Childhood obesity – A different kind of epidemic


Hello again everyone! It’s Beth, one of your Pharmacy Chicks. When we hear the words epidemic or pandemic, we think of viral or bacterial diseases that infect high numbers of our population, causing disease and death. COVID-19 is a pandemic that has resulted in over 40 million positive cases in the United States since January 2020, affecting about 12% of our population. In 2018, 16% of U.S. children aged 2-19 were overweight and 19% were obese, a four-fold increase from the 5.2% rate in 1974. Childhood obesity is an epidemic that is too often overlooked.

         According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, obesity affected about 14.4 million children and adolescents in 2018. There are variations in percentage rates of childhood obesity among different age groups and populations.

  • 13.4% among 2- to 5-year-olds
  • 20.3% among 6- to 11-year-olds
  • 21.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds
  • 25.6% among Hispanic children
  • 24.2% among non-Hispanic Black children
  • 16.1% among non-Hispanic White children
  • 8.7% among non-Hispanic Asian children

Body mass index or BMI is used to determine weight status in children and adults. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. An individual with a weight of 100 pounds (45.5 kg) and 4 ½ feet tall (1.37 meters) has a 24.1 calculated BMI. For children and adolescents, BMI is specific to age and gender to determine the childhood weight status. The above numbers for a 12-year-old boy would be considered obese, but overweight for a 12-year-old girl. This is because the body composition of a child changes as they age and varies between boys and girls. BMI levels of children and teens are compared to other children of the same age and gender to determine weight status. The CDC publishes BMI-for-age charts and has a “Child & Teen BMI Calculator” that can be used to calculate the BMI and weight status category for children.

So why is childhood obesity so important? And what does it mean for our children?

Last week we talked about cholesterol and the risks associated with elevated levels. Children with obesity are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Obesity increases the risk of impaired glucose (blood sugar) tolerance, insulin resistance, and diabetes. Other health risks related to obesity are breathing problems (asthma, sleep apnea), joint problems, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (heartburn). Childhood obesity can also be related to psychological and social problems, such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and bullying.

Children with obesity are five times more likely to become adults with obesity. Adult obesity leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease, heart attack, and stroke), type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

How does childhood obesity happen? And what can we do about this epidemic?

The causes of excess weight gain in children are like that of adults – behavior and genetics. The behaviors that lead to obesity include eating high-calorie or sugary foods and drinks that are low in nutrients. Inadequate sleep can cause us to eat more and be less physically active. Limited physical activity and sedentary activities like watching television or other screen time reduces calories burned and leads to increased weight. In most cases a combination of two or more of these behaviors contribute to the excess weight gain.

To help our children maintain a healthy weight, work to establish the following behaviors.

  • Good eating habits. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables available for snacks. Encourage drinking water or low-fat milk instead of soda and juices. Limit chips, cookies, and ice cream.
  • Meal planning. Let your children help plan and prepare meals. Sit down to eat together away from television and social media.
  • Encourage physical activity. Children aged 6-17 years old should average 60 minutes each day of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  • Reduce screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours per day of screen time. This includes television watching, video games, surfing the web, and device games/apps.
  • Get adequate sleep. Have a set bedtime each night and time to wake each morning. The amount of sleep varies as we age. Pre-schoolers need 10-13 hours daily, including naps. School age children (6-12 years old) need 9-12 hours of sleep each day. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep.

Children should never follow a weight-loss plan without consulting a healthcare provider. To ensure safe development, the proper balance of weight loss with growth and development must be maintained.

If you have any questions about helping to develop good behaviors in your children, talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider. You can always stop by and see one of the Pharmacy Chicks at Sparta Drug Center or Payless Family Pharmacy with questions. Pharmacy Chicks out!


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