Did you know that more than 23 million children and adolescents in the United States—nearly one in three young people—are either obese or overweight? Over the past thirty years, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. If this trend continues, the current generation of young people could be the first in U.S. history to live sicker and die younger than their parents’ generation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obese children are more likely to have a multitude of health problems, including: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem and depression. And, obese children are also more likely to become overweight or obese adults, setting them up for a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Many factors can influence a child’s risk of obesity. These include genetics, family behavior and the environment where a child lives. However, the basic cause of obesity is an imbalance in the amount of calories taken in through food and beverages and the amount of calories used up through daily physical activity – diet and exercise.
Addressing the Issue
By developing healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and regular physical activity, any person or child can lower their risk of becoming obese and developing obesity-related diseases. But, as you have likely witnessed in your classroom, children and adolescents can be very susceptible to suggestion from peers, the media, their families, their communities and more, which may be suggesting a less-than-healthy lifestyle. Consider the sheer number of ads for unhealthy food and beverages children and youth are exposed to on a daily basis via screen time (TV, computer, social media, etc.). Add to that the sedentary nature of most screen time, and we have a recipe for a very unhealthy generation. Schools are a great place to help foster a sense of healthy lifestyle and eating. You can help your students learn more about nutrition, physical activity and health, and to establish healthy behaviors to last a lifetime. A great way to address childhood obesity is through programs and strategies to create healthier school and community environments. Some possible strategies for your school include:
- School wellness policies that promote healthier eating and more physical activity at school;
- Safe Routes to School programs that promote safer biking and walking to school;
- Programs to incorporate physical activity before, during and after the school day; and,
- Policies that support healthy school vending, school gardens and joint-use agreements between schools and cities for recreational space.
Make sure to check out other NEA Healthy Futures’ resources that can help you address nutrition, physical activity and healthy living solutions in your school community. By focusing on the healthy choices, active play and community-based solutions, we can all play a part in reversing the childhood obesity trend.