Childhood Obesity – An American Epidemic

Childhood Obesity – An American Epidemic
Kayur V. Patel Emergency Physician Lake Charles, Louisiana

Dr. Kayur Patel practices Emergency Medicine in Terre Haute, Indiana. Dr. Patel assesses patients who seek immediate medical attention at any time of day or night. Emergency Medicine Physicians are trained to efficiently work with each patient and situation no matter how acute or life-threatening. Dr. Patel examines patients,... more

Plague, Malaria, SARS, Ebola Virus are some of the things that come to mind when one hears the word, ‘Epidemic.’  One wouldn’t really consider Obesity as an epidemic would they?

An epidemic (from Greek epi- upon + demos-people) is a classification of a disease that appears as new cases in a given human population, during a given period, at a rate that significantly exceeds what is "expected," based on recent experience.

Travel back in time to just twenty years ago, seven states had the highest obesity rate of 19% whereas currently no state has an obesity rate below 21%.  In 2004 about 60 million adults (30% of the population) was obese, a doubling of the rate since 1980.  In two states obesity rates now exceed 35% for the first time and 20 states have obesity rates at or above 30%. 

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that about 12.7 million children and adolescents between the ages of 2 to 19 years are obese.  Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.  In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese – an epidemic indeed.

Apart from the psychological stress that of stigma and social discrimination; obese children and teens have a greater risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease (CVD), impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea.

Almost a century ago, the World Health Organization defined Health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Childhood obesity in America is an epidemic of disturbing proportions.  We need to be the change we want.  In the words of Lao Tzu, “If we do not change direction, we may end up where we are heading.”  Schools play a major role in creating an environment that supports healthy behaviors.  We need to create a ‘Culture of Health’ in schools.

This starts with the vending machines.  In 2004, a very interesting national survey of 1,420 vending machines in 251 schools, by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that 75% of the drinks and 85% of the snacks sold were of poor nutritional value.  Of the drinks, only 12% were water, and 5% options being milk. 

Some schools have successfully set higher nutrition standards for vending machines and offer a healthy range of drink and snack choices such as selling water and 100% fruit juice, or fruits, dried fruits, granola bars, baked chips, trail mix and similar low-calorie high-nutrition foods.

Vending machine food sold in schools influences the diet of the children who eat from them.  By creating a ‘Culture of Health’ we can ensure that the new generation eats and lives in a healthier manner. 

Providing nutritious meals is not a miracle cure for obesity.  Children mimic their parents, and those around them.  Leading a healthier lifestyle yourself will encourage your child to do the same.  If we are able to halt and reduce obesity at an early stage itself – the risks of high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes and cancer can be reduced to a great extent. 

The future isn’t a place that we are going to go to – it is a place that you are going to create. Let us create a Culture of Health.