Dr. Carter’s Nutrition Journal
Childhood Obesity: The National Agenda
By Dorene E. Carter, PhD, RD
First Lady Michelle Obama is at the helm of a huge challenge. Her goal is to reduce childhood obesity within the next generation. With this task force, we should see a lot more movement towards preventing childhood obesity and providing obesity management services that children and families need to treat obesity where it exists. One thing is clear, registered dietitians and professional nutritionists will have a major role to play if we are to reverse the course of childhood obesity in this country.
Who is affected?
Today, childhood obesity is considered a major public health epidemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in three children are overweight or obese. This epidemic has put America’s children at risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a number of other diseases that were once considered adult-onset diseases and rarely seen in children.
Causes of childhood obesity
In simplest terms, childhood obesity is the result of eating too many calories and not burning enough. There are a lot of other things that contribute to childhood obesity and we have to address those issues.
According to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, some of the things that are contributing to childhood obesity are:
Children are eating more fast food, foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar and salt.
Children are eating more foods away from home.
More parents are working outside the home and spending less time preparing meals.
Fewer families are eating together.
Portion sizes have double and in some cases tripled compared to what they were a mere one or two generations ago.
Children are less active. They spend more time in front of the television or playing video games instead of engaging in real physical movement.
Lack of safe places for children to play causes parents to keep children indoors, thereby reducing the chance to exercise and burn any excess calories that they may consume.
Children are exposed to a great deal of advertising for low-nutrient, calorie dense foods that do little to promote health and may increase the risk of unhealthy weight gain.
There are also other factors like genetics, prescription drugs that increases appetite or slows metabolism, among other things that also influence children’s weight gain and ultimately their health.
Steps to preventing childhood obesity
The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity recently provided a Report to the President outlining the challenges the Task Force and the nation face in combating childhood obesity. This report also outlines some key strategies that might be able to help reduce the incidence of childhood obesity in one generation.
Those recommendations include:
Improving prenatal care, encouraging breast feeding, reducing the amount of time that young children spend in front of the television and quality care and education in the early years.
Educating parents and caregivers about nutrition, food marketing and health care services.
Improving the quality of school meals by engaging families, communities, businesses and all levels of government to foster healthier food choices.
Mobilizing public and private sector resources to improve access to healthy food, affordable pricing and product formulation. Resources will also be allocated to reduce hunger and obesity among children in this country.
Additionally, the task force addresses the issue of physical activity with a look at ways to increase the level of physical activity among children. These approaches will include school-based and afterschool activities, as well as the build environment and community recreation centers.
Reversing childhood obesity is a tremendous challenge for the first lady and all Americans. The outcome will have far-reaching effects. Consequently, we have no choice but to rally around Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign and give America’s children the chance for a healthy weight and a long, healthy, happy and productive future.
Your comments and questions are welcome.
Dr. Dorene E. Carter is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant, specializing in child health and nutrition, with special emphasis on childhood obesity. Dr. Carter, who earned her PhD in nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley, is CEO of CHANA Project, the Child Health and Nutrition Access Project. To learn more, visit www.dailydietguide.com and www.chanaproject.org.