Childhood obesity. It’s a problem. Kids, through no fault of their own (please tell me how much “self-control” you can expect a 5 year old to have in the face of Coke and Cheetos) find themselves with increased LIFELONG odds of developing diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, depression, and sleep apnea (just to name a few).
You know what makes it even worse?
The way overweight and obesity are classified for children.
Kids don’t have the same basic height to weight relationship adults do. Therefore, BMI isn’t the best choice for kids. BMI is a simple relationship of mass to height (kg/m^2). Kids get pudgy, then the spread out, then they gain weight again, etc. Their growth isn’t linear; it follows a sigmoid pattern. Their BMIs fluctuate wildly just based on healthy growth and development.
Instead, overweight and obesity in children is based on what percentile of weight they fall into for their height and age. Kids in the 85th-95th percentiles are classified as overweight, and kids above the 95th percentile are considered obese.
Of course, those percentiles have to refer to some baseline. If not, exactly 5% of kids would be obese and 10% overweight every year. However, about 32% of American kids are overweight or obese, and 17% of those are obese. That means in relation to the children in the reference year, almost 1/3 of today’s kids would have been in the 85th percentile or above for weight (i.e our top 32% weigh at least as much as the top 15% used to).
So what data does the government use to determine overweight and obesity in kids? Data from the 50s or 60s before the obesity epidemic struck? That would certainly paint a bleak picture. About twice as many overweight kids, and more than three times as many obese kids as there were in a time when kids were lean and active.
Nope. Not the 50s or 60s. It’s much bleaker than that. The data used: NHANES II. In other words, DATA FROM 2004!!!! When the obesity epidemic had already been brewing for over two decades! There are more than twice as many fat kids as there were NINE years ago, and more than three times as many really fat kids!
I’m not the type to use all caps and multiple exclamation points very often, so when I do, it’s because I’m pretty riled up about something. Learning this today probably marked my recent low point for faith in the human race. Seriously. Kids are at the mercy of their parents to keep them from getting ginormous, and an alarming number of parents are dropping the ball.
And yes, I’m putting the blame totally on the parents. Kids have almost no say in anything that goes on in their life. You might counter and say, “but kids are choosing to stay inside and play video games instead of playing sports outside.” While that’s true, there’s not much evidence at all that physical activity affects weight and body composition very much until adolescence. The only other major contributor to caloric balance is food intake. I’d almost consider it child abuse when parents make available a ton of crap and let their kids eat themselves into long-term health consequences before they’re in middle school.
Anyway, that’s the end of my rant for this evening. Do with it what you will. I’m not a purveyor of parenting advice, but I do know that making healthy choices for kids affects them in the long-run.