Published On: Thu, Jul 31st, 2014

Are Kids Becoming the New Couch Potatoes?

In recent years, there has been a rise in childhood obesity. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6-11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. In addition, adolescents aged 12-19 years old who were obese dramatically increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period. In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Obesity in children - get some and information photo/Future Children Project

Obesity in children – get some and information
photo/Future Children Project

Define Obesity

What is obesity? Does carrying a few extra pounds count as obesity? Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Doctors and other health practitioners usually determine if a child is obese by calculating the child’s body mass index (BMI). BMI measures your child’s weight in relation to his height. BMI also shows how your child’s weight compares to the normal range for children of a similar age, sex and ethnic background. The BMI is a good indicator of whether your child is obese or not.

Obesity is an Epidemic

However, isn’t it normal to carry a certain amount of baby fat? Why is the rise in childhood obesity alarming and even considered an epidemic? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with at least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese. Once associated with high-income countries, obesity is now also prevalent in low and middle income countries.”

Problems Caused by Obesity

Obese children and adolescents are more likely to experience bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, prediabetes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, several types of cancer and more. Not to mention social and psychological problems such as stigmatization, depression and poor self-esteem are often a result of bullying.

Causes of Obesity

There are several factors which may cause obesity. Poor diet which consists of high-calorie and sugar-laden foods is a common culprit. Family history can also make a child prone to obesity. If a child comes from a family of overweight people, the child is likely to become overweight as well. There are also psychological factors such as when a child eats to cope with pain. Socio-economic factors also play a role. Fast food, frozen meals, processed food and junk food tend to be less expensive, so low income families tend to choose them over healthier but more expensive foods. Lack of exercise is definitely a key factor. Children who do not exercise as much tend to gain weight because they do not burn excess calories through physical activity. Children who do not engage in outdoor play in the playground often prefer to stay indoors and play computer games and video games instead.

Kids in the Digital Age

Technology seems to have led to the extinction of outdoor play. Kids in the digital age spend more time sitting in front of their computers or television sets or playing video games. Video games limit playground interaction of parents and kids. Before the popularity of computer games, kids spent more time playing outside; they were more active. Nowadays, kids in the digital age spend more time sitting than running. In spite of the boon of technological advancements, it seems that technology can harm young children.

Technology and the Rise of Obesity

According to Dr. Scott Lear, a Professor at Simon Fraser University and Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital, “With the increasing uptake of modern-day convenience, …low and middle income countries could see the same obesity and diabetes rates as in high income countries that are a result of too much sitting, less physical activity and increased consumption of calories.”

Dr. Lear’s study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that obesity climbed from 3.4% prevalence if there were no devices at home, to 14.5% for three devices. Similar findings were documented in diabetes in low income countries. In low income countries, owning three devices was associated with a 31% decrease in time spent doing physical activity, and a 21% increase in time spent sitting, and a 9-centimetre increase in waist size compared to those who did not have television or computers. Research also suggests that people eat more when they watch television. The devices affected the behavior of individuals which resulted in less physical activity and increased food consumption.

A new study by the non-profit Milken Institute shows that for every 10% increase in what a country spends on information and communications technology, there is a 1% rise in obesity rates. Computers, video games and television affect the way people eat and keep people from physical activities such as exercise. The growing problem of obesity is especially alarming among children who eagerly spend hours playing video games and computer games. Children who develop poor eating habits and lack physical exercise often grow up to be adults who practice the same unhealthy habits. Thus, they grow into adults who suffer from diabetes, heart disease and other diseases which may have been preventable if they had followed a healthy lifestyle early on.

Ways To Combat Child Obesity

Encourage healthy eating. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables rather than processed foods. Limit your child’s intake of sweet beverages and junk food. Monitor the portion sizes of their meals.

Sit down for family meals. This allows parents to make sure their children eat healthy foods. Also, sitting down for family meals discourages kids from watching television or playing computer games while eating.

Engage your kids in physical activity. Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight, burns calories, and decreases the chances of childhood obesity.

Limit their computer and TV time. If you limit their sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games, they will be more inclined to engage in outdoor play.

Help your children find activities they want to do. A structured exercise program tends to be boring and even tiresome for children. However, if they go to the playground and engage in sports or fun games like jump-rope and tag, they burn more calories. Their fitness improves.

Join in the activities as well. If the whole family spent time doing fun and active things together, the child would be more likely to feel that physical activity is not a chore.

Most of all, lead by example. Practice healthy eating habits and exercise so that kids can learn how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Guest Author: Aby Nicole League

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- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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  1. Obesity in Adolescents says:

    […] Are Kids Becoming the New Couch Potatoes? […]

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    […] Are Kids Becoming the New Couch Potatoes? […]

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