The Numbers Tell a Story
Obesity rates among children ages two to 19 have tripled since 1980, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES. At the time of the report, 17 percent of US children were classified as obese. Over the past decade, obesity declined slightly in two to five year olds, remained stable in six to 11 year olds, and increased among 12 to 19 year olds. As these children age into adulthood, they contribute to the public health burden caused by obesity that leads to a wide spectrum of diseases and disorders. Despite public awareness of this alarming trend, we as a society have been powerless to reverse it. Because children are subject to the choices made for them by adults, efforts at educating young people about healthful lifestyle behaviors make little difference.
It Begins in the Womb
Maternal nutrition could have a profound influence on childhood obesity. The Standard American Diet, known as the SAD Diet, is typically deficient in essential nutrients and full of sugar and chemicals. Before a baby sees the light of day, it may already have health issues associated with malnutrition. Human milk from the biological mother is a miracle substance that specifically adapts to the baby’s needs through various stages of growth, even providing nutrients specific to boys and girls. Yet many women choose to feed their infant powdered formula full of sugar, soy and chemicals. The rigorous infant vaccination schedule may also be a contributing factor. Thimerosol, a toxic mercury-laden ingredient in vaccines, has been identified as a culprit in child obesity.
SES and Obesity
Children of low socioeconomic status are more likely to be obese than their more affluent peers. Many poor neighborhoods are food desserts, with no grocery stores and limited access to fresh whole food. Cheap processed foods and fast restaurant foods often become staples of the low SES diet. In some low SES neighborhoods, activists have begun to plant gardens to meet the nutritional needs of the community. In Seattle, an entire park has been dedicated to providing fresh produce to the community. Beacon Food Forest invites foragers to harvest its bounty, free of charge.
Food Industry Lies
Some of the onus of child obesity rests squarely on the food industry. Marketing campaigns that target children and young families make claims of healthy foods that are not grounded in fact. Many of the foods that are staples in our children’s diets, including cereals, yogurt, baby formula, toddler and baby foods, and snack foods, are full of sugar and chemicals. Rather than stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables, busy parents opt for conveniently packaged foods that can be packed into school lunches or eaten on the go. Many children drink only sugary soda and juices rather than water.
Creative Play, Fresh Air and Sunshine
Lack of exposure to fresh air and sunshine, and too little unstructured creative play may also contribute to childhood obesity. A 2013 study published in the “International Journal of Obesity” found a relationship between Vitamin D deficiency, obesity and insulin resistance in children. An hour of physical activity in the sunshine every day can boost Vitamin D production and reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes. Unstructured play fosters physical activity and imaginative thinking. Sunshine and physical activity are important ingredients for human health.
Where Do We Begin?
As fitness professionals, we have many opportunities to make an impact on childhood obesity in our communities. Educating families and adults who work with children about the important role of nutrition is a good place to start. Providing safe spaces for creative play and encouraging children and families to become physically active is a challenge to which we can and should rise. Community gardens not only provide nutritious fresh food, but they also offer opportunities for learning. Gardening itself is a gratifying physical activity that can be enjoyed by children and adults.
Our children are the future, and W.I.T.S. is dedicated to preserving health and wellness for generations to come. As a Certified W.I.T.S. professional, you have the credentials and the knowledge to make a profound impact on future generations. Get started today with a Certification in Personal Training, Lifestyle Fitness Coaching or Youth Fitness. Follow up with continuing education in topics like Nutritional Concepts, Exercise Program Design for Special Populations, Youth Fitness Foundations and Youth Fitness Practical Review. You are the future of fitness. Be sure to get your Digital Badge to show the world that you are ready to take on the challenge of obesity and its impact on human health.
stateofobesity.org: Obesity Rates and trends.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in Children and Adolescents: United States, 2005-2008.
Children’s Medical Research Safety Institute: Surprising New Research Linking a Childhood Vaccine Ingredient to Obesity.
beaconfoodforest.org: Beacon Food Forest Permaculture Project.
International Journal of Obesity (May 2013): Vitamin D deficiency in childhood obesity is associated with high levels of circulating inflammatory mediators, and low insulin sensitivity.