Some people think kids today are as healthy as ever, super fit and perfectly sized. Likewise the term “childhood obesity epidemic” makes some angry, some upset and some folks simply don’t feel it’s appropriate or true to say, “America is experiencing a childhood obesity epidemic.”
While you don’t have to believe that there’s an epidemic in progress, many U.S. health and child advocacy organizations do believe that we’re facing a huge obesity epidemic right now, even among kids. Let’s look closer at this issue…
What’s an epidemic?
An epidemic is a term used when an issue or certain disease affects an unusually large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at a given time. To be considered an epidemic, the problem (say obesity) must affect more individuals than what the problem is typically expected to affect based on recent experience.
For example, if every year for a decade 100 people in the same small town get the flu during January, than what would be expected in upcoming years is for about 100 people to get the flu each January. If instead 300 people get the flu, it’s considered an epidemic.
Does childhood obesity fit within the “epidemic” term?
While experts can’t agree on when weight started to increase at an unexpectedly fast rate, most health researchers do note that that’s exactly what’s going on in America. Weight across the ages has held fairly steady (meaning people weighed about the same) throughout the years until about the 1980s, though some argue that rates begin to increase before that.
Over the last 30 years, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled according to the CDC, and that’s not counting overweight kids who are at risk for obesity. Specifically, since the 1970s, obesity rates in the U.S. have doubled among preschool children and adolescents and tripled among children aged 6–11.
A major study shows that shows that abdominal obesity, or belly fat, in adolescent boys is up 65% from 1998, while adolescent girls have increased their belly fat by 70%. Researchers note that both of these rates are much higher than what one might expect, so say researchers.
One of the most telling signs that this is a true epidemic is the fact that many health experts believe that due to diseases caused by excessive weight and obesity, this will be the very first generation EVER in the history of America to live shorter lives than the previous generation. That’s pretty scary if you’re a parent.
Rising childhood obesity rates are aligned with a true epidemic
- In the 1960s, just over four% of 6- to 17-year-old kids were overweight.
- Today approximately 17% of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese, and some consider the 17% figure low.
- Experts say that if nothing happens to change current childhood weight trends, more than one in five American children will be obese in 2020.
Why childhood obesity may not seem like an epidemic
Currently, Americans see more and more overweight kids on a daily basis. When you’re continually exposed to something, it no longer seems unique or problematic. Take the flu example above. If most people you knew had the flu for most of the days of the year, the flu would seem far less unique than it is. We’d find a way to live with the flu. It’s the same with childhood obesity.
Study after study shows that overweight teens seriously underestimate their weight problem and worse so do their parents. In fact, when surveyed, most clinically obese or overweight teens say that they’re at “A ideal or decent weight.” Along the same lines, most parents of overweight or obese children say their kids are the “Perfect size for their height.”
CDC researchers, among others, note that the reason why this denial may be happening, may not be denial at all, but instead it’s a belief that naturally occurs when a new norm is formed. Meaning, we’ve gotten so used to seeing overweight kids and teens on a daily basis in America, that now overweight teens and kids are the “healthy norm,” while average weight youth are now, “the skinny kids.”
It make sense. When your standing next to obese peers and you’re not obese, but simply overweight, it would be easy to imagine you’re the “thin one” or the “right weight” one. When you’ve got a room full of kids who exceed the proper weight, it’s easy not to be alarmed, because well, everyone is overweight, thus everyone fits the same norm.
What do you think? Is childhood obesity a true epidemic or a false problem?