Imagine you have diabetes, hypertension and are also 20-30 pounds overweight. In addition, you are unable to gain access to healthier foods or safe, easy ways to exercise. It does not stop there; let’s continue the vision: you are also unaware of how dangerously unhealthy you are becoming. The final piece of the vision; you are only 10 years old. Are you shocked? Unfortunately, you shouldn’t be. The aforementioned scenario is one that numerous children and adolescents live with daily. Our youth has become increasingly unhealthy for the last three decades. Since the early 1970s, the youth of this country has been on a steady increase of excessive weight gain. In fact, the prevalence of excessive weight gain in children and adolescents has actually doubled since the 1970s.
While just over 30% of male and 30% of female children and adolescents suffer from excessive weight gain, the minority community suffers more severely overall. Of course, it should be noted that children and adolescents from all nationalities and ethnicities can have excessive weight gain which can lead to negative health effects. However, it is far more likely for children and adolescents of African American and Hispanic descent to have excessive weight gain and the corresponding negative health effects because of these risk factors.
Instead of getting bogged down with more numbers and statistics, we need to establish a better understanding of excessive weight gain. If you are told that you suffer from excessive weight gain, that means that your Body Mass Index or BMI measures higher than the normal range. The important thing to note with BMI in children and adolescents is that it is calculated differently than it is in adults. In children and adolescents BMI is calculated to determine underweight, overweight and risk for being overweight. This is because the amount of fat in a child’s body gradually changes as he/she grows. Furthermore, girls and boys differ in their body fatness as they continue to grow and reach puberty. These are the reasons why BMI for children, sometimes called BMI for age, tends to be age and gender specific. Once the BMI for children and adolescents is calculated, it is placed on age and gender specific charts. These charts measure the BMI in children and adolescents between the ages of 2-20.
Typically, persons between the ages of 2-20 should be healthier and more active than their older counterparts. Unfortunately, innovations in computers, video game systems, personal video players, a lack of educational funding and unsafe environments have put a hindrance on what was once abundant exercise and activity. This is especially the case for inner city children and adolescents who do not always have a safe outdoor environment in which to play and exercise. Due to the rise in crime in most cities and the lack of safe recreational facilities, many parents do not feel safe allowing their children out to play. Due to socioeconomic barriers, activities once taken for granted are nearly lost to them altogether.
On the other hand, with so much going on inside why would a child voluntarily go outside to play? They have all-day playmates inside. With the vast amount of television shows to watch and video games to play, it is far more interesting to stay inside and play. Plus, parents know where their children are when they are safely guarded in the home.
Lastly, with the amount of funds constantly being stripped from educational spending, after-school and outdoor activities are being lost at an alarming rate. Thus children and adolescents are not only unable to learn about how unhealthy they may be, they are also not afforded any way to become healthier. These factors are leading our youth to have excessive weight gain and the related negative health effects.
With these factors continuing to worsen, most of our children or adolescents that have excessive weight gain will carry that weight with them into adulthood. Essentially, that means that they will also carry with them the negative health effects that come along with excessive weight gain. Oftentimes, these are chronic illnesses that worsen with age need constant treatment and have no cure.
Illnesses such as asthma tend to run in higher instances in overweight children and adolescents. There are also a large number of overweight children and adolescents with Type 2 Diabetes. This is one of the most significant reasons for the rise in Adult Diabetes. In the mid 1990s, the percentage of childhood diabetes rose to 16% verses the 2 to 4 % that it was in the early 1990s. These same children and adolescents are also 12.6 times more prone to have higher fasting blood sugar levels, one of the number one risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes. This form of diabetes is predominantly seen among children and adolescents of African American and Hispanic descent. There is also hypertension which is 9 times more likely in children and adolescents that are overweight than not. Hypertension also tends to be more prevalent in persons of African American and Hispanic descent. These negative health conditions are enhanced by high sugar and high fat diets that are usually found in the homes of African American and Hispanic communities. These are also the same ethnic groups that tend to live in inner cities where crime is higher, and educational funds are smaller.
Children and adolescents that are in the category of overweight not only have to deal with the physical effects but also the psychological effects of being overweight. Usually these children are subjected to teasing, alienation, sadness, negative stereotyping, depression and eating disorders. At times, parents of overweight children and adolescents often take a forceful approach to getting their children to lose weight. This, too, can often be perceived as negative and actually do more harm that good. So we are left with the burning question of what can we do to help our youth?
It is important to understand why and what has caused our youth to be overweight. Is it lifestyle alone or is environmental factors or perhaps genetics? Typically, it is a mixture of all three and with positive reinforcement and support we can help our children eat better and get the exercise that they need. That way we can give them the foundation to be healthy, happy and emotionally sound adults.
HYPERLINK “http://www.obesity.org/” \t “_blank” http://www.obesity.org