While we all know that our nation, and many other nations around the world, are facing a new health challenge with high obesity rates, what you may not know is that one of the fastest growing segments of the population in terms of obesity is children. Here are some childhood obesity facts that can paint a clearer, and bleaker, picture.

For children between the ages of 2 to 5 and from 12 to 19 the obesity rates have doubled since just a few decades ago, and for the age group of kids between 6 and 11 the rates have tripled in the same time frame!

About a third of children today run the risk of becoming obese, and sixteen percent of them are already obese. That’s a frightening statistic!

Gender doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, the rates for boys and girls are virtually the same. What does seem to make a difference are income levels.

Hundreds of years ago being overweight was a sign of wealth and prestige, that is no longer the case. Though it may sound counterintuitive, the poorer segments of the population are actually at a far greater risk of obesity. Why? Simple, highly processed, fatty food is cheap. Leaner, more healthy fruits and vegetables are more expensive. The lower income people don’t have the option of buying the healthier, more expensive food options.

There is some differences between certain ethnic groups as well. Also there can be a genetic pre-disposition to obesity. But sometimes it’s not genetic it’s simply the fact that every member of the family has adopted the same unhealthy eating habits.

Of course we all know of the health risks associated with obesity, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, to name just a few. These are magnified the longer a person is obese, so in the case of a child they are at far greater risk much earlier in life than a normal sized person who gains weight in middle age would be.

Besides the physical danger to overweight children there is also the potential for psychological damage as well. Our society stereotypes overweight people as being lazy, stupid, and lacking self control. These stigmas can follow a child throughout their entire life. That can lead to difficulties in relationships and achieving their full potential.

Of course one advantage of the fact that we are talking about children is that we, as parents, have control over this issue. We can make it a priority to help our children make better choices. We can make sure we don’t allow our children to eat fast food more than once a week. We can restrict the amount of soda, cookies, ice creams, and chips we buy when we do our grocery shopping.

Another thing parents can do, that will benefit them and the whole family, is to encourage the whole family to get more exercise. Suggest an after dinner walk, or bike ride for the whole family. Not only will this be a great way to spend some quality time together, it will also encourage your kids to get some exercise. You will be setting a good example for them.

These childhood obesity facts are startling, but now that you know you do have the power to make changes. Knowledge is power, and it might not be easy but you can help change your child’s course to one of a more healthy lifestyle filled with nutritious foods and plenty of physical activity. It’s not too late.

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