for America’s Health, 14 percent of two to five year olds and 13 percent of high school students are obese, and one in three children aged 10 to 17 are categorized as overweight or obese. If there is good news to be heard, it is that after steadily rising over the past few decades, the upward trend appears to have plateaued.

Low SES and Obesity


A number of empirical studies and reports have drawn a strong correlation between poverty and obesity. One in four US children rely on SNAP, the USDA food stamp program, to help meet nutritional needs. While the problem is complex, there are a few reasons for obesity among people of low socioeconomic status that stand out. Healthy food is expensive and requires preparation. Many poor parents work more than one job, and there is often only one parent in the home. Many poor communities are “food deserts,” without grocery stores that sell fresh food. Poor children are often fed fast or processed food from chain drive-through restaurants and convenience stores because it is affordable and accessible. It is also high in sugar and calories.

Other Underlying Causes


While obesity is more prevalent among the poor, it is by no means limited to low income families. Even families who can afford healthy food often make poor nutritional choices. Infant formula is loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup and has been pinpointed as a major culprit in the onset of childhood obesity. Children fed human milk from infancy through the first year of life are much less likely to become overweight or obese. Inadequate physical activity is also a critical factor. Inactive children are more likely to be overweight, and overweight children are less likely to be active, a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.

Interventions


It is difficult to fight obesity in children because they are subject to the decisions made by adults charged with their care. However, when communities come together to fight obesity, there is hope. One growing trend in food desert neighborhoods is community gardening, where families are able to cultivate their own fresh produce. A similar trend is the planting of gardens in spaces where grass formerly grew, like medians, roadside curbs and even front lawns. Seattle has made a seven acre food forest adjacent to working class neighborhoods, where residents are free to forage for fresh food. Not only do gardens provide food, but they educate the populace, strengthen community ties and encourage outdoor physical activity.

Resources

Fitness professionals who want to help fight childhood obesity need to understand the basics about youth nutrition and physical activity. W.I.T.S. has everything you need to get started. Begin with a certification like Personal Fitness Trainer, Youth Fitness Specialist and Lifestyle Fitness Coach. Continue your education with Nutritional Concepts, Youth Fitness Foundations, Fundamentals of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Exercise Program Design for Special Populations, and much, much more!

References and Credits

Beacon Food Forest Permaculture Project: http://beaconfoodforest.org

Natural News: Infant formulas loaded with corn syrup and sugar. http://www.naturalnews.com/033926_infant_formula_corn_syrup.html

Snap-Ed Strategies and Interventions: An Obesity Prevention Toolkit for States.
http://nccor.org/downloads/SNAPEdStrategiesAndInterventionsToolkitForStates.pdf

Images: Clare Bloomfield; Freedigitalphotos.net

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