One of the fastest-growing epidemics in the United States is the stark number of people who are overweight or obese. This epidemic, however, is especially rising among the nation’s youth at an alarming rate. Currently, more than 23 million U.S. children and teenagers ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight. Nearly one-third of U.S. children are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Here at River Hills Community Health Center, we are seeing that more children are starting to be affected at an earlier age. In the short term, we hope to help guide families in modifying their diets and encouraging them to increase their physical activity. The earlier these children learn healthy habits, the less likely the next generation of youth will be so severely affected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an overweight person has a Body Mass Index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile for children who are the same age and sex. The CDC defines obesity as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children who are the same age and sex.
Obese young people are 80 percent more likely of becoming obese as an adult than normal-weight children. Because of the epidemic, it is estimated that one in three children, or one in two minority children, who were born in the year 2000 will likely develop Type 2 diabetes during their lifetime. Direct health care costs related to childhood obesity are estimated to be $14 billion per year.
According to one CDC study, approximately one-third of the 3.7 million low-income children ages 2-4 that were interviewed were obese or overweight. It is estimated that one in three children will become obese or overweight before their fifth birthday. Some groups of minority children in the United States are especially affected by the obesity epidemic. The highest rates of obesity of children ages 2-4 are American Indian and Alaska Native (20.7 percent) and Hispanic (17.9 percent).
It is so vital that children increase their physical activity and their fruit and vegetable consumption while reducing energy-dense food and sugar consumption. Mothers should also consider breastfeeding in order to give their children the vital nutrients they need from birth. Our health center staff is always willing to provide information or resources to help parents determine the best solution for their children.
Rick Johnson is the CEO of River Hills Community Health Center in Ottumwa.
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For more information about Children’s Obesity Awareness week, visit the Iowa Primary Care Association’s Facebook page (facebook.com/ianepca) or Twitter Page (twitter.com/iowapca) during the month of September.