Every Kid Healthy Week
Every Kid Healthy Week, recognized this year from April 23 to 27, is an annual event that honors the efforts of schools nationwide to promote health and wellness. The awareness campaign also highlights the importance of physical activity and proper nutrition to prepare students to learn. Created in 2013 in response to the childhood obesity epidemic, the campaign is now in its sixth year.
According to the Childhood Obesity Foundation (COF), one child in three in the United States is either overweight or obese. If this alarming trend continues, the current generation of children may be the first to live a shorter lifespan than their parents. The good news is that the obesity trend is reversible. Kids thrive when they regularly consume nutritious food and engage in physical play every day.
Schools and healthcare organizations, including UPMC Western Maryland, are prepared to do their part to get information to parents and children about the importance of good health choices. We hope that you will take this opportunity to consider whether your child eats a healthy diet and gets enough exercise. If not, it’s never too late to change.
Defining Childhood Obesity
The COF defines obesity as an excess accumulation of body fat that can have a negative impact on health. Ideally, a child’s body weight should be proportionate to height. A child is obese when his or her body weight is significantly above average for children of the same height, age, and sex. Children who remain obese throughout childhood are unlikely to reach a healthy weight as an adult.
Understanding the Risk Factors of Childhood Obesity
Obesity in children can sometimes have a medical cause that has nothing to do with diet or exercise. Two common examples are Prader-Willi syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome. However, eating too much and exercising too little are the primary reasons that some children and teenagers weigh more than they should. As the COF explains, many complex behavioral, biological, cultural, economic, environmental, psychological, social, and technological factors contribute to the problem of childhood obesity. Some of these factors include:
- Increased access to multiple forms of electronic entertainment that encourages a sedentary lifestyle
- In some areas, children lack access to safe places to play
- Marketing of foods with high fat and sugar content to children
- Steady increase in portion sizes in American grocery stores and restaurants
The effects of electronic media are significant. Whereas earlier generations of children engaged primarily in physical play, today’s kids are becoming increasingly dependent on social media, smartphones, online games, and other types of electronics that make outdoor play seem less appealing.
Even when considering the above factors that contribute to childhood obesity, some children are at a higher risk of dangerous weight gain than others. The COF has identified these risk factors to aid parents, teachers, and doctors in helping children become healthier:
- Regularly consume fast food meals, foods high in fat or sugar, and drink soda and other beverages with a high sugar content
- Spend a lot of time watching television and playing video games
- Do not get physical activity every day
- Eat as a means of dealing with stress
- Parents and other family members don’t encourage healthy eating and/or physical activity
- Have many overweight people in the family
- Lack information about the importance of nutrition and exercise
- Do not have access to or can’t afford to buy healthy foods
Immediate and Long-Term Complications of Childhood Obesity
With so many children now overweight or obese, doctors are seeing them have health complications previously limited to adults. Some of these include diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and sleep apnea. Some children even go through puberty early or develop an eating disorder before reaching their teens.
Weighing too much as a child or teenager can also take an enormous psychological toll. Overweight and obese kids tend to experience more bullying from their peers and bully others more often as well. Other common psychological difficulties associated with childhood obesity include:
- Social isolation
- Low self-esteem
- Increased risk of significant depression
- High levels of anxiety and stress
- Behavior and/or learning problems
Unfortunately, both physical and emotional issues only get worse if the child remains obese into adulthood. By the time an obese adult reaches age 40, his or her lifespan will be three to seven years less than someone the same age of a healthy weight. The risk of obesity as it relates to quality and quantity of life is on par with smoking.
Reach Out to UPMC Western Maryland for Help
Every Kid Healthy Week is a great time to reflect on whether your son or daughter is as healthy as possible. However, we encourage you to keep this goal in mind all year long. If you would like additional resources on child nutrition or physical activity recommendations, please don’t hesitate to ask your child’s pediatrician or your primary care provider at UPMC Western Maryland. We love to see kids healthy and we’re excited to help your family achieve this important goal.
Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.