Of all of the conditions that children can face in their lifetime, some of the most preventable are the most wide-reaching. One such condition is childhood obesity. According to a new study, more than half of American kids will be obese as adults and it is at least partially due to high weight during childhood. Along with leading to obesity as adults, childhood obesity has a number of negative health impacts. While these findings are certainly disconcerting, there are a number of steps that parents can take to prevent unhealthy weight gain in their children.
A recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated the findings of a new computer analysis prediction and found that the majority of children growing up in America today will be obese by the time they are 35. The study's lead author, Zachary Ward, doctoral candidate in health policy with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health Decision Science, told CBS News that the study's findings are "sobering," but not all that shocking:
It should not be surprising that we are heading in this direction. We are already approaching this level of adult obesity for certain subgroups [and] areas of the country.
What did shock Ward was the strong correlation between obesity at a young age and obesity later in life. According to CBS News, he explained:
For example, we found that three out of four 2-year-olds with obesity will still have obesity at age 35. For 2-year-olds with severe obesity, that number is four out five.
The analysis was conducted as part of the "Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study" (CHOICES). Investigators involved in the analysis examined data from five studies involving 41,500 children and adults using a computer model to generate a representative sample of 1 million computer generated children up to the age of 19, according to CBS News. It then predicted their future obesity rates at the age of 35, indicating that being overweight or obese as children made them more at risk for obesity as adults. When researchers used the model to examine Americans as a whole, it found that more than 57 percent of modern American children would be obese by their mid-30s.
Roughly 20 percent of American children between the age of 6 and 19 suffer from obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CBS News reported that this has tripled since the 1970s. The CDC cites a number causes of childhood obesity, including "eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, not getting enough physical activity, sedentary activities such as watching television or other screen devices, medication use, and sleep routines."
Unfortunately, the CDC also reports that childhood obesity can have a number of harmful effects on the body. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, and more. It can also lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and bullying.
Obesity is difficult to reverse, meaning that prevention is key. According to Dr. Sandra Hassink, chair of the Obesity Leadership Work Group at the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is up to parents to set healthy routines and build good habits:
Parents want their children to be healthy, but given the mixed messages about food and weight in our culture, they’re unsure how to address the problem. However, there is a great deal families can do to support each other in eating well and staying fit.
Steps such as providing healthy food at home, limiting screen time, and encouraging participation in sports and activities, can go a long way. Parents can also set a good example by being active themselves and eating well. Although this latest study predicts a troubling trend, insights like these help empower families to make healthier choices.
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