Childhood Overweight a Huge Problem

— Written By Kim Davis

Open your window on a sunny afternoon, and what do you hear, birds chirping, children laughing and playing games. Odds are these days that you’ll hear the birds but not the children. Today, kids spend more time in front of television, computer and video screens, their physical activity levels have decreased and their body weights have increased.

According to the US Surgeon General, the problem of childhood obesity in the United States has grown significantly in the last two decades. It affects more than three percent of children, making it the most common chronic disease of childhood. Dr. David Chenoweth, a nationally recognized health economist, in his publication, Tipping the Scale stated, “For the first time in history, this generation may be sicker and die younger than their parents”. In North Carolina, 34 percent of children ages 2 to 17 are battling excessive weight or they are at risk for becoming overweight.

Maybe your child is carrying around a few extra pounds and you think to yourself, this isn’t out of hand, yet. Don’t let the situation snowball. According to Dr. Chenoweth’s findings, there is a one in four chance that your child is overweight. It’s estimated that 15-45 percent of all new diabetes cases in North Carolina children are Type II, a disease previously found only in adults. In addition to diabetes, obese children are at higher risk for high blood pressure, asthma and other respiratory problems, and social and emotional issues, just to mention a few.

Did you know that overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults? It’s true. Although genetic factors play a role in increasing the likelihood that a child will be overweight, shared family behaviors such as eating and activity habits also influence body weight. The main culprits are the same as those for adult obesity: eating too much and moving around too little. Almost half of children aged 8-16 years watch three to five hours of television a day. Research shows that kids who watch the most hours of television have the highest incidence of obesity.

In generations past, food was the cure for everything. If you were sad, skinned your knee or got an A on your report card, your mother gave you sweets and a glass of kool-aid. It wasn’t the healthiest snack, but it was quick and easy. Today millions of us are still searching for quick and easy. We continue to eat more meals away from home subjecting our kids to high fat meals loaded with too much sugar and sodium. Surely you must know that eating out influences WHAT we eat and HOW MUCH we eat. For the children, it is imperative that we adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercising.

If you’re concerned your child may be overweight, talk with their doctor. A health care professional can measure your child’s height and weight and calculate a ratio known as body mass index (BMI). This number is compared to a growth chart for children of your kid’s age and gender to determine whether his or her weight is in a healthy range.

Asking children to go outside and play, or preparing a healthy meal for them is a good start to combat the problem. But in the final analysis family support is what really counts. You are a role model for your kids. Children form habits from parents, and usually maintain them into adulthood. If your children see you reach for an apple instead of a Twinkie, they are likely to do the same. If they see you engaging in some form of physical activity they may join in.

When was the last time you biked or shot some hoops? Sometimes we all need to be reminded to have fun and appreciate the value of play. Instead of opening your window to listen to the sounds of the season, open your door, go outside with your children and play.

Thoughts to Ponder:

Our children’s health and well-being are dependent on our commitment to promoting food access and good eating habits at home, at school and in the community. ~ Rod Blagojevick

Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. There are a great many food-like items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food stay away from these. ~ Michael Pollan

Christine Smith is an Extension Agent in the department of Family & Consumer Sciences with N.C. Cooperative Extension, NCSU. Information on other services available can be found online at