According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past thirty years. A 2005 article published in The New England Journal of Medicine, titled A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century, states that “These [obesity] trends threaten to diminish the health and life expectancy of current and future generations”. In sum, our children are expected to die much younger than previous generations. Because of obesity, Americans for the first time in centuries are projected to have a shorter life expectancy. For adults and especially children, being overweight or obese can lead to serious medical conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and the list goes on.
What is the solution? The answer seems simple enough, right? Eat right and exercise. Move more, eat less. Period. Or is it? How did we get here? Is it because of fast food and junk foods? Is it because of advertising and marketing that targets youth? Or even yet – could it be due to “screen time” – kids watching TV and movies, playing video games, using the internet, handheld computers and smartphones? Children don’t walk or ride their bike to school as much as in the past. Physical Education classes are being slashed in favor of more math and reading. There are many activities that are now available to children (and adults) that require absolute inactivity. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) has even been proposed to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), to be released in May 2013. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. What are our children doing? What are our children eating? And what is the solution to the rising obesity epidemic? The answer is quite complicated. There is not one answer to the problem of childhood obesity. Our lifestyles and environments must change.
There are major efforts being made to combat childhood obesity, with initiatives like Let’s Move, launched in 2010 by First Lady Michelle Obama. The Let’s Move campaign is a comprehensive initiative, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation. The five pillars of the initiative call for involvement by everyone, including:
- Creating a healthy start for children
- Empowering parents and caregivers
- Providing healthy food in schools
- Improving access to healthy, affordable foods
- Increasing physical activity
And, we might add – limiting screen time!
We all must act, and we must act now, for ourselves, for our children and for the future of our nation. How will you make a difference?
The New England Journal of Medicine: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr043743#t=article
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/problem.html
Shelby Shroeder is the CATCH Healthy Habits Coordinator for St. Louis OASIS, a group partnered with BJC HealthCare. OASIS teams up volunteers age 50+ and kids to promote healthy eating and have fun playing vigorous, active games through the CATCH Healthy Habits program.