Obesity is a growing concern in most countries with strong economies. So much so, that many states have imposed extra taxes on products considered to increase the risk of obesity, like fast food, sodas and sweets, in an attempt to discourage individuals from purchasing them. In spite of that type of recent development, in 2017, according to the OECD, one in five adults in OECD countries was obese, while nearly one in six children were overweight or obese.
(To clarify, OECD countries are most of the EU states, plus Switzerland, UK, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Chile, Japan, South Korea, USA, Mexico and Canada.)
While countries such as Japan and South Korea keep the OECD obesity average low, others like the US, Mexico and the UK are seeing troubling rises in obesity rates, from one year to the next, and forecasts are not optimistic. Data from CDC shows that more than 1 in 3 Americans is faced with obesity (39,8 % in 2016), making it the health issue with the highest prevalence, by far. While in New Jersey, obesity rates are just above 25%, there are 7 US states with obesity rates higher than 35%. But all states, rich or poor, face the same problem, across the nation.
What is even more troubling is that obesity is not restricted to the bad choices in terms of food that adults make for themselves. Bad eating habits have been passed on to our young ones. 18,5% of American children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are affected by obesity. In a relatively short time span, starting about thirty years ago, these figures have doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents.
Obesity in children is of high concern, since it can lead or contribute to further medical issues such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, liver disease, coronary artery disease, gout, hypertension etc. In addition, the self esteem of children with such eating disorders tends to be very low.
Causes of childhood obesity
While the underlying fact is that, in the vast majority of cases, kids consume more calories than their body burns, this data is related to a series of factors like:
- It is a known fact that obesity is statistically correlated with lower levels of education in the USA. This is why we need a month for Childhood Obesity Awareness. We believe involving schools in this process of raising awareness is one of the most important issues, as it is in school, and under the influence of school colleagues, that children and adolescents spend the vast majority of their time. Schools should play an active role in educating children from the earliest of ages, to encourage them to eat healthy and live healthy. It is with lack of awareness that obesity starts to grow.
- Physical activity. As we control the inputs (the food we give to children), so should we control the outputs. Children must be encouraged to burn calories through physical activity. Again, this can happen in schools, who can raise the importance given to the classes of physical activity.
- Genetics and family history of obesity. Unfortunately, these are not choices children can make for themselves.
- Emotional problems. Over-eating can be a reaction to a fragile state of mind. Psychological counseling in schools and parent support at home can make a difference here.
- Sometimes obesity can be a side effect of certain medication. Parents should consult the family physician on such matters and try to counter balance these effects with healthy eating and exercise.
With the joint effort of schools, parents and health providers, the battle with childhood obesity can be fought and won. But it is perhaps also the time for the US to change its’ policies. Highly processed, unhealthy, cheap foods should not be so easily available to children. If we ban alcohol and tobacco from being bought by underage children, why not do the same with products that put them in almost as much danger as the above?