This topic is uncomfortable, but it is one that society must no longer ignore. We want our children to learn to make healthier choices, so this conversation is one we must have. The obesity rates in the last 20-30 years have skyrocketed, and sadly, childhood obesity is no exception. Many children lack access to healthy foods, and well-meaning parents often resort to cheaper, processed options. Because of rising income inequality and the fast culture we live in, children’s health is greatly suffering.
According to the CDC, the prevalence of childhood obesity in the U.S. is as follows:
- The prevalence of obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents.
- Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds.
- The prevalence of obesity decreased with increasing level of education of the household head among children and adolescents aged 2-19 years.
- Obesity prevalence was 18.9% among children and adolescents aged 2-19 years in the lowest income group, 19.9% among those in the middle-income group, and 10.9% among those in the highest income group.
Obesity rates have tripled among children and adolescents over the last 30 years. When you look at the world around you, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sedentary lifestyles, fast food, and technology have permeated children’s lives, wreaking havoc on their health. Parents may have good intentions, but choose unhealthy options for their kids due to convenience.
Below, we’ll talk more about the reasons behind the obesity crisis, and how we can ensure better health for children. While the world may encourage ill health, children can learn better habits which enforce well-being.
Here are 10 main factors causing the childhood obesity epidemic
Here are the ten primary things causing overweight, and therefore unhealthy, children.
1 – Too many high-sugar, high-fat processed foods
In the last few decades, people have started turning to more processed, higher-calorie snacks, and meals. These types of foods are convenient and quick, but they typically have very few nutrients. As a result, children still feel hungry after eating, yet end up gaining weight due to eating too many calories. Some research shows that obese people actually suffer from malnutrition due to the quality, not quantity, of the foods they eat.
Many studies link the higher consumption of processed foods with an increased risk of childhood obesity. This occurs because they usually don’t have a chance to burn off the excess calories consumed, leading to weight gain.
2 – Decreased physical activity due to sedentary lifestyles
Combined with an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise contributes greatly to the obesity epidemic. With the rise in technology and more sedentary living, children don’t have as much incentive or opportunity to play. Many schools have taken away recess time as well, which proves detrimental to children’s’ mental and physical health. Simply put, children were made to run and play, not study and memorize information for hours at a time.
Even if they get recess time at school, children still need more than 30 minutes of movement per day. After school and on weekends, many of them spend a large portion of their time indoors on technology. Parents who have busy schedules may find it easier to let the TV do the babysitting instead of playing with them outdoors.
3 – Lack of information about healthy food choices
Especially in lower-income households, children may not have access to information about healthy food choices. Kids mimic their parents’ example, and that includes what types of food they eat. If parents eat mostly processed foods, the kids will follow their lead because they don’t know any better. According to the World Health Organization, lack of information about healthy food choices contributes to the problem.
Schools should teach children about nutrition if parents don’t have access to knowledge about healthy food options. Parents might mean well, but just don’t have the resources or time to help kids make better decisions about food.
4 – Poor availability and affordability of nutrient-dense foods
In addition, children growing up in lower-income families may not have access to healthy foods. Especially in one-parent households, the parent may not have time to cook nutritious meals for children. As a result, they may resort to fast food or processed foods because of the convenience and low cost.
Poverty and obesity have a strong correlation, according to a study done by the University of Michigan. Among school districts in Massachusetts, researchers found that every 1 percent increase in low-income status led to a 1.17 increase in obese/overweight students. It only makes sense that if kids have access to more fresh foods, they will make healthier choices. Kids who grow up in low-income houses have a clear disadvantage when it comes to health, unfortunately.
5 – Marketing unhealthy foods specifically to children
The companies selling these unhealthy foods have a huge responsibility in causing the obesity crisis. Companies use bright colors, catchy songs, and fun cartoon characters to get kids’ attention, and it works. While parents don’t have to buy the products, they may just purchase them because they believe it will make their kids happy.
Marketing campaigns trick parents by saying the cereals or other snacks are fortified with vitamins, but they still contain tons of sugar. Have you noticed that the characters on breakfast cereals in the stores seem to be at eye level with kids? It’s almost as if the companies did that on purpose. (hmmm)