Health Wellness

Health & Wellness

Childhood Obesity, A Growing Epidemic

By Cathryn Domrose- Nursing News/July 14, 2000

The National Association of School Nurses has called childhood obesity one of the fastest-growing health problems among young people in America, second only to tobacco use.

Various studies show that between 13 percent and 15 percent of young children and teens are obese-above the 95th percentile of their BMI-putting them at significant risk for health problems related to obesity-an increase from 6 percent to 7 percent in the 1970s. Another 22 percent are in the 85th percentile of their BMI, putting them at risk of becoming obese.

Most people who study obesity in both children and adults agree that it is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research shows that some ethnic groups, especially African-American and Mexican-American women, seem to be at greater risk for obesity as adults, and some school nurses report seeing higher rates of obesity at schools with a higher number of minority populations. Others say they see it across the board. Researchers and those who work with weight management programs have come up with a number of environmental reasons for the epidemic: Fast food and "super-sizing;" increased television watching and video-game playing; increased consumption of fats or carbohydrates; families who are too rushed to prepare and sit down to healthy meals; reduced outdoor play, especially in poor weather; changes in lifestyle that emphasize more supervised, organized activity-in which some children may not want to participate-and less plain old running around.

Banks remembers growing up in upstate New York and having the run of the neighborhood. When her mother wanted the family to gather for dinner, she rang a big bell. Neighborhood parents never worried about what their children were up to because they knew their neighbors would watch out for them. Now, she said, "busy people come home and bury themselves indoors in a cocoon. They don't get to know their neighbors." Myriad health problems are related to obesity in children. School nurses and nurses who run fitness or weight management programs for overweight and obese children say they see everything from Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol to premature puberty, aggravated asthma, breathing problems, sleep apnea, joint problems, knee injuries and impaired mobility.

Studies show that obese children are likely to become obese teens, who in turn become obese adults with obesity-related illnesses like heart disease, cancer and complications from Type 2 diabetes, including kidney failure and limb amputation starting in their 40s and 50s."As we all know, this is a huge problem in the United States," Banks said. "These people will lose years of economic life as well as develop complex health problems that will complicate our system of insurance and Medicare and Medicaid." Add to this the feelings of isolation, lack of self-esteem, anxiety and depression that many obese children and teens experience, and you have a health problem that is more than skin-or fat-deep. But studies show many parents and health care providers do not understand the gravity of obesity, see it as a cosmetic problem or don't see it at all.

By Cathryn Domrose- Nursing News/July 14, 2000

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