Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in
adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
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. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese
increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.1, 2
In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight
Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for
a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of
these factors.3Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.4
Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric
imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories
consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and
What's wrong with having a little more junk in the trunk? Again from the CDC: Immediate health effects:
Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for
cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth
had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.7
Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a
condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for
development of diabetes.8,9
Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for
bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological
problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.5,6,10
Long-term health effects:
Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults11-14
and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart
disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and
osteoarthritis.6 One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.12
Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many
types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium,
esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and
prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
So yes your mama should be worrying about your size and watching your diet. Besides if you want to sing about having an oversized booty, this song is much better and will always be a classic:
The New York Times published this rather startling headline today, "Obesity Rate For Young Children Plummets 43% In A Decade." Wow. This is good news. It's time to break out the margaritas and guacamole dip. In fact, the news is so good that it immediately raised my suspicion of its authenticity. Societal changes in health don't usually demonstrate such drastic changes in so short a time as ten years. Chronic human conditions like obesity and smoking take decades and generations to show any meaningful differences. Naturally I delved deeper into the article.
The paper was trumpeting the results of a survey published in JAMA that was conducted by the CDC. The government agency measured the heights and weights of 9,120 individuals, including infants and toddlers, in 2011-2012. They then compared the results to similar measurements made in the last ten years. For this latest survey they noted that an elevated weight vs. height ratio above the 95th percentile, indicative of obesity, was found in 8.1% of infants and toddlers, 16.9% of 2-19 year olds, and 35% of adults older than 20. Hmm. Those numbers don't sound that different from the background information written in the very first line of the article, that one-third of adults and 17% of youth are obese and haven't changed from the 2003-2004 period to 2009-2010.
To find ANY good news in the data, you have to finely parse the data into a tiny cohort of 2-5 year olds. There, the CDC discovered that obesity rates had dropped from 13.9% to 8.4% or 39.5%. To reach the hyperventilatory number of 43%, the NYT rounded the numbers to 14% and 8% which will give the 43% reduction in its screaming headline.
Naturally the liberal mouthpiece that is the NYT immediately attributed this bit of good news to Michelle Obama's programs to combat obesity. Since she has only been First Lady for the last six years, the reduction in obesity among five year olds fits nicely into this theory. Mrs. Obama becomes First Lady, starts a war on obesity, and wouldn't you know it a quick five years later kids are losing weight left and right.
While I admire Mrs. Obama's public service trying to decrease the obesity rate in America, these numbers don't come anywhere close to proving that our country has turned a corner. First of all, a survey of 310 million Americans by measuring a measly 9,120 individuals sounds awfully selective. And then to single out an even smaller number of individuals in a certain age bracket makes the results almost meaningless. That's like saying Americans have now forgone gas guzzling cars because out of hundreds of millions of vehicles on the road, a few people are buy Teslas.
The way the huge reduction in obesity was calculated also doesn't make sense. It's true that eight is 43% less than fourteen. But is that how those numbers should be computed? I would think that a more accurate way to properly arrive at the results is to start with the statement that fourteen out of one hundred people were obese. Now there are only eight out of one hundred. While any abatement in the growth of obesity is welcome, suddenly the new numbers don't sound so impressive anymore.
Finally, one only has to read the journal article itself to see that the researchers do not find much to celebrate in their survey. Under Conclusions and Relevance, the authors wrote, "Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012." So as the NYT continues to do the cheerleading for the floundering president, one must be vigilant to propaganda masquerading as a news headline.
My wife and I try to maintain a healthy diet for our kids. We rarely ever eat at fast food restaurants unless it is a special occasion. We don't keep bags of junk food in the pantry, tempting little hands to snack between meals. Consumption of candies and chocolates are strictly monitored. Therefore it is quite dismaying for us when we read children's books to them each night before they go to bed.
Any parent who reads to their kids knows what I'm talking about. Books for young readers are filled with depictions of children eating sweets. When kids come home from school, what do the stay at home moms do? They bring them a plate of freshly baked cookies and a glass of milk. When the children go to a friend's house, they are more likely to sit around drinking punch and eating cupcakes than they are going outside to toss a football. One version of "Wheel On The Bus" has all the bus riders ending up at a picnic, with the table loaded with cakes, cookies, punch, and ice cream.
Even Harry Potter is not immune. He and his pals are forever tempted by sweet desserts like chocolate frogs, treacles, and pumpkin juice (vomit flavored jelly beans don't count). Their favorite store to visit when they are allowed out of Hogwarts is a candy shop. I don't remember reading the Hogwarts's banquet table, with its endless supply of food, having ever served a crisp green salad or a slice of whole grain toast.
Consequently, at every activity where children are present, somebody always brings bags of empty calories for them to eat. After soccer practice, a parent may supply silver pouches of sugary fruit punch. After Sunday school, a teacher will hand out bite size candy bars or M&M's. The sweet temptations bombarding our children are ubiquitous.
Maybe the stories of the Brothers Grimm got the right idea. When Hansel and Gretel started chowing down on the witch's house made of candy, the sweets served as a bait to lure them in. The shingles made of chocolates and windows of spun sugar were not there to signal a party was awaiting them inside. The writers knew the treachery of junk food on children's health, even over two hundred years ago.
I implore modern children's books authors to do the same. Stop writing books showing how much fun it is to pig out on ice cream and cake. All these books give a false impression that unless kids are eating sugar, they are not having a good time. Cookies and cakes have a place in the diet, but not at every play date or after every meal. Nobody really needs that slice of apple pie after dinner when a fresh apple or a bowl of strawberries can be just as good. If we can alter the mindset of our youngsters, hopefully this will be a small step towards fighting the obesity epidemic in this country. I think I'll read to my kids "The Hunger Games" from now on.
An article in the Wall Street Journal today details PepsiCo's plans to expand in the second largest consumer market in the world, China. According to the paper, the company will try to increase the Chinese consumption of its snack foods by developing more regional flavors favored by the locals, such as fish soup flavored potato chips and fungus flavored oatmeal. Its commitment to the market is highlighted by its sixth factory being built in that country.
How much more money does the company think it can make in China? Here are the startling statistics from the company itself. Currently, the Chinese buy only one small bag of potato chips every couple of weeks. By comparison, Americans buy fifteen bags in the same time period. The average Chinese only buys 230 beverages per year. The Americans? How about 1500 drinks per year.
Are those numbers correct? One thousand five hundred drinks per year? That's over four drinks per day. I'm going to assume they mean soda drinks, not alcoholic beverages which the company doesn't sell. And I'm sure not all the drinks are diet sodas or bottled water. What about all those chips? We eat about one bag of chips per day? Altogether that's hundreds of extra empty calories that are consumed on a daily basis which have little hope of getting burned off during the course of our sedentary American lifestyle. Do we really want to lead another country down this path of ruin? Do we need an extra one billion obese people on this planet? It's a good thing the Chinese government has trillions of dollars in reserve. They're going to need it to treat all their citizens in the future who come down with the same obesity related diseases as Americans.