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Childhood Obesity

Overweight youth are at risk for both physical and psychological problems.

Childhood obesity in the U.S. is a serious problem. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.” For example, an average 10-year-old boy weighed 74 pounds in 1963. By 2002, an average 10-year-old boy weighed 85 pounds. And, by 2012, over one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. In California, 17 percent of preschoolers in low-income families are obese and 15 percent of 10 to 17 year olds.

Overweight youth are at risk for both physical and psychological problems. Obese children become obese adults with problems like heart disease and diabetes. In addition, joint problems and some cancers are related to weight problems. Furthermore, obese children are likely to be teased and left out of social activities. They often are rejected by other children and have low self-esteem.

How do you know if you or your child is overweight? Interestingly, many overweight children do not perceive themselves as overweight. Children often misperceive their weight status. About 30 percent of children and adolescents aged 8 to 15 years in the U.S. misperceive their weight status. Misperception is more common in boys (32 percent) than girls (28 percent). Eighty-one percent of overweight boys and 71 percent of overweight girls believe they are about the right weight. This may make it very difficult to help them change.

To find out an ideal weight, check the CDC calculators. Obesity and overweight are measured by BMI (Body Mass Index). BMI is the ratio of an individuals weight to height (weight/height) and is used by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to define normal weight, overweight, and obesity. BMI for both children and teens can be found on the CDC website .

Obviously, prevention is the best way to avoid obesity. Habits formed in childhood often endure into adulthood. So, eating right and getting plenty of exercise is essential for children. This starts at home. But, children spend time in many contexts: home, school, after-school programs, and church. All of these setting offer opportunities to foster heathy habits. There are many exciting programs going on in schools and communities that foster healthy habits. Keep reading, I plan to discuss these in future posts.