Increased access to and affordability of food in the Western hemisphere has led to great strides toward decreasing the incidence of starvation among all but the poorest of children and adults. While access to food and decreased incidences of starvation are a good thing, the type of foods that are being consumed by today’s children is contributing to the growing problem of childhood obesity.
Childhood obesity is becoming more and more common, and there is concern that it is reaching epidemic proportions. The children of today are, on average, heavier than the children of only few decades ago. Poor eating habits and reduced activity levels are believed to be primary factors in the increased weight of modern children.
One unfortunate effect of readily available affordable food has been an increase in access to and consumption of fast food and other processed foods and snacks. Modern children tend to eat a diet that contributes to obesity. There is an unfortunate trend toward increased consumption of foods with high fat and processed sugar content, and decreased consumption of whole foods rich in fiber. Such poor dietary habits are leading to steadily increasing rates of childhood obesity.
Children of today are also more sedentary than children of the past. Children and teenagers spend a great deal of time playing computer games, surfing the Internet, watching television, text messaging and chatting on the telephone. Such sedentary activities have come to replace outdoor activities and games in the lives of many children.
Whereas the Body Mass Index (BMI) is the primary determinant for obesity in adults, for children, the BMI is considered to be a more accurate indicator of obesity when it is combined with gender and age variables. This is because the rapidly changing bodies and fluctuating metabolisms of children keep BMI alone from providing a reliable assessment of obesity.
For example, adults with a BMI of 30 or greater are considered to have borderline obesity. Such a measure is less meaningful when applied to children. Instead, borderline childhood obesity is designated for children who are at the 95th percentile of BMI for their age and gender.
Body fat percentages are also useful for determining obesity. Male children with a percentage of body fat of 25% or higher are considered to be obese. For female children, the body fat percentage that begins to indicate obesity is 32%. Such gender specific differences are simply based on the fact that females naturally have a higher percentage of body fat than males throughout all stages of life.
Children who are obese should follow a regular diet and exercise program that is designed to help them lose excess weight and reduce body fat. Children who take steps to introduce healthy diet and exercise routines into their daily lives at a young age will develop healthy habits that will follow them throughout their lives. The earlier children develop good eating habits, the more likely it is that their positive dietary practices will keep obesity at bay throughout childhood and on into adulthood.