Childhood Obesity Part 1

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in our community some are calling it an epidemic. As the following chart indicates, the prevalence of overweight children and adolescents has increased since 1963. What are the reasons? Who is to blame?

Figure 1. Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents ages 6-19 years

NOTE: Excludes pregnant women starting with 1971-74. Pregnancy status not available for 1963-65 and 1966-70. Data for 1963-65 are for children 6-11 years of age; data for 1966-70 are for adolescents 12-17 years of age, not 12-19 years.


While researching obesity in childhood, I found a lot of stats that gave dollar figures, costs of obesity on our society. The costs are staggering but difficult to understand. I can not wrap my head around billion dollar figures. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates the cost of obesity in children and adults to be $117 billion, $61 billion of that is in direct medical costs.

Much of the blame falls on the parents. The likelihood of a child becoming obese is significantly higher if one or more of his parents are obese. Other factors that lead to children becoming obese include over eating, lack of exercise, over consumption of the wrong types of food such as snack food and processed fast food and metabolism. Another factor to consider is marketing and the influence fast food marketing campaigns have on children.

Serving sizes have grown over the last 20 years. People now, especially kids, are accustomed to large size servings or super size servings. The marketing of soda and fast food makes it hard for us,as adults, to pass up the “deal”. When a medium soda costs 90 cents and the large which is 50% larger than the medium is only 10 cents more, how can you refuse? If it’s hard for adults to pass up the deal how can we expect kids to refrain from having the larger portion. After all, bigger is better! Right? Take this Portion Distortion quiz from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

There are a number of reasons why kids do not exercise as much today as they did years ago. The child’s physical environment may be a contributing factor. Those in urban setting may have no space to play. There may be a lack of open space. There may be crime or traffic that inhibit the child from running around.

The child may live in a suburb. A child in a suburb, as result of urban sprawl, may not be able to walk or ride their bike to school due to distance and lack of bike paths. These children may be left unsupervised after school due to both parents working. These children may be told to stay indoors. These “Latchkey” children play video games and watch television. In the old days these kids may have been allowed to go outside to play because Mom was home, supervising. There just weren’t as many electronics 20 years ago. Video games were not as prevalent. Cable TV and satellite television didn’t televise cartoons 24 hours a day on 10 different channels. The child may not have role models to look up to. The child’s parents may be obese and they don’t model good exercise or healthy living habits.

Kids today have it rough. I know, as adults we tell our kids how tough it was back in the 70’s and 80’s but really, we didn’t have the distractions kids have today. This was part one of a two part blog about childhood obesity. Next week I will discuss the marketing of fast food and snack food and role we play as parents to keep our children healthy and happy.