The Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns that childhood obesity has tripled since the 1980s. Children in the Southeast are at a higher risk of obesity than those in any other part of the country, and Mississippi is the nation’s unfortunate leader. Conversely, Utah leads the nation in preventing childhood obesity. Like those in Utah, children in western states are far less likely to be obese than other American children. What causes this medical condition, and how can we reverse the trend?
Causes of Childhood Obesity
The causes of childhood obesity are much debated. Is the main culprit fast food, video games or merely heredity? Clearly, each plays a part; however, until we identify the real causes of childhood obesity, it is impossible to concoct a remedy.
Economics is a complicating factor. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have a much higher rate of obesity than their peers. Not coincidentally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9 of the 10 poorest states in the nation are in the Southeast. These two factors — poverty and childhood obesity — have a positive correlation and may say more about poverty as a root cause of childhood obesity than regional cuisine.
Studying poverty may yield some promising solutions. Another correlation illustrates this idea. According to Obesity in Childhood and Adolescence, Vol. 1, the price of food has changed significantly since the 1980s. Adjusted for inflation, the price for items high in simple carbohydrates and fat has decreased while the price of fish and fresh fruits and vegetables has skyrocketed. Naturally, since these cheaper foods are also tasty, kids, and even adults, quickly learn to prefer them over healthier options.
Two other causes of childhood obesity are clear to researches: the physical condition of the child’s mother during pregnancy and the weight of the child before preschool. Interestingly, both of these factors are manageable, unlike the specter of genetics. While genetics sometimes factor into the childhood obesity equation, a child’s environment, even before birth, is the more likely culprit.
Reducing Childhood Obesity
If we can break the cycle of overweight mothers giving birth to overweight babies who grow into overweight mothers, then we will dramatically reduce childhood obesity. Similarly, overweight preschoolers who revert to normal weight increase their chances of maintaining a normal weight throughout life.
According to PBS Newshour, researchers have identified some concrete behaviors that can reverse the cycle of childhood obesity:
• Mothers receive prenatal care with a focus on gestational weight gain.
• Infants breastfeed.
• Infants receive healthy solid foods when appropriate.
• Doctors monitor infants’ weight.
• Toddlers engage in one hour of active play per day.
• Toddlers consume healthy food and beverages — limiting sugary juices.
Of course, many of these solutions are not cheap, and the problems of poverty and regional mores remain. However, Americans do not have to tolerate an intolerable problem. Through education, we can address childhood obesity at its roots where it is easier to correct. We must educate families, and help children have a chance at a normal, healthy life.