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Childhood Obesity 101:

A Parent's Primer for Prevention

by Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.

Take one look at this chart and you'd swear someone put something in our water.

Back in the 1970s kids started gaining weight, and despite our best efforts to reverse the trend, children's obesity rates tripled over the past few decades. Rates are highest among minority children and those living in poverty. Worse, the current economic downturn threatens to further fuel the upward trend as consumers seek out "value meals." (1)

Sadly, even though there are more overweight children today than when we were kids, the teasing and bullying associated with being "different" hasn't subsided. In fact, overweight children surveyed rated their quality of life as low as children receiving chemotherapy for cancer treatment. (2)

Overweight kids suffer from lower self-esteem and poor body image, which may lead them down the dangerous path of unsafe diet pills or overly restrictive diets. Adding insult to injury, being overweight makes it more difficult for children to enjoy physical play and participate in sports. They may be rejected from teams, feel embarrassed in a swimsuit, or awkward in gym class.

Obesity also puts kids at greater risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, a disease previously seen in adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if current trends continue, one in three children born in 2000 and beyond will develop diabetes in their lifetime. If the child is Black or Hispanic, the number jumps to one in two. Our Native American children also carry a larger burden of obesity and related illness. (3,4)

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Did you know?

  • The percentage of obese or overweight children is now at or above 30 percent in 30 states. (1)
  • Most HFCS is made from genetically modified (GM) corn (20). You won't find HFCS in organic foods. (21)
  • In 2006, 44 major food and beverage marketers spent 1.6 billion dollars promoting products to children between 2 to 17 years of age. (12) The majority of foods advertised to children on TV include candy and snacks, sugared cereals, and fast food. (22)
  • The average person is exposed to 10 to 13 pesticides each day through food and beverages, and over half of the most widely used pesticides are endocrine disruptors. Exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds found in certain pesticides can increase the risk of insulin resistance, weight gain, and obesity.(15)
  • Pregnancy is one of the most critical times to choose organic foods and avoid harmful pesticides. (15)
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