America’s national crisis: childhood obesity

Obese boy holding drink and a plate with food

Childhood obesity has long been a problem in the US. According to new data that was released this week, the problem is now worse than ever.

The state of obesity: Study of children ages 10 to 17 (2016-17)

CNN: Childhood obesity: America’s ‘true national crisis’ measured state by state

Time: These are the states with the highest and lowest youth obesity rates

Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey, who worked on the report, declares:

Roughly one in three young people nationally is overweight or obese and I think the new data we’re releasing is a real stark reminder of that fact, it should really urge all of us to think about the kinds of changes that we need to be making that will help all kids grow up at a healthy weight.

The study maps out the obesity rates in the US; rates differ significantly by both state and race. Marlene Schwartz, a professor and director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, explains the differences are likely socioeconomic. She makes the connection that states with higher rates of childhood obesity are also states with higher poverty levels.

Dr. David Ludwig, a professor at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, published a report in 2005 that predicted a significant shortening of life expectancy in the US by mid-century due to the effect of obesity on longevity.

Dr. Ludwig comments on the new study from the perspective of his own report in 2005:

Now that prediction seems to have come to pass many years sooner than expected. In 2015 and in 2016, life expectancy decreased for the first time since the Civil War in the United States. The first generation born in the obesity epidemic is just reaching middle age. They’re going to be developing life-threatening complications — diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver — at much higher rates than was ever before the case. This has, and will continue to place an enormous strain on the health care system, cost hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy, and extract a tremendous human toll of suffering and shortened healthy lifespan. This is a true national crisis.

The recommendations to stop the obesity epidemic among children suggested by The State of Obesity report include:

  • Congress and the current administration should maintain and strengthen nutrition supports for low-income families.
  • The US Department of Agriculture should maintain nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect prior to changes made last year.
  • States should ensure that all students receive at least an hour of physical education or activity during each school day.
  • Food and beverage companies should eliminate children’s exposure to advertising and marketing of unhealthy products.

Real change takes real action, and these measures don’t seem to be quite enough. What about a recommendation to drastically reduce the amount of sugar and processed foods fed to children? Considering the fact that the percentage of American children and teens affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, there must be something that has changed dramatically in our lifestyle during the last few decades. What can it be…? More and more calories from highly processed meals and snacks comes to mind.


New government proposal to fight child obesity in the UK

A record of seven US states now have obesity rates above 35%

Dr. Ludwig in the NYT: The toll of America’s obesity

Low carb

One comment

  1. Lorraine
    New Zealand is in the same situation. I work on Early Childhood Education and we follow what is supposed to be the Healthy Heart menu. It is packed with carbs, especially bread. It is sad to see so many young children craving their carbs.

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