The Obesity Crisis: It’s a Killer Epidemic

Too many of our kids are fat and getting fatter.  In some areas of the country up to 40 percent of the children are obese or extremely overweight.   “We have an epidemic of obesity in the United States and it’s only getting worse,” said U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.  “We are seeing Generation Y grow into Generation XL, and this weight gain has long-term health consequences. ”

A report issued in October 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that more than 15 percent of American children aged six to nineteen were overweight–a whopping 200 percent increase over the previous three decades.  Dr. Gerald Hass, physician in chief at the South End Community Health Center in Boston says that the problem is relatively new and rapidly worsening.  “Thirty-three years ago, when I began treating the children of the South End and Lower Roxbury, I was not confronted with 300-pound fourteen-year-olds.  We worried about chicken pox and measles in children, but not Type II diabetes in teens.  Now a shocking 40 percent of our 8,000 pediatric patients at the South End Community Health Center are clinically obese.  On a recent Friday, 75 percent of the children I saw were obese.”

Even in sunny, supposedly health-conscious California, nearly 40 percent of children are considered physically unfit, while more than 25 percent are overweight, according to a report by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.  And still, our children get bigger.  One report found that 10 percent of U.S. children two through five years old are already overweight.  By age ten many of these children will have become obese with early symptoms of diabetes.  In one study almost 40 percent of children were considered obese before the age of six; children as young as four had abnormally high insulin levels (a risk factor for diabetes); and 13 percent of children showed high cholesterol levels.

“This is tragic,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal CDC.  “Obesity has got to be job No. 1 for us in terms of chronic diseases.”

Unfortunately, an obese child tends to become an obese adult–and that makes for significant trouble.  Recent research suggests that obese teenagers have a dramatically increased risk of dying by the time they reach middle age.  One study found that overweight teenagers had a mortality rate thirty to forty times higher than teens of normal weight.  And can you guess the average age of death for adults who were obese as adolescents?  Not sixty.  Not fifty-five.  Not even fifty. Children in the study who were obese as teens died as adults at the average age of forty-six.

Hass reacts to this gathering storm by urging immediate action on a number of fronts.  He sharply challenges those who “say that ‘personal responsibility’ should drive better health behavior…That is a hard argument to make in the face of a depressed, obese child whose health is failing, who has no safe place to exercise and is under siege by adults selling him salt, fat, sugar, and a shorter, sadder life.  As adults, we have an obligation to do better.”

If you are concerned for your child’s physical health, you can effect change by engaging your child in healthy activity and by providing healthy foods at home. By spending time with your child taking walks, riding bikes, rollerblading, swimming, sledding, doing chores such as raking leaves and mowing the lawn, you can improve the health of your child.

Then take some time to evaluate the nutritional quality of the food you provide at home and if necessary, make adjustments to your weekly grocery list.  At first, you will most likely receive resistance to healthy changes, but persevere.  Your goal is to develop healthy habits for life and this will take time.

Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.

Taken with permission from Walt Larimore, MD; Sherri Flynt, MPH, RD, LD with Steve Halliday, SuperSized Kids: How to Rescue Your Child from the Obesity Threat (Center Street).


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