September Is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Senior doctor measuring 12 year old obese boy
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September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, raising awareness of what has become one of the most troubling aspects of the obesity epidemic: the widespread rise of childhood obesity.

Scope of the Problem

Childhood obesity has been on the rise in the United States for several years now, although recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that obesity rates among children may finally be plateauing.

However, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents is still high. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately one in three children and teenagers is obese or overweight.

As the AHA notes, this rate is nearly triple what it was in 1963. In fact, childhood obesity has become so alarmingly prevalent and such a threat to children’s health that the American Academy of Pediatrics has established the Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight to combat the problem.

Causes

A number of causes have been identified for the rise in childhood obesity, and ongoing research continues to uncover more contributing factors. These include poor diet and sedentary lifestyle as well as genetic factors that can be inherited. For example, scientists have discovered that the FTO gene may confer a tendency toward binge eating and development of obesity in adolescents.

Other causes include increased intake of sugary beverages and high amounts of added sugar in processed foods.

Still others include increased screen time and a more sedentary lifestyle with less overall physical activity on a daily basis.

Multiple studies have found that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with obesity. One such study found that more sitting at baseline was associated with increases in body mass index (BMI) over time.

This holds true for children and adolescents as well. Another study of adolescents who were followed every 6 months from age 14 to age 18 found that greater screen time was associated with adolescent obesity.

Other studies have shown that too much time in front of the television promotes unhealthy eating habits. In an analysis of over 1,000 children, investigators found that those who watched television for two to six hours per day were more likely to have a higher BMI than those who watched less TV or spent an equal amount of time on a computer or playing video games. It is not yet clear why television time seems to have a different effect from computer time, but experts hypothesize that TV time in particular is associated with poorer dietary choices (think of all the chips, microwave popcorn and other high-calorie, low-nutrition foods that often accompany TV watching).

Raising Awareness

A number of organizations have become involved in raising awareness about childhood obesity. In fact, there is even a website dedicated solely to National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Organizations and departments as varied as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Heart Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are involved in raising awareness of childhood obesity during the month of September and throughout the year.

Sources:

Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011 – 2012. JAMA. 2014;311(8):806-814.

Jackson E. Abstract, American College of Cardiology 2014 Scientific Sessions.

Seery T. Abstract, American College of Cardiology 2014 Scientific Sessions.

Barlow SE, et al. Expert committee recommendations regarding the prevention, assessment, and treatment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity: summary report. Pediatrics 2007;120:S164-S192.  

Micali N, Field AE, Treasure JL, Evans DM. Are obesity risk genes associated with binge eating in adolescents? Obesity (Silver Spring) 2015;23:1729-36.

Lombard Z, Crowther NJ, van der Merwe L, et al. Appetite regulation genes are associated with body mass index in black South African adolescents: a genetic association study. BMJ Open 2012;2(3).

Xi B, Zhao X, Shen Y, et al. Associations of obesity susceptibility loci with hypertension in Chinese children. Int J Obes (Lond) 2013;37:926-30.

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