The Childhood Obesity Epidemic - Cōpare

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic

By By Maddie Butehorn

As a health coach at Cōpare I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. I’ve also participated in many volunteer projects that focused on nutrition education in underserved communities and developing countries. With the recent explosion of health ailments, typically reserved for the older population, I now realize that the the bigger challenge is in educating a population right in my own back yard.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015-2016 suggests that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people aged 6 to 19 years of age in the United States has obesity.

Recent statistics are even more alarming. According to The State of Childhood Obesity, the number of children presenting with obesity has increased dramatically during the pandemic. The percentage of overweight kids age 5-11 rose from 36% to 46% during pandemic and the percentage of overweight kids age 12-15 went from 39% to 43% during pandemic.

Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.

There are many factors that contribute to childhood obesity, including poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity. A poor diet consisting of fast-food, sugary beverages, snack foods, and frozen dinners can all contribute to unhealthy weight gain in children. Many families opt for foods that are favored by their children and are both inexpensive and convenient but tend to contain a high number of calories with little nutritional value.

Portion sizes are another contributing factor to childhood obesity. The portion sizes of meals have increased dramatically in the past decade, and consuming large portions contribute to an excessive caloric intake, which can cause weight gain.

Lack of exercise is another factor contributing to child obesity. Television viewing among young children has increased exponentially in recent years. Increased amount of time spent doing sedentary activities has decreased the amount of time children are physically active.

Research shows that the number of hours children spend watching TV correlates with their consumption of many products that are advertised on TV, such as sweetened cereals, sweets, and salty snacks.

Obesity during childhood can be harmful to the body in a variety of ways. Children who have obesity are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, joint pain, breathing problems, pre-diabetes, fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux. Obesity can also affect children’s social and emotional well-being and self-esteem and can lead to poor performance in school.

At Cōpare many of our clients are motivated to get healthy so they can be role models for their kids. Parents can indeed have a significant influence on teaching their children how to live an active, healthy lifestyle to avoid the effects of obesity. Children often emulate the behaviors of their parents, and the best thing they can do to teach their children healthy habits is to demonstrate them.

To help children develop healthy habits and reduce and prevent childhood obesity, it is
important to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
It is also important to shift fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and limit their intake of sugars. Parents should also discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV. Eating in front of the TV can make it difficult to recognize feelings of fullness and can lead to overeating. Parents should also focus on preparing meals at home more often than eating out at restaurants (particularly fast-food restaurants) and limiting portion size.

Encouraging physical activity i.e., playing outdoors is extremely important as well. Parents should promote daily physical activity and limit television and screen time – screen time is sedentary time. Going for family hikes and walks and spending more time outdoors participating in fun activities can help the entire family.

At Cōpare we have seen an increase in the number of parents reaching out to us for help with their overweight kids and young adults. When dealing with a younger population, we are diligent and especially thoughtful about our approach. We want to insure that the family participates in the process and is as committed as the child – we believe good health is a team effort. Our focus is never on weight, per se, it is on educating families and kids about the importance of a healthy lifestyle including good nutrition, adequate sleep, managing stress and physical activity.

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