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Childhood Obesity Prevention

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Program Information
Defining the Problem
Steps Toward Solutions

Childhood Obesity: Defining the Problem

Cultural Changes: Busier But Less Active

The past 50 years have seen dramatic changes in the way children play, eat meals, and socialize. Look at the following chart and think about how your family life has changed and about how the time and opportunities for children to have fun physical activity have been reduced. Then see Steps Toward Solutions for ideas for healthier lifestyle choices for your children and yourself.

Note: If you want to do this activity as a group, show the opening segment from the program as a discussion starter.

Then (circa 1950) Now
Children walked to school. Children ride a bus to school or are driven by a parent.
Family meals were eaten at the table. Meals are often fast food, often eaten in cars.
Portion sizes were smaller. Portions are supersized.
Physical environment included porches, sidewalks in neighborhoods. No porches, no sidewalks in modern subdivisions.
No air conditioning forced kids to go outside for cool air. Air conditioning makes staying inside comfortable.
Children played neighborhood games, rode bikes, exercised large muscles. Children play video games, use computers, watch TV, and use the remote to change channels.
Parents didn’t worry as much when sending children outside to play. Parents and kids are apprehensive of playing outside.
Physical education was a required class in school. Physical education is not always offered by schools.
Athletes were expected to be smaller. Athletes are expected to be larger and bulkier.
Intramural sports were available in school. Competitive sports may be the only ones offered in school.
School food options were limited. Schools have food courts, vending machines.
Few organized after-school activities, more time to play after school. Frantic driving all over town to get to extracurricular activities, meals on the run.
Moms were often at home. Moms are often in the workplace.
Two-parent families were more common. Single-parent families are more common and are often strapped for time and money.

Kentucky Statistics on Obesity Among Youth and Children

  • According to a 2003 report by the Trust for America’s Heath, Kentucky has the fifth highest level of adult obesity in the nation at 25.6%, the third highest level of overweight high school students, and the third highest overweight levels for low-income children ages 2-5.

  • A 2004 report by the Kentucky Department for Public Health titled The Kentucky Obesity Epidemic 2004 reported that almost 15% of high school students are seriously overweight, and an additional 15% are at risk of becoming overweight. More high school boys (20%) are overweight compared to girls (10%).

  • Slightly more than 20% of middle school boys and 12% of girls are seriously overweight, and an additional 18% are at risk of becoming overweight.

  • Almost 17% of children ages 2 to 4 served by the WIC program are already seriously overweight, and another 18% are at risk of becoming overweight.

  • Overweight children are more likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, early maturation, and orthopedic problems. The long-term health consequences of childhood obesity include increased risk of diabetes; stroke; arthritis; heart attack; and cancer of the colon, prostate, and breast.

  • In addition to having physiological problems, overweight children are more often teased by their peers, suffer the consequences of negative social stereotypes, and are more likely to have low self-esteem.

Defining Overweight: Calculating Your Body Mass Index

The first challenge in addressing overweight and obesity lies in adopting a common public health measure of these conditions. An expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health in 1998 adopted body mass index (BMI) for defining overweight and obesity. BMI is a practical measure that requires only two things: accurate measures of an individual’s weight and height (Figure 1). BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height, calculated as weight in pounds divided by the square of the height in inches, multiplied by 703. Alternatively, BMI can be calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters.

Studies have shown that BMI is significantly correlated with total body fat content for most individuals. BMI has some limitations: It can overestimate body fat in persons who are very muscular, and it can underestimate body fat in persons who have lost muscle mass, such as many elderly. But many organizations, including more than 50 scientific and medical organizations that have endorsed the NIH Clinical Guidelines, support the use of a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or greater to identify obesity in adults and a BMI between 25 kg/m2 and 29.9 kg/m2 to identify overweight in adults. These definitions are based on evidence that suggests health risks are greater for people at or above a BMI of 25 kg/m2 compared to those at a BMI below that level. The risk of death, although modest until a BMI of 30 kg/m2 is reached, increases with an increasing BMI.

For more information about BMI, see the Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity resource page.

Body Mass Index Chart

Understanding Your Child’s Body Mass Index-for-Age

In children and adolescents, overweight has been defined as a sex- and age-specific BMI at or above the 95th percentile, based on revised Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts (Figures 2 and 3). Neither a separate definition for obesity nor a definition for overweight based on health outcomes or risk factors is defined for children and adolescents.

Figure 2: Body Mass Index-for-Age Percentiles:
Boys Aged 2 to 20 Years

chart of obesity definitions for boys

Figure 3: Body Mass Index-for-Age Percentiles:
Girls Aged 2 to 20 Years

chart of obesity definitions for girls

Source: Developed by the National Center for Health Statistics in collaboration with the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2000)

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