“Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.” That’s according to the CDC. The question is, why has child obesity become such an issue and why does it continue to increase? The main causes of obesity are quite similar in both adults and children. Most of these causes are related to behavior and genetics. Behavior includes dietary patterns, physical activity and use of medication, among other things.
Obesity is often linked to lack of exercise. Specialists recommend that children have at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, as seen on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. For a number of reasons children haven’t been getting enough exercise. One of these reasons is safety. Many communities don’t have access to safe places for kids to play at, like parks, day camps, and swimming programs, for example.
With today’s access to internet, video games, smartphones and tablets, kids are not stimulated to go outside and play as they were years ago. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, only one in three children are physically active on a daily basis. Research also shows that children spend seven and half hours a day in front of a screen.
Having a good diet is also very important, as everyone probably knows by now. A good diet should emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat and fat-free dairy products. Also, one should drink around half a gallon of water every day. So here is the problem: in the U.S., even in schools, it’s very easy to have access to unhealthy food, such as french fries. Some even have vending machines that sell soda, chips and cookies among others.
Another issue concerning diet is to find healthy food which is affordable. In some cases, people just don’t have access to these foods due to their location or some people don’t have access due to financial reasons which reduces access to appropriate food products.
The availability of high-energy-dense foods and sugar sweetened drinks is alarming and makes staying healthy even more difficult. Consumption of high energy dense foods, or simply junk food, plays a big role in obesity and is often consumed with sugar sweetened drinks, like soda, which just makes things worse.
Not only is physical access to junk food a problem, but financial access may be an even bigger problem. You can get a burger, fries and soda with unlimited refills for under $10 but if you wanted to choose the healthier option of a salad you are looking at the same cost if not a bit more.
Things get even worse when you join these issues – lack of physical activity and dietary problems, and they usually go hand in hand. Eating healthy is very important and so is physical activity like swimming and outdoor play. It is necessary to stimulate children to do some type of physical activity every day in order to improve statistics and consequently, society as a whole. Better policies at schools, establishing more summer day camps and swimming schools, reduction of targeted advertisement of fast food and more stimuli to physical activities are some of things that can help better today’s problem with child obesity.