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The Growing Childhood Obesity Epidemic

overweight child eating pizza whie looking at a laptop

Growing up in the United States, many of us enjoyed a childhood filled with fun and games. Whether it was playing tag on the playground or challenging our friends at sports competitions, we had an abundance of energy that frequently seemed inexhaustible. Today, however, that is often not the case, as more and more children fall victim to an unfortunate side effect of modern living: childhood obesity.

As junk food and technology have become more prevalent in our kid’s lives, physical activity has plummeted – creating a public health crisis that needs to be addressed. With this unhealthy trend intensifying each year, it is essential to take action now before future generations are subjected to its damaging effects.

Childhood Obesity Statistics Worldwide (2022)

2022 is the last year we can find recorded statistics for worldwide childhood obesity, but the following figures show the seriousness of the problem.

1. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 39 million children under 5 were overweight or obese in 2020. Once a problem of mostly higher-income countries, today childhood obesity is found in many middle and lower-income countries, as well. In fact, being overweight and obese is now actually linked to more deaths across the world than being underweight!

2. The prevalence of obesity among preschoolers has nearly tripled since 1975, from 5% to more than 18%.

3. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) reported that, in the United States from 2017 to 2020, about 14.7 million children (19.7 percent) between 2 and 19 years old were considered obese.

4. Obese children are up to five times more likely than their normal-weight peers to have at least one significant medical issue related to their weight by age 12.

5. It is projected that there will be over 70 million obese children worldwide by the end of 2023, if current trends continue unchecked. This number would represent a 70% increase since 2012.

6. Obesity in children is linked to numerous health risks, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, joint problems, and a higher risk of developing certain cancers.

7. Additionally, obese children are more likely to become obese adults, which can lead to even more serious medical conditions, like heart disease, stroke, fractures, and other chronic diseases later in life.

Parents and caregivers can help children stay at a healthy weight by teaching them good habits early on. Healthcare providers can also help by giving kids and their parents support and guidance.

Why Is Childhood Obesity Becoming An Epidemic?

There are several possible explanations for the current childhood obesity epidemic.

Genetics: Genetics can play an integral role in determining a person’s predisposition toward obesity. Some young people may be more susceptible to storing more fat than the average person, leading to higher risks of being overweight or obese.

Unhealthy Eating Habits: Poor eating habits, such as skipping meals, not eating breakfast, snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the day, and consuming too much sugar can all cause weight gain in children.

Lack Of Exercise: With the sedentary lifestyles that have come from increased technology use, children often miss out on important physical activity opportunities that help keep them fit and healthy. If exercise is not balanced with caloric intake, it can lead to weight gain and a greater risk of developing chronic health problems.

Stress: Stressful life situations can cause children to overeat or engage in unhealthy behaviors that lead to weight gain, as well as create other physical and mental health issues. When children learn healthy coping strategies, they can manage their stress without resorting to unhealthy behaviors.

Medications: Certain medications have been linked to weight gain in children. It is important to speak with a doctor or pharmacist about any potential side effects associated with prescribed medications and to discuss any lifestyle changes that may be necessary.

Not Enough Sleep: Some studies show that not getting enough sleep might make children more likely to be obese. Parents need to set bedtime schedules and make sure their kids get enough rest each night.

How Can We Prevent Childhood Obesity?

Fortunately, it’s not too late to take steps to reverse the obesity trend. To be sure, preventing childhood obesity is a group effort, but it starts in the home.

Parents can stop their children from becoming obese by taking the following steps and by checking in with their pediatrician regularly to make sure their child’s weight is healthy.

These steps include:

  • Regular physical activity, ideally modeled by physically active parents
  • Reducing and limiting screen time
  • Healthy snack and food choices at home, such as fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Encouraging more water consumption
  • Limiting access to unhealthy food options, like high-fat or sugary foods and beverages
  • Setting bedtime schedules so the child gets enough sleep
  • Creating a positive environment where children feel supported and encouraged to make good nutritional choices
  • Talking to kids about nutrition and weight issues in a way that fosters body confidence and self-esteem instead of reinforcing negative attitudes toward weight or size

Additionally, pediatricians should screen their patients for risk factors for obesity, discuss nutrition education with families, and refer to community resources as needed. They should also counsel parents on how to create a supportive home environment and how to foster healthy behaviors in their children.

Finally, schools can help kids stay healthy by having policies that promote physical activity and healthy eating habits. Schools can also offer nutrition education programs that teach students the importance of making nutritious food choices and maintaining a healthy weight.

While the road to reversing childhood obesity may be long, we must start somewhere. The key is to get kids involved in their own health at an early age and empower them with knowledge about nutrition and physical activity.

If we make small changes in our lifestyles and provide proper guidance and tools at home and in the schools, we can break the cycle of childhood obesity and our children can grow into happy, healthy adults.

We Can Help

If you are worried about your child’s weight and health, we recommend discussing your concerns with our pediatric psychologist, who specializes in childhood obesity. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Dr. Andrew Rosen PHD, ABPP, FAACP is a Board-Certified Psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as, the Founder of The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services.


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