Studies have shown that about 30% of all children in America aged 6 to 19 are either overweight or obese. That is almost one out of three young Americans. The situation in the countries of the European Union is similar.
The body mass index (BMI) is a formula to measure obesity. It uses a combination of height and weight. A BMI score of 25 or higher shows that you are overweight and a BMI of over 30 indicates obesity.
Who is at risk?
If you are gaining weight it does not always mean that you are becoming obese. Children and young adults need nutrients in order to grow, so they gain weight as time goes on. However, if you consume more than you need and begin putting on extra weight you may be on the road to obesity - combined with all kinds of health problems.
Here are some signs that tell you if you are at risk:
- Children who have obese parents or grandparents are in greater danger of becoming obese than others.
- If diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes or heart illnesses run in your family you might be at risk too.
- Bowed legs at an early age can be a warning signal for obesity.
- Depression and a lack of confidence have also been connected to obesity.
- People who don’t get enough exercise and sit around and do nothing all day long are definitely more at risk than others.
What causes childhood obesity?
The explanation is really simple: if you take in more energy in the form of food than you use up you will gain weight. There are, however, many factors that can influence this.
Genes determine how your body stores food and how well it turns food into energy. Our bodies are built to store energy in fat cells for times when food is scarce. But not all bodies are the same. Your genes come from your parents, so overweight parents are more likely to have overweight children.
Although you may have good genes you still can become obese. One of the main causes of obesity is the lack of physical exercise. An average child spends less time exercising than children did ten or twenty years ago. Our free time activities have changed. Instead of going outside and doing something physical children sit still for hours in front of computers, TV and video games.
Snacks and fast food
Many of us eat up to four meals a day thanks to excessive snacking. And when we have a snack we don’t eat a carrot or an apple. Instead we reach for junk food. But this is not always the children’s fault. Schools are full of vending machines that offer high calorie snacks and sugary soft drinks. To make things worse they are bombarded with TV ads and commercials for unhealthy food. An average American eight-year old watches more than four thousand food ads a year. About 35% of these ads are for candy and snacks, another 10% for fast food.
Fast food is another reason for obesity. While some fast food chains offer healthy alternatives, these aren’t what people order. Today’s families also eat out a lot more than earlier generations.
Eating habits at home
If you develop healthy eating habits you’ll be more likely to keep a healthy weight. And it’s at home where we form such habits.
If your parents are overweight or obese chances are that you may have seen wrong eating habits your whole life. Children who observe their parents eat a cookie instead of a piece of fruit, take their meals in front of the TV set or eat too quickly are more likely to do the same. This increases their chances of becoming overweight children and, later on, adults.
Apart from the need for larger school desks and airline seats what else is there to worry about.
- Type 2 diabetes was once thought to be a disease that mainly affected adults, but this not longer true. It can lead to blindness, heart and kidney diseases and damage your nerves.
- Studies have shown that obesity can cause children with asthma to use more medicine and wheeze more.
- Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to have high blood pressure than children with a normal weight.
- Sleeping disorders are among the most common consequences of childhood obesity. Some children may even have pauses in their breathing during sleep. If not treated it may lead to a series of other illnesses, including heart and lung problems.
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- ad = short word for “advertisement”
- adolescent = a young person between 12 and 18 who is becoming an adult
- affect =to have an effect on
- although =while
- average =normally
- blindness = if you cannot see anything
- blood pressure =the force with which blood travels through your body
- body mass index = shows if you have the right weight for your height
- bombard = hit
- bowed = curved
- candy = a sweet food made from sugar and chocolate
- carrot = a long pointed orange vegetable that grows under ground
- chances = it is probable that...
- common = very often
- confidence =you believe in yourself and think that you can do something well
- consequence = effect, result
- cookie = a small flat sweet cake
- definitely = absolutely
- determine =decide, control
- develop = grow
- disease = illness
- eat out = to have a meal in a restaurant
- excessive = too much
- exercise = physical activity that lets you stay healthy and makes you stronger
- explanation =the reasons you give for why something happened
- factor = one of many things
- fast food chain = fast food stores that have the same name
- fat cell = a body cell that has fat in it
- fault =someone is to blame
- gain weight = to become heavier
- habit = what you normally do
- height = how tall you are
- however =but
- illness = disease
- increase = to go up
- indicate = show
- influence =have an effect on
- instead of = in something’s place, as an alternative
- kidney = one of the two organs in your back that separate waste products from your blood and make urine
- lack = not enough
- likely = probably
- mainly = mostly
- measure = calculate
- need =something you must have
- nutrient =chemical or food that gives you important things you need to live
- obese = another word for fat
- obesity =fatness
- offer = give
- overweight = to have too much weight
- pause = break
- physical = everything that has to do with your body
- put on = gain, become more
- reach for = try to get
- reason =cause
- run in = is in
- scarce = when there is not enough
- score = number
- series = a number of
- sign = warning signal
- similar = almost the same
- sleeping disorder = if you have problems sleeping or cannot sleep well
- soft drink = a cold drink that does not have any alcohol in it
- store = to keep things somewhere until you need them
- study = report
- treat =cure, heal
- type 2 diabetes = a disease in which there is too much sugar in your blood
- use up =to use all of something
- vending machine = a machine from which you get drinks, cigarettes and something to eat by putting money into it
- weight = how heavy you are
- wheeze = when you breathe you make loud noises in your throat and chest