A study performed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1977 reported that approximately seven percent of children in the United States were overweight. A similar study done in 2000 reports that twelve to fourteen percent of children aged six to nineteen are considered overweight. While this number may seem insignificant, what it really means is that one out of every eight children in the United States are obese while another one in five are overweight. This same study goes on to say that overall about fifty percent of Americans are overweight/obese, equating to approximately ninety seven million people in the entire country. This number is increasing every year at an alarming rate. The health risks which are associated with obesity and being overweight is a significant cause for concern because in the United States alone, the number of deaths attributed to obesity is approximately 280,000 every year.
It is known that girls are at a higher risk to be obese than boys. We also know that that minorities, or African-American and Hispanics, are at greater risk for obesity in childhood than their white counterparts. What does it mean to be obese? The general definition is a condition of excess body weight. Clinically in the medical field it is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeding 25. It also may be defined as a person or child who exceeds 10% over standard weight tables for age, height, sex and race. For the most part, children who are forty to fifty pounds greater than their ideal body weight are considered to be obese. Children are considered to be overweight when they are approximately twenty-five pounds over their ideal body weight range.
What kind of risks go along with being overweight when one is a child? Many people tend to just consider the problems of obesity as they relate to appearance. The effects that also must be considered include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and other long-term morbidity associated with obesity. The first thing to point out is that as one ages, the likelihood that obesity will persist into adulthood increases quite dramatically. The highest risk is in adolescence. It is also important to point out that if you have a 1- to 3-year-old overweight child, the likelihood that that obesity will persist is not significantly increased. However, if this child has overweight parents in early childhood, there is a very, very high likelihood that that child will go on to develop adult obesity. The risk of parental obesity on the persistence of childhood obesity declines as that child ages. These data suggest that the initial focus of our preventive efforts should be on the obese parents of the young child, regardless of the weight status of the child. But, increasingly, in order to effectively prevent adult disease such as Type II Diabetes and heart disease, we are going to need to focus on the child and adolescent who is overweight, regardless of the weight status of their parents. Only about a third of adult obesity begins in childhood. However, the obesity in adults that began in childhood tends to be more severe, perhaps associated with adverse effects, and, therefore, may contribute a disproportionate percentage of the complications of adult obesity.
It is important to understand about how food, activity, and family environment impact on the likelihood of childhood obesity. The major variables within the environment are within the family. We know that obesity is more prevalent among African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Native Americans. What we do not understand are what the factors are that pose a particular risk for these populations.
Socioeconomic class operates quite distinctively among these various groups. For example, years ago it was shown that there was a direct relationship between socioeconomic class and obesity. The wealthier your parents were, the more likely you were to be overweight. That, too, has changed. Now the relationship of socioeconomic class to obesity is an inverse relationship, but only among Caucasians. The effect of socioeconomic class on obesity in both African-American populations and Mexican-American populations is flat. There does not seem to be the same consistency of this relationship that once existed.
Parental obesity, as previously mentioned, is also a factor.
Family size is inversely related to childhood obesity. Children in larger families have a lower prevalence of obesity than children in smaller families. Ultimately, whatever effects the…