Obesity: Public Health
Crisis, Prevention As A Cure
and obese children have arguably become the primary health
problem in developed nations and, to some degree, in other parts
of the world. The definitions of overweight and obesity in children
differ between epidemiological studies, but most scientists
agree that children who are overweight exceed 20% (25% for obese)
of their ideal body weight, based on age, weight, height and
frame. The body mass index (BMI)
is typically used to derive and apply these percentages to health
risks. However, experts now indicate that it is not an absolute
measurement and there is margin for error when using BMI
to calculate health risk depending on body-type (ectomorphic,
mesomorphic or endomorphic) and bone structure and density.
The formulas for body mass index also vary, but a BMI of 25
or more is generally considered overweight and 30 or more is
You can calculate your BMI at
As in adults, obesity in children causes hypertension, stroke,
colon cancer, chronic inflammation, diabetes, increased blood
clotting tendency, and other cardiovascular disease risk factors.
In one study, childhood obesity increased the risk of death
from heart disease in adulthood two-fold over several years.
2 diabetes, once unrecognized in adolescence, now accounts
for as many as half of all new diagnoses of diabetes in some
populations. This condition is almost entirely attributable
to the pediatric obesity epidemic, through heredity and lifestyle
factors which affect individual risk. Psychosocial effects are
also becoming more severe in children who are often outcaste
for being overweight resulting in depression and suicidal tendencies.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
As in adults, a child's bodyweight is regulated by numerous
physiological mechanisms that maintain balance between energy
intake and energy expenditure. Any factor that raises calorie
intake or decreases energy expenditure by even a small amount
will cause obesity in the long-term. Genetic factors can also
have a great effect on individual predisposition; however, rising
prevalence rates among genetically stable populations indicate
that environmental and lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity
and diet must underlie the childhood obesity epidemic.
obesity in children ultimately involves eating less and
being more physically active. Sounds simple? For several decades
now, governments have invested billions of dollars into programs
to increase physical activity among youth and the general public.
Despite these government initiatives, and since the inception
of such programs, children are more obese today than ever before.
Between television, video games, internet, fast-food, sedentary
lifestyle and convenience, it is clear that cultural factors
have had incredible control and a negative impact on our health.
The limitation of current approaches to combat childhood obesity
may also, in part, contribute to the problem. For example, school-based
programs might not be particularly efficacious. Most dietary
interventions focus on reduction of fat intake, even though
dietary fat might not be an important cause of obesity. Very
few pediatric studies have ever addressed the effect of dietary
composition on bodyweight, physical activity, and behavioural
modification techniques combined. With respect to physical
activity, many studies have used conventional programmed
exercise prescriptions, although increasing lifestyle activity
or reducing sedentary behaviours might be better for long-term
weight control. Physical
curriculums designed to create exercise environments that only
mesh with sport or competition have isolated several groups
of children who are uncomfortable, uncoordinated or lack the
athletic ability to enjoy these events. Moreover, a plethora
of school-based programs still emphasize non-locomotor and manipulative
skills for physical education which are very poor indicators
in maintaining long-term health. Motor skills such as speed,
strength and power which are integrated with cardiovascular
abilities have consistently shown to improve long-term health,
yet an extremely large percentage of curriculums
fail to properly address or incorporate these skills.
Prevention As A Cure
Currently, more than 70% of children and youth are not active
enough to lay a solid foundation for future health and wellness.
It's time for prevention to reverse this growing trend. This
public-health crisis demands increased funding for research
into new dietary, physical activity, behavioural, socioeconomic
and environmental approaches for the prevention of child obesity
and improved reimbursement for effective school-based programs
Children who grow into teenagers and then adults require more
accountability for their own well-being through health conscious
decisions which are motivated by proper practical and theoretical
applications. Substantial political and financial contributions
are imperative to invest in prevention more effectively to regulate
revisions and mandate policies which affect the governing bodies
of education, school boards, and ultimately the schools themselves.
Any procrastination or failure to resolve these matters in the
next decade will only lead to the further deterioration of human
health and healthcare systems.
Proper leadership and effective communication regarding these
preventive meausures may still reverse this trend and
consequently promote a healthier aging population.
PDF of this report may be downloaded at