First Lady Michelle Obama has made reducing childhood obesity a priority and has instituted the Let’s Move program. “Let’s Move is about kids eating healthy and moving and staying active, so you all are ready for life and for all the challenges that you’re going to face,” she said in the Let’s Move Blog, which reported the First Lady’s October 12th South Lawn event aimed at breaking the Guinness Book of World Record for the most people doing jumping jacks in a 24-hour period.
Childhood obesity continues to be a serious problem in the United States. Between 1971 and 1974, just 5 percent of all children were considered obese. The percentage of obese children doubled by 1994 and tripled by 2002 according to Future of Children authors, Patricia Anderson and Kristin Butcher’s calculations from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
“Logically enough, increasing childhood obesity is related to increasing adult obesity. Obese children are much more likely than normal weight children to become obese adults. Obesity even in very young children is correlated with higher rates of obesity in adulthood. A study from the late 1990s shows that 52 percent of children who are obese between the ages of three and six are obese at age twenty-five as against only 12 percent of normal and underweight three- to six-year-old children.” (Future of Children: Childhood Obesity)
Theories about what caused the obesity epidemic in the US abound. Some of the factors include: increased television and computer/video game usage, increasing use of fast-food restaurants, marketing of sugary and fat-laden foods to children, schools that offer junk food and soda to children, scaled back physical education classes and recess, and working parents who are unable to find the time or energy to cook a nutritious meal or supervise outdoor playtime. There has also been an exodus of grocery stores from urban shopping centers. This makes affordable fresh fruits and vegetables scarce.
But why should we care about childhood obesity? Shouldn’t we look beyond the physical and love children as they are? While the causes of childhood obesity can be debated by many, the consequences cannot. Obesity causes many health problems: heart disease, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep disorder, liver disease, orthopedic complications and mental health problems, just to name a few. “The possibility has even been raised that given the increasing prevalence of severe childhood obesity, children today may live less healthy and shorter lives than their parents.” (Future of Children: Childhood Obesity)
Reducing obesity requires changes in behaviors surrounding eating and physical activity. Children don’t control their environments and have difficulty making healthy choices around food. There is a clear rationale for modifying children’s environments to make it easier for them to be physically active and to make healthful food choices, thus reducing their chances of becoming obese.
On Thursday, October 20th, news sources across the country reported new research by Future of Children author and University of Chicago professor Jens Ludwig, which found that “low-income women with children who move from high-poverty to lower-poverty neighborhoods experience notable long-term improvements in some aspects of their health, namely reductions in diabetes and extreme obesity.” The Future of Children journal on “Childhood Obesity,” addresses several broad domains of children’s environments–the market place, the built environment, schools, child care providers, and homes–that might be modified to reduce obesity.
The Future of Children: Childhood Obesity can be read free of charge on our website.