The trend toward childhood obesity in the United States is cause for alarm. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, 8.4% of two to five year-olds are obese, compared with 17.7% of six to 11 year-olds and 20.5% of 12 to 19 year-olds. The numbers are higher for Hispanic and African-American youth, with Hispanic children at 22.4%, non-Hispanic blacks at 20.2% and non-Hispanic whites at 14.1%. The obesity epidemic has seen a corresponding trend in childhood Type II Diabetes and hypertension. If we continue in this vein, the future looks dismal for the U.S. population. Many feel that the current generation of children will be the first that will not live longer than their parents.
The CDC points to a number of factors to explain the cause of this menacing crisis. Lack of support for breastfeeding is cited as a root cause. Baby formula is full of sugar and chemicals that sow the seeds of obesity from infancy. Formula fed babies miss out on vital nutrients and protective antibodies found in human milk, while being subjected to their first taste of processed food. Genetically modified soy is often a key ingredient in baby formula that leads to obesity and food allergies. Toddlers are often subjected to unregulated daycare meals, and school lunch programs are notorious for serving cheap processed food, full of calories and lacking in nutrients. Other factors cited include large portion sizes, advertising of unhealthy foods, lack of safe outdoor play space, and limited access to fresh whole food.
SES, or socio-economic status, is recognized as one of the major factors contributing to childhood obesity. Children in low income families often have little choice in the types of foods they eat, and the types of activities they engage in. Their parents often work long hours at low-paying jobs, frequently holding two or more jobs at a time. Low income children are likely to eat high quantities of unhealthful processed food, and are often trapped indoors for their own safety. Low income communities are often categorized as food deserts, with no supermarkets offering fresh produce. Convenience stores may carry small quantities of produce at inflated prices. Fast food is a frequent staple in homes with busy working parents. As the income gap widens in the United States, more and more families are falling below the poverty line, and more children being subjected to an unhealthy lifestyle with limited choices. Statistics from the CDC reflect that the incidence of obesity tends to decrease as household income increases. However, obesity is not restricted to children in low SES households.
How Can We Help?
While the solutions may seem obvious, working with children is complicated. Children have little or no say when it comes to the foods they eat. If the adults in a child’s life are inactive and obese themselves, that child is much more likely to follow their example. It is up to parents and teachers to provide opportunities for vigorous outdoor play and fresh wholesome food. Yet the financial circumstances and busy work schedules that plague adults often leave children vulnerable to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. Safety concerns are also an issue. Sexual predators and bullies cause parents to sequester their children indoors, with little access to fresh air, sunshine and unstructured play. As fitness professionals, we can begin with the children under our own roofs, and in our extended families. Community involvement in school activities, intramural sports and other local events can help you establish yourself as a youth fitness expert. Working with entire families may be key to solving our obesity crisis.
What Do You Think?
What strategies do you think we can implement as fitness professionals, either in the short term or in the long term, to impact the growing childhood obesity crisis? Leave your comments below!
W.I.T.S. is on a mission to train leaders who are equipped to face the health challenges of today and tomorrow. As fitness professionals, we may be the ultimate solution to a plethora of health and wellness problems facing future generations. You can begin by honing your professional skills and knowledge through education. W.I.T.S. offers a number of courses that will give you the tools to tackle the tough issues. Check out the Youth Fitness Certification, Certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Fitness Coaching courses today. Bundle them as a subscription, and get them all for the price of one!
References and Credits
American Diabetes Association: Statistics About Diabetes
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Childhood Overweight and Obesity
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in Children and Adolescents
HealthyChildren.org: Colostrum: Your Baby’s First Meal