Childhood obesity is a major concern in the United States. Over the past few decades there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children suffering from obesity. Kids are staying indoors more with limited physical activity and increased caloric consumption, resulting in a nationwide epidemic of obesity in our children. There are hundreds of organizations, large and small, fighting to stem this trend and help get our kids’ health back in check. But a business or non-profit can’t do it alone. Parents and kids must both be willing to change their habits to create a healthier lifestyle.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
There are many causes for childhood obesity, and sometimes a complex combination of circumstances work together to put our children at risk. One thing we know for sure is that reduced physical activity in school is a component and a risk factor for childhood obesity. Studies have shown that throughout our nation, less than one third of school-aged children (age 6-17) engage in physical activity – that is, activity that makes them sweat and increase breathing and heart rate for at least 20 minutes. And that’s just the minimum recommended amount of physical activity. There is no surprise here that childhood obesity has become a frightening epidemic in our country.
Risks of Child Obesity
- High Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: High levels of “bad” cholesterol called LDL and also high blood pressure are common in obese children.
- Bone and Joint Problems: There have been numerous cases of obese children experiencing a slipped growth plate in their hip bone.
- Sleep Apnea: Obstruction of the child’s airway is common and can result in many other day-to-day problems like poor school performance and nighttime bedwetting on top of the primary risk where the individual stops breathing in their sleep.
- Psychological Problems: Probably the most severe risk of obesity in kids is their emotional and psychological health. Kids will develop poor self-esteem and accept the fact that they will be obese their entire lives, making it extremely difficult for them to change their lifestyle in later years.
- Type 2 Diabetes: What used to be only of concern in adults and very rare in children is not a major concern for obese kids.
Child Obesity Statistics
- Prevalence of Obesity: Among children ages 6-11, there was a 6.5% rate of obesity in 1980 which increased to 18.6% by 2008. Ages 12-19 increased from 5% to 18.1% in the same time period.
- Cardiovascular Disease: 70% of obese children from 5-17 years have at least one symptom and risk factor of cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
- Low-Income Obesity: 1 of 7 low income children in preschool is obese.
- 13 million children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese.
- Obese adolescents are 80% more likely to end up as obese adults.
- Healthcare expenses directly related to childhood obesity are $14 billion every year.
One Solution to the Epidemic: Quality PE in Schools
The problem of childhood obesity is urgent – changes need to be made immediately. Children need positive influences from the adults around them to make better choices. And who better to provide that than a physical education teacher? In general, children attend about 5 or 6 hours of school, 5 days per week. Physical education classes might take up about an hour per day. Imagine the good that could be done for children if that time was optimized with fun, challenging, and healthy activity.
Implementing quality PE in children’s school schedule would be a great first step to turning this epidemic around. PE classes should be used to really teach children about how important a healthy lifestyle is. We can reverse the stigma about PE classes being boring, awkward, and repetitive by breathing new life into old games and activities. Children can learn that challenging themselves and staying healthy are great for self-esteem and making new friends. Teachers should be passionate about their purpose, and lead by positive example.
When students are able to connect with teachers and create a respectful relationship, they are highly more likely to engage in activities and try their hardest. With energetic and fun teachers, a challenging and exciting curriculum, and education about the crucial importance of physical activity and healthy eating, children will take fitness seriously. We will improve the PE in our schools, and let our children reap the benefits.