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)