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It’s a startling statistic.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services indicates that one in five children in the United States is obese. That means that health problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease once confined to adult populations, are now growing in increasing numbers among children.

But there’s good news on two fronts. First, childhood obesity can be prevented. Second, the month of September focuses attention on the problem by observing National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that childhood obesity is both complex and costly.

It is a chronic disease that contributes to gaining too much weight. Issues such as the quality of childcare, school and social environments, the availability of healthy foods and the level of childhood physical activity all contribute to the complexity of why too many children in the U.S. suffer from being overweight.

Childhood obesity comes with a financial price tag as well as a childhood health price tag. The story behind the story:

*The United States spends more than $147-billion annually on obesity-related health care.

*Nearly one in four young adults are too heavy to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Similar problems with obesity exist in the civilian workforce as well.

*Fewer than one in 10 children and adults eat the recommended daily amounts of vegetables.

*Fewer than 25-percent of young people get enough physical exercise.

*More than half of Americans don’t live within half-a-mile of a city or county park.

*Some 40-percent of all U.S. households do not live within one-mile of a healthy food retailer.

The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development indicates that obesity contributes to shortened sleep duration, mental distress, depression, anxiety, hypertension, diabetes, premature death and other negative implications for children.

The National Library of Medicine illustrates the size and scope of the problem in a research paper published by The Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome. This study highlights the associated health risks to young people with examination of the negative impact childhood obesity has on normal growth and puberty, with implications that follow obese children into adulthood with adult health issues.

From a technical standpoint, childhood obesity is having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile on the CDC’s Specific Growth Charts. Children’s BMI factors differ from those of adults because childhood obesity is also measured in age-and-sex-specifics because child body development compositions vary as young girls and boys age.

Pediatricians and health care providers for the young use BMI-for-age-growth charts to measure size and growth patterns in children. According to recent statistics from the CDC, no childhood age group is immune from the growing problems associated with childhood obesity. A brief breakdown of how age groups are impacted by childhood obesity.

*13.4-percent of children ages 2 to 5 have obesity.

*20.3-percent of children ages 6 to 11 have obesity.

*21.2-percent of children ages 12-19 have obesity.

Brittany Schnelle, APRN-Pediatrics with Brevard Health Alliance says the first step in tackling the issue of childhood obesity is to fully understand exactly what the issue is.

“At some point, all children meet the criteria for being overweight and/or obese.

“It’s important to distinguish what exactly it means to be obese. Obesity means excess growth and expansion of adipose (fat) tissue in the body. Obesity can lead to other medical issues such as pain, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, sleep apnea and more. Treating obesity is not as simple as calories in/calories out which most diets follow.”

Schnelle indicates there are a host of factors that may contribute to childhood obesity and a number of variables that may come into play in managing it, include a two-year period of dealing with the Covid-19 Pandemic.

“Factors that can contribute to childhood obesity include genetics, prenatal environment, postnatal environment, diet, physical activity, mental health and social determinants of health,” she explains.

“With Covid-19 some of these contributing factors have been more difficult to manage. Anxiety, depression, and stress are some contributing factors to obesity. Stress increases our appetite and often times children, adolescents and adults reach for comfort foods. Having access to healthy foods may also be an obstacle for children and their families.”

Because there is often a stigma attached to childhood obesity, the BHA veteran advises discussions of the topic should be taken with an empathetic tenor.

“We must be careful about how we approach this subject with children and adolescents. Even though we may mean well and have their best interest at heart, the discussion of obesity can be a sensitive subject for most. The focus of the discussion should revolve around the child’s health and not their weight. When we focus on a child’s “goal weight,” some children and adolescents develop eating disorders such as anorexia. One way to help with this is to use body positive clinical practice. Encourage the child/adolescent to have a role model that is supportive of them maintaining a health weight with non-biased behavior.”

Schnelle adds that proving families with knowledge, education and the tools to deal with childhood obesity are keys to managing and mitigating this health care concern among children and adolescents.

“A child should be encouraged to spend at least 30-minutes to one-hour outside everyday for physical activity. This outside activity should be fun for the child and should involve the whole family.

“Exercise should not be punishment,” she notes.

“Some examples that could be fun include walking with the family and playing music, hula-hooping, jumping rope, swimming and more.”

She adds that monitoring food portion control is another tool.

“The child and family can use their whole hand to measure out portion sizes of fruits and vegetables. Their palms should be used to measure out portion sizes of whole grains and starches; their knuckles to measure out portion sizes of protein; and their thumb to measure out portion sizes of fats and sugars.”

Another resource for families addressing the issue of childhood obesity would be to incorporate family education about healthy eating habits.

“One way to accomplish this is by using “Go, Slow and Whoa Foods,” created by We Can!

“The child and family members are encouraged to eat mostly from the Go column, have foods from the Slow column two-to-three times a week, and foods from the Whoa column once per week.

Foods from the Go column are nutrient dense, and foods from the Whoa column are calorie dense.

Brittany Schnelle