Childhood Obesity Projected Forward

The New England Journal of Medicine published an childhood obesity article today describing a study that projects that between 55 to 60 percent of today’s children will be obese by the time they reach 35 years of age.

childhood obesity at MacDonalds

U.S. Adult obesity rates currently range from about 22 percent in Colorado to almost 38 percent in Louisiana. The projection is thus double the current obesity rate (assuming nothing is done to prevent it).

One child in 11 is currently obese in the U.S. (ages 2 through 5). Childhood obesity is the main risk factor for adult obesity (no surprise there) but obesity in childhood is also a major risk factor for adult depression.

We can’t blame genes for childhood obesity — genes haven’t changed much since the 1960s, when childhood obesity was almost unheard-of. And we can hardly blame a two year old for poor life choices.

We can, however, look at sugar consumption, between-meal snacking, juice and sugared beverage consumption, seed oil consumption, and high-carbohydrate meals, all of which have ballooned since the sixties. Poverty is also a major contributor — obesity, particularly childhood obesity, is disproportionately represented in low income communities. These communities have less access to fresh vegetables, and what they do have access to is subsidized high-carbohydrate, low fiber products of industrialized agriculture and processed food companies.

Parents often give children fruit juices in bottles or juice boxes to keep them busy, keep them from crying, or because they think juice is healthy. But fruit juice has had most of the healthy fiber removed, leaving little but sugar water and a bit of flavoring. Worse, many fruit drinks have added sugar. Both natural and added sugar creates addiction to sugar, which makes the child cry or whine when it is not present, causing the parent to give in to the addiction.

Try plain water. You can add a bit of lemon or other fruit to add a touch of flavor, without all the sugar.