Childhood Obesity and Physical Activity in the United States

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According to the International Obesity Task Force, nearly 155 million, or 1 in ten children in the world are overweight.  Further, an estimated 16% of children in the United States, aged 6-19, are considered overweight.  While this can be attributed to many reasons; one may be the decrease in physical activity among youth.  childhood obesity  One example of this is physical education in schools, both elementary, middle and high schools.  In the “Shape of the Nation” report, it states that only 8% of elementary schools, 6.4% of middle schools, and 5.8% of high schools provide daily physical activity.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest that children ought to have 60 minutes of physical activity most, if not all, days of the week.

As children are in schools for most of the year, as well as most of the day, it would seem logical that schools provide this physical activity to their students.  However, as the above statistics show, most students are not receiving near the recommended levels of physical activity in schools. 

In many cases, funding at the state or federal level is linked to academic performance.  Improving academic performance of schools is therefore of utmost importance, as can be evidenced by the No Child Left Behind Act first introduced by former President George W. Bush in 2001.   This Act primarily promotes math and sciences, while not mandating physical education be a part of daily curriculum.  Support of the FIT Kids Act, H.R. 1585/S.634 would amend the No Child Left Behind Act to require schools to report on their student’s physical activity and support quality physical education programs in school. 

While not the only solution to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, it would go a long way towards instilling the fundamentals of physical activity in youth, perhaps fostering a healthier nation in the process.

 

Percent of High School Students Considered Overweight or Obese in 2007

Percent of High School Students Considered Obese in 2007

 

 

 

 

Map – http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/obesity/obesity-youth.htm

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14 Responses to “Childhood Obesity and Physical Activity in the United States”

  1. tbadoption Says:

    Thanks for the interesting post! There is a wealth of scientific literature that supports the link between extra weight and health problems/diseases. The overweight children of today will cause a significant financial burden that we cannot afford today or tomorrow. I agree that preventive measures (such as physical activity via. gym class) is an investment that we should all strongly support. I’m calling my Senator now…
    -Liz Thoburn

  2. hpvvaccine Says:

    A recent meta-analysis in the CMAJ (Harris KC, Kuramoto LK, Schulzer M, Retallack JE. Effect of school-based physical activity interventions on body mass index in children: a meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2009 Mar 31; 180(7):719-26 found that school-based physical activity interventions did not improve BMI. Although there were significant health benefits including reduced blood pressure, increased lean muscle mass, increasing bone mineral density, increasing aerobic capacity, and improving flexibility, the authors concluded that current population-based policies that mandate increased physical activity in schools are unlikely to have a significant effect on the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity.

    From a public health perspective, physical activity should be included and promoted within schools because it is an important component of a healthy lifestyle and improves many aspects of health, but there is currently no evidence that it is an effective method to reverse the trend of increasing BMI in children.

    Obesity has been described as a “complex system” with an individual’s energy intake and energy output, and resulting weight, being influenced by a range of highly interconnected factors. These factors can operate at the individual level (ie. genetic predisposition to obesity, learned activity patterns) or at the broader environmental and societal level (ie. how suitable an area is for walking, portion sizes, societal pressure to consume, food marketing). No simple changes, such as school-based physical activity interventions, can be expected to influence the prevalence of obesity in children. Such an approach has been described as “the futility of isolated initiatives”. Instead, in order to combat the rising prevalence of childhood obesity, investment needs to be made in a range of “community-based cross-disciplinary long-term strategies” that work at multiple levels. Examples may include provision of healthy school meals, improved urban planning (ie. by-laws restricting the proximity of fast food outlets to schools and provision of bicycle lanes), and control of the advertising of junk food to kids.

    Debra Parry

    • pdebra Says:

      A recent meta-analysis in the CMAJ (Harris KC, Kuramoto LK, Schulzer M, Retallack JE. Effect of school-based physical activity interventions on body mass index in children: a meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2009 Mar 31; 180(7):719-26 found that school-based physical activity interventions did not improve BMI. Although there were significant health benefits including reduced blood pressure, increased lean muscle mass, increasing bone mineral density, increasing aerobic capacity, and improving flexibility, the authors concluded that current population-based policies that mandate increased physical activity in schools are unlikely to have a significant effect on the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity.

      From a public health perspective, physical activity should be included and promoted within schools because it is an important component of a healthy lifestyle and improves many aspects of health, but there is currently no evidence that it is an effective method to reverse the trend of increasing BMI in children.

      Obesity has been described as a “complex system” with an individual’s energy intake and energy output, and resulting weight, being influenced by a range of highly interconnected factors. These factors can operate at the individual level (ie. genetic predisposition to obesity, learned activity patterns) or at the broader environmental and societal level (ie. how suitable an area is for walking, portion sizes, societal pressure to consume, food marketing). No simple changes, such as school-based physical activity interventions, can be expected to influence the prevalence of obesity in children. Such an approach has been described as “the futility of isolated initiatives”. Instead, in order to combat the rising prevalence of childhood obesity, investment needs to be made in a range of “community-based cross-disciplinary long-term strategies” that work at multiple levels. Examples may include provision of healthy school meals, improved urban planning (ie. by-laws restricting the proximity of fast food outlets to schools and provision of bicycle lanes), and control of the advertising of junk food to kids.

      (This is my reply using the log-in that I informed Dr. Brieger about, with the corresponding e-mail, but I haven’t heard back from- Thanks, Debra Parry)

  3. nkathy206 Says:

    It is amazing that with the amount of information available concerning the need for exercise and diet changes that there is not more focus on exercise in the schools. There are so groups that would be excellent sources of support for this topic to lobby for change, ranging from the AMA to the 4-H to Parent/Teacher groups. It is a shock that mobilization has not already occurred. Thanks for the insight, and love the graphic!

  4. aesha1105 Says:

    I believe there are a multitude of factors leading to obesity. Growing up, I use to play man hunt and tag with the neighborhood kids. However, today children are either playing video games or chatting and surfing the internet. In a recent study, these sedentary behaviors have shown to be associated with elevated blood pressure in turn increased obesity in
    children
    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159648.php

    Also, I think the children believe that they have to participate in many extracurricular activities so it looks “good” on their resume. Why would they be on a sports team which requires a lot of time and effort including practices and games. In that same span of time, they could join 3-4 organizations and actively participate. According to them, this would make them more of a well-rounded candidate. However, with this trade off they are less physically active and in turn will compromise their health.

  5. esangkyu Says:

    Great post. There are increasingly more and more reasons for kids to be inactive, whether its video games, television, suburban sprawl, unsafe environments, etc and little emphasis has been placed on counteracting this. I agree completely that the schools need to be addressing this issue, and this act will provide a great benefit in improving the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our country.

    In addition to the physical activity it provides, properly designed classes will introduce students to different physical activities to pursue further outside of class whether it be sports, dance, and non sporting games. As mentioned by the author, this will hopefully instill healthy lifestyle habits at an early age, leading to a healthier generation.

  6. esangkyu Says:

    forgot my name on the comment.

    Daniel Rhee

  7. alulateklu Says:

    I recently attended a course called Social Epidemiology and one of the topics was Obesity in general and the professor was trying to reflect about the fact that obesity epidemic has exploded in the last 2 decades; but he claimed to have difficulty linking it to anything special which has changed dramatically in the last 2 decades. From my very short observation, I have noticed that there is a lot of junk food, minimal physical activity as a result of the built environment and dependence of this drugs which are advertised as miraculous.
    One argument I would like to pose is that there should be a policy regulation which punishes parents of obese children! I believe as much as we blame parents of children who are not vaccinated timely we have to also blame and hold accountable the parents of obese children.

  8. halehb Says:

    Physical education is so important and I was shocked to see such low percentages of schools offering it! Amending the No Child Left Behind Act to incorporate physical education is a step in the right direction. It is also important to incorporate physical activity into children’s lives outside of school. Simple things such as replacing regular video gaming systems with Nintendo’s Wii system, which requires the player be physically active during video games, can also help combat childhood obesity. (After 30 mins of Wii boxing, I’m tired!) Nintendo has also released ‘Wii fit’ which is a program that aims at helping the whole family get healthy by mixing fun and fitness. Check it out: http://www.nintendo.com/wiifit/launch/?ref=http://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&channel=s&hl=en&source=hp&q=wii+fit&btnG=Google+Search

  9. asamarth Says:

    Apart from comments above, I would like to point out the role of parents in increasing physical activity. The parents should encourage kids to take a particular sports and provide all possible support to become good in that particular sport. Most of the habits of kids are driven by the parents and parents themselves have to take up going to gym or playing a sport!

    • mwilson102 Says:

      I completely agree with Asamarth in that the role of parents was not explicitly described in this post, and that parents ought to take a more active role in their child’s health. In this post, I just focused on the role of the schools, which I feel is at least a starting point in increasing physical activity among youth. However, nutrition in schools, and at home, as well as physical activity outside of the schools should be a priority for parents. Thanks for all of the great comments everyone!

  10. dokchai Says:

    Physical education and daily physical activity are very important for everyone, especially for youth and children. There are many factors involved, but the one that we can control is public schools. It is important for public education committees to make a national guildline about physical education in public schools so that all of the public school can implement it and design physical activity according to the guildline and the local environment.Additionally, PE should be evaluated according to the national guildline and be reported to parents together with academic scores.

  11. dbuttke Says:

    I also agree that the majority of the oness falls upon the parents. The changes in not only recreational activities from a young age but also the proportion of sugar calories from a young age is so dramatic and also so evident years before these children will ever enter an educational instutiution. I believe that a grassroots effort is necessary to try to engage parents and begin education for the parents as early as in prenatal medical exams to alert the parents to how early habbits are formed and what a monumental impact their decisions about the childrens’ intake and activity will have for the rest of their lives. By the age of 5, obesity of a child has a predictive outcome on adult obesity. Thus, we need to intervene before the school age.

  12. gingershu Says:

    Parents are the most important participants in the battle against childhood obesity, and it is too easy to blame them for failing in their responsibilities. I think when parents themselves are fighting losing wars against obesity themselves, it is difficult for them to set good examples for the next generation. My own personal experience is more interesting. My parents came from poverty-stricken China who for years believed that overweight children are a sign of successful parenting. I’m sure they are not alone in that kind of attitude. I think this is one of the reasons why the epidemic of obesity in developing countries is so tricky to tackle – people’s cultural beliefs and attitudes.

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