What is obesity and how common is it?
Obesity is a serious and increasingly common health problem for children and adolescents. In the late 1970s, 5% of pre-school age children 2-5 years of age were obese, by the year 2000 that proportion had increased to more than 10%. During the same period, obesity among adolescents aged 12-19, increased from 5% to 18%. The terms overweight and obese are often used interchangeably, however one definition of overweight is being in the top 15% of body mass index (BMI), and obese is being in the top 5%. According to that definition, in the U.S. about 25% of children are overweight and 11% are obese.

Why does it matter?
Obese children and adolescents are at risk for health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, poor body image, low self-esteem, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. And, since about 70% of obese children remain obese as adults, these same health problems afflict adults.

What causes obesity?
There is no single cause but a number of contributing factors are known. When caloric intake exceeds energy expenditure the excess calories are stored as fat. Although genetics and social factors, including socio-economic status and race/ethnicity play a role, the most important cause of overweight in children and adolescents is a combination of lack of physical activity, and unhealthy, high-calorie eating patterns.
Many children and adolescents are eating out more frequently, eating high-fat calorie-dense fast food rather that fruits and vegetables, drinking more sugar-sweetened drinks, rather than milk, and snacking more frequently. And it is just these high-calorie unhealthy foods that are vigorously promoted to children through television and other marketing means.
Increasingly, our life-style makes getting enough exercise difficult. Outdoor play and recreation may be difficult because of neighborhood crime or lack of space. Issues of convenience, distance and safety mean that more children are driven to school rather than walking or biking. Time for in-school physical activity and unstructured play at home has declined, as has participation in organized sports. And a large percentage of children's leisure time is occupied by sedentary activities including watching television, using the computer, and playing video games—often while simultaneously snacking.

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Can childhood obesity be prevented?
Obesity experts consider children to be the highest priority population to reach in that prevention among children is more effective than trying to help adults lose weight. Since there are multiple reinforcing causes of overweight and obesity, targeting several factors simultaneously is the approach most likely to make a significant impact on the problem. Likely targets for intervention include the environment, physical activity and diet.
With regard to the built environment, ensuring that neighborhoods have paths for walking and cycling and adequate public open space for recreation can help children increase their physical activity as do efforts to increase participation in sports.
Interventions to promote healthy eating patterns and reduce sedentary behaviors, especially limitation of television viewing (now occupying about 25% of children's waking hours), can also help reduce the prevalence of obesity. Increasing time for free play and avoidance of eating high-calorie snacks while watching television are among the effective strategies.

Childhood Obesity Links
Additional information about the causes, consequences and prevention of childhood obesity can be found at Childhood Obesity Links.

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Childhood Obesity Links - click here