Friday, May 14, 2010

The Latest Childhood Obesity Stats: A Grim Picture

Some recent studies of overweight and obesity among American kids have just been released, and they do not make for reassuring reading. The major one, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and published just last week, found the following:

* The rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled in the past 30 years, and that’s across the board with regard to age, gender, race, ethnic background and socioeconomic status.
* The childhood obesity rate does vary widely, however, by geographical region, although with a few anomalies. The Southeast is home to the highest proportion of obese kids, with Mississippi leading the nation in rates of childhood overweight (44.5 percent) and obesity (21.9 percent). Kids in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia were twice as likely to be obese as those in Oregon. Then again, so were kids in Kansas and Illinois.
* Western region kids were, overall, the slenderest, Oregon having the fewest obese children at 9.6 percent, and Utah the fewest overweight kids at 23.1 percent. But even as the childhood obesity rate fell by 32 percent in Oregon between 2003 and 2007, it rose by more than 40 percent in Arizona and Colorado.
* Nationwide over that four-year period, obesity among all Americans aged 10 to 17 increased by 10 percent and among girls by 18 percent.
* A separate study of American children ages 2 to 19, published in the Journal of Pediatrics in March, found that 7.3 percent of boys and 5.5 percent of girls are now “extremely obese.” That’s right: extremely.

The HHS researchers came to the usual conclusions regarding the childhood obesity crisis, one of their primary recommendations being that neighborhoods provide more access to physical activities for young people, such as hiking/jogging trails, bike paths, playgrounds and recreational facilities.

All well and good, but left unanswered is the question of how to get the young people to take advantage of these facilities. And therein may lie a more serious generational problem. In the words of one Georgia high school teacher who tried to involve his students in a physical fitness plan, “At first they didn’t want to do it. They just don’t like exercise. A lot of them don’t even enjoy being outdoors.”

If he’s right, what we’ve got here is even worse than an obesity crisis. It’s a waste of childhood.


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