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Fighting Childhood Obesity Starts at Home
It is a fact that people in general are getting fatter in many western societies. This is reflected in the popularity of diet books and fitness equipment. But while most of us realize that it would be nice to lose some weight, we are only vaguely aware of the staggering levels of “obesity” in our societies. We are even less aware of the impact this has on our children, and the widespread existence of childhood obesity.
What is obesity?
Generally speaking, a person is considered “obese” when the amount of fat stored in their body endangers their health. Here are some recent statistics from the OECD that show just how big the obesity problem is:
Percentage of population (over 15 years) that is obese
USA – 30.6%
Mexico – 24.2%
United Kingdom – 22.4%
Australia – 21.7%
New Zealand – 17%
Canada – 14.9%
Germany – 12.9%
France – 9.4%
In other words, nearly 1 in 3 Americans and about 1 in 5 Australians are so severely overweight that they have health problems because of it.
Causes of obesity
As individuals we tend to rationalize our tendency to be overweight or obese. We often blame things like heredity or glandular imbalance, and while these things often make a difference, the root cause of most obesity is pretty simple. A person gains weight when they consume more calories than they burn.
In other words, there are two important factors involved: diet and activity level. And it seems pretty obvious that in countries with a high level of obesity both are taking a hit. Western diets are full of more fat and sugar than ever before, while people in general are becoming more sedentary and exercising less: sitting in front of computers all day and in front of the TV all night.
Consequences of an obese lifestyle
Obesity has overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of disease worldwide.
Diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, heart disease, stroke, back and neck problems have been attributed to obesity. degenerative conditions with weight in the lower limbs, certain types of cancer and depression.
In fact, it has been estimated that approximately 500,000 deaths occur annually due to poor nutrition and physical inactivity. If this trend towards obesity is not reversed in the coming years, it is likely to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death.
Even more worryingly, when adults adopt an obese lifestyle, they are more likely to pass on their eating and activity habits to their children. This has resulted in a dramatic increase obesity in children.
Obesity in children
Childhood obesity has become commonplace in many countries. For example, obesity in children and adults in the US is estimated to have increased by more than 30% in the past 10 years alone.
The reasons are obvious. Children are subjected to the obese lifestyle from all sides. Many families have replaced high-fat, high-sugar junk foods and soft drinks with regular, balanced meals. Or they’ve simply stopped preparing meals at home: The share of food children ate at restaurants and fast food establishments increased by nearly 300% between 1977 and 1996.
Children are also the target of a constant bombardment of advertising promoting highly processed junk food. And in many cases, the normal physical activity that has been a part of childhood for many generations has been restricted by safety concerns, or completely replaced by sedentary activities like playing video games or watching television.
Consequences of childhood obesity
Obesity is never a good thing. But obesity in children is particularly bad. Once fat cells are created in the body, they cannot be removed by normal diet or increased physical activity. Therefore, an obese child usually carries his obesity into adulthood.
On the other hand, if a child learns good diet and exercise habits as a child, they will most likely carry those habits and knowledge into adulthood as well.
What can be done about childhood obesity?
It is up to parents and other adults to teach responsible alternatives to the obese lifestyle. Parents must first become aware of problems with their personal and family eating habits and activity levels, and then make adjustments that will have a positive impact throughout their children’s lives.
An effective way is to take the “AKA” approach: awareness of the problem knowledge what to do about it and Action designed to bring about lifestyle changes. Children have an innate thirst for knowledge, a deep desire to improve their self-image, and will love the attention you give them as you develop a plan for a healthier lifestyle for your whole family.
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