A component fund of the Upper Valley Region of New Hampshire Charitable Foundation

Eat+Run: Understanding Childhood Obesity

Child playing hopscotch

From the Eat + Run series, at the US News & World Report Health section:

Understanding Childhood Obesity

By Len Saunders

Childhood obesity has become so epidemic in this country that kids today risk having shorter life spans than their parents. The American Heart Association reports that about one in three American kids is overweight or obese. Those statistics have nearly tripled in about 50 years. As a result, many young children today are plagued with risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, raised insulin, physical inactivity, and obesity. Many also suffer from low self-esteem and depression. Is there a solution in sight

First, we need to understand that there is not one magical formula to fix every single overweight child, since gaining weight can be environmental, emotional, physical, or inheritable. Simply put, every child is different and needs a unique plan of action to maintain a healthy weight. Ad campaigns, support from government officials, and even the enthusiasm from First Lady Michelle Obama are all notable, but dramatic change will take place at the grassroots level. Each individual child needs support, consistency, motivation, mentors, tough love, and education on a healthy lifestyle.

According to Sarah Armstrong, a childhood obesity expert at Duke University Medical Center, "Solving childhood obesity is a directive that will require unprecedented levels of cooperation between multiple sectors" from schools and public health agencies to businesses and families. "What is lacking currently is a universally-recognized understanding that childhood obesity is not the sole responsibility of the parent—or, worse yet, the child—to fix."

Sometimes, just monitoring a child's environment for a short period of time can be a helpful tool in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Keeping a journal for one week to record a child's diet, physical activity, sedentary time, sleep patterns, and how they hydrate can help a parent decide if any changes are needed. "The top cause of childhood obesity around the world is a shift to an 'obesogenic' environment," says Kent Sasse, a bariatric surgeon based in Reno, Nevada. "This means that our genes have not changed, the environment in which children are living today most certainly has."

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2016 Children's Fund Grantees