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Childhood Obesity Facts, Stats, and Solutions The Importance of Exercise, Nutrition, Hydration, and Sleep in Children

Statistics from the CDC for children and adolescents aged 2-19 years in 2017-2020

  • The prevalence of obesity was 19.7% and affected about 14.7 million children and adolescents.

  • Obesity prevalence was 12.7% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.7% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 22.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.

  • Obesity prevalence was 26.2% among Hispanic children, 24.8% among non-Hispanic Black children, 16.6% among non-Hispanic White children, and 9.0% among non-Hispanic Asian children.

  • Obesity-related conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea, and joint problems.

Obesity In Children on The Rise

Childhood obesity has been on the rise over the last few decades.  In 2005, the New York Times reported that the current generation of children could be the first generation whose life expectancy may be shorter than their parents (1).  Fast forward almost 20 years and scientists are stating it is getting worst (2).  The Surgeon General reports that the prevalence of overweight children has more than doubled in the past 20 years (3).  Heart disease is still the number one killer in the United States and the data shows that most overweight children will grow up to be overweight adults, at increased risk not only for heart disease, but also type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain kinds of cancer and osteoarthritis. The declining overall health of our children is a problem that has grown along with their waistlines, and there is no immediate solution in sight.  The scary part, science had to adapt to these drastic changes.  Many years ago, type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes.  Since many kids were developing diabetes at young ages, you do not hear the term adult onset anymore.  This is not the only change over the past few decades.

Examples Of Societal Changes Contributing to Childhood Obesity

  • The number of children who walk to school has significantly dropped.

  • The definition of play has changed.  It once meant to go outside and engage in physical activity.  Now, it could be connected to playing on technology.

  • Technology usage has increased and is more available at the children’s fingertips.

  • Children come home from school to an empty house since both parents work and not available to engage in play with their children.

  • Fast foods are easier for children to obtain.

  • Commercials promoting unhealthy products are seen on TV, phone, or tablets.

  • Children consuming too much ‘liquid candy’ obtaining excessive calories from drinks.

Some solutions

  • Reduce children’s technology time.

  • Go for family walks.

  • Go to a local high school track and jog / walk as a family.

  • Eat healthy as a family

  • Watch how much ‘liquid candy’ the kids drink and focus on healthier choices like water.  One in 5 calories consumed by children comes from liquid.

  • Make sure children are getting adequate sleep each night.

  • Get involved with your children and lead a healthy lifestyle by example.

  • Educate children on healthy lifestyle.  For example, let them know that exercise is an investment in their future.  Health habits start at a young age will benefit the human body later on in life.

  • Support your local physical education and recreation programs.

  • Put the emphasis on fun.

  • Allow your children to help plan a healthy eating menu each day.

  • Try to ensure your children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

How Does Physical Activity Benefit Children?

It is also important to teach your children about the benefits of physical activity!  According to the CDC, childhood obesity is a serious health problem in the United States where 1 in 5 children and adolescents are affected (4).

  • Strengthens the heart and other muscles

  • Improves cognitive skills to perform better in school

  • Improves mood by release endorphins

  • Strengthens the immune system

  • Improves confidence

  • Aids in weight management and fat loss

  • Improves sleep

  • Improves memory, focus, and concentration

  • Reduces depression and anxiety

  • Increases life expectancy

  • Lowers the risk of heart disease and other illnesses like diabetes and cancer

  • Strengthens the bones

Walking, Jogging, and Running are great solutions to improving your children’s health

  • Try to get 10,000 steps a day

  • Walk or jog to school as a family

  • Make exercise family time.  Go to a local high school track and walk, jog, and run as a family

  • If you own a dog, encourage your kids to go for walks with you

  • ·      Go to a local mall or park and go for a walk as a family

  • ·      Avoid elevators or escalators and take the stairs



We all need food to survive as it serves as our body’s energy.  In fact, calories are a measure of energy.  It all comes down to making the correct food choices and portion sizes as well as correct liquid consumption.  You may recall your own parents saying to you, “You are what you eat.” This adage is actually quite true. If you eat unhealthy foods, you’re probably not going to perform at your highest level, and will feel generally run down. Your brain and your body need food for fuel!  It’s important to educate your kids about the benefits of healthy eating. However, most children feel healthy and energized naturally, and the logic that might convince an adult, that one should eat right and exercise to feel healthy, simply does not make sense to a child. Another strategy is needed with kids. For example, discussing the “bank method” of teaching your children about healthy lifestyle is a great teaching tool. Simply put, eating healthy as a young child will pay off with many positive health dividends later in life, just as putting money in the bank makes you financially stronger at a later time.

The energy we obtain from food comes from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the form of calories. These energy sources are known as macronutrients and they are essential for the proper growth and development of your child. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that 50 percent of total caloric intake come from carbohydrates, 20 percent from protein, and 30 percent from fat.  Let’s break down the food groups to help you understand the benefits of a healthy diet for children.

Carbohydrates - There are the two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. When carbohydrates are digested, they enter the bloodstream and are converted to “body fuel” called glucose. How fast the carbohydrates enter the bloodstream and become glucose depends on the type of carbohydrates that are ingested and whether there was fiber, protein or fat in that meal. Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, keep you feeling fuller longer and provide a steadier flow of energy to the body. They should provide the majority of the energy your child needs each day. Examples of good sources of complex carbohydrates are whole grains such as oatmeal, oat bran, whole wheat breads, pastas, buckwheat (kasha), quinoa, barley, spelt, beans and lentils. These carbohydrates provide lasting energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals naturally. Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, tend to be highly processed, contain fewer nutrients and tend to be less filling and more fattening. Simple carbohydrates are broken down by the body much more quickly if consumed without any other macronutrients, and can give your child an energy spike, possibly followed by an energy crash. A few examples of simple carbohydrates are table sugar, soda, cakes, cookies, and candy, all of which are processed foods. If a child eats nothing but fruit juice and donuts for breakfast, they are eating far too many simple carbohydrates, which perpetuate persistent sweet cravings. Remember, the closer foods are to their unprocessed, natural state of composition, the better they are for you!

Protein - Protein is used by the body to make enzymes, which assist in the building and repairing of cells. Protein regulates a vast number of bodily functions, including helping the nervous system to send and receive messages to and from the brain. Proteins also assist the immune system in fighting off disease and infection. Simply put, protein is important to building stronger muscles, bones, and organs. Protein also plays an important role in keeping your skin and tissues healthy.

Protein comes from two sources: plant and animal. Complete proteins come from animal sources such as meat, chicken, and fish, eggs and dairy, but may also be found in soybeans. Complete proteins carry all the essential amino acids the body needs. Incomplete proteins do not. They are, however, readily available in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetables, grains and beans. Vegans who eat a variety of grains, legumes and vegetables can easily create meals with plenty of complete proteins to meet or exceed the body’s protein requirements. Animal protein can be associated with a higher fat content, and consuming too much can contribute to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart diseases and high cholesterol. Vegetable protein sources are generally healthier because they contain good sources of dietary fiber and generally a much lower fat content, particularly the unhealthy saturated fats. For example, one ounce of almonds provides 6 grams of protein, nearly as much as one ounce of rib eye steak, and almonds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids!

Fats - Fats enhance the flavor, texture and extend the shelf life of many foods. Fat is an essential nutrient (a nutrient that must be obtained from food) that provides energy, insulation, organ protection, hormone balance, regulates body temperature and keeps your skin and hair healthy. The body will store all excess energy (calories) as fat, and we have an endless capacity for storage. Fat deposits surround and protect organs such as the liver, kidneys, and heart. Fats are necessary to transport and absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. It’s essential to have some fats in your diet to maintain normal body functions. There are four main types of fats: monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fats. Mono and polyunsaturated fats are the “good” fats. Saturated and trans fats should be avoided or consumed in moderation. Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature. They are found mostly in animal products such as meat, turkey, chicken, dairy products (except skim and fat-free), butter, fried foods and lard. Processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, ice cream and coffee creamers are made using hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are saturated fats. Too much saturated fat in the diet can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure.

As of January 1, 2006, all food labels were required to state the amount of trans fat present in the food item. When this happened, many food processors, which used trans fats to extend the shelf life of their products, rapidly reformulated their products to remove the trans fats. This was for very good reason: trans fats are truly a health hazard! Trans fats increase triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and reduce HDL (good cholesterol). The body cannot effectively break down trans fat molecules, which in turn raises cholesterol levels and reduces our own shelf life.

There are two types of unsaturated fats: mono and polyunsaturated. These healthy fats remain liquid at room temperature. They are found mostly in plant products including nuts and seeds and are also found in fish and many oils. Using these types of fats in your diet, as opposed to saturated fats, can actually help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Examples of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are olive and peanut oils, nuts and nut products like almond and peanut butter, and cold-water fish such as salmon (which is also rich in heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids). However, as with all things in our diet, moderation is imperative.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the kind of dietary fats that help promote good health. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are the two most important types of EFAs. You will find these essential fatty acids in foods such as olive and flaxseed oils, walnuts, soybeans, safflower and sunflower oils, salmon, tuna and sardines. You might ask what makes these oils “essential”. They are critical for eye, brain and several other neurological functions. The EFAs also help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Vegetables, fruits, and dairy products are just as important to include in your child’s diet. They are some of the most important food groups available to supply us with the nutrition we need every day. Vegetables are an excellent source of carbohydrates and provide many of the vitamins and minerals kids need for optimum health. They are low in calories, high in water content, and provide fiber, which helps us feel full and lowers cholesterol. Did you know that dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale, collard greens and spinach) provide fiber, vitamins and minerals like calcium and iron?

Fruit is nature’s candy! Fruits are rich in minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and fiber. They are also high in water content, which is an important contributor to keeping your children hydrated throughout the day. Fruits help stimulate the memory, they are low in calories, contain fiber, are inexpensive and taste great. When choosing veggies and fruits for your family, try to include as many colors as you can find! Eat all the colors of the rainbow. Not only will your child’s plate look more appetizing, but he will be eating a wide variety of essential nutrients

Dairy products are good sources of protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, vitamin A and vitamin D. The dairy group can be one of the largest contributors to calcium intake, which is extremely important for bone health. Many dairy products can be high in saturated fats, since they come from animals, so choose low fat or fat free products to lower cholesterol intake and fat content when you can. Low fat yogurt tastes just as good as regular yogurt, and has the same nutrients, but without the saturated fat which can clog your arteries! Be sure your child has food choices available each day from all macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Remember to include whole grains, plant sources of protein and healthy fats in your child’s daily diet. Keep a wonderful and colorful variety of vegetables and fruits on hand and readily available to your child. Always choose whole, natural, unprocessed foods over re- fined foods whenever available. And remember to help your children make good choices by choosing healthy foods for your- self. Your body will thank you, and your children will thank you by being strong and healthy!



Drinking a glass of water is like drinking a glass of health! It is absolutely essential for life and for maintaining wellness, and a key ingredient in the recipe for keeping your kids fit and healthy. Water cleanses the body inside as well as outside. If a child does not drink enough liquids, his body can’t eliminate waste, including bacteria and toxins, which increases the risk of infection from these agents. Cleansing the body of waste also helps increase energy, by increasing blood volume and the amount of oxygen that is carried by the blood throughout the body. Keeping the blood pumped with oxygen as it is delivered to the muscle tissue also reduces the risk of cramps during exercise.

Drinking water has a profound effect on kids’ appetites. In many cases, when children are hungry, they don’t reach for healthy snacks but for the chips or cookies. While water is not a food replacement, it is a means to fill the stomach for a short time, which can suppress the appetite and the urge for between meal snacks. Also, many children have a hard time differentiating between hunger and thirst, so drinking water first can take away the urge to eat entirely. It has the added benefit of raising the metabolic rate slightly and helping the body burn fat as energy more efficiently, thereby contributing to weight loss. Water lubricates muscles, bones, joints, and other body parts, including the eyes, nose and mouth.

Water speeds the conveyance of blood throughout the body, and also helps the discs of the spine maintain proper cushioning between them, reducing the lower back pain that can come with dehydration. In addition to lubricating the food in our body to keep the digestive system running smoothly, water dilutes the stomach acids that can irritate the lower esophagus. It also assists the digestive system in breaking down foods to help supply the body with proper nutrients. These nutrients are then transported to the cells throughout the body in the blood, assisted with the intake of water in the body. When we exercise, our body temperature goes up and water, in the form of sweat, appears on the skin as a natural cooling system. The system works best when we are properly hydrated. Keeping proper moisture in the body has the added benefit of promoting good skin health, and helps one to maintain that “healthy glow.” Water benefits the body in ways one might not even imagine. For example, many children (and adults) suffer from headaches purely from being dehydrated. In many cases, as soon as lost water is replenished and the brain rehydrates, the headaches can disappear. The benefits of water are endless! As you can see, educating your children about its importance is imperative to maintaining all around good health.


The Benefits of Sleep are endless, but critical to the growth and development of children.

• Sleep helps to rest the body. Without sleep, our bodies cannot recharge for the next day.

• Sleep helps breathing to slow down at nighttime. This is important, because during the day your heart pumps faster, causing you to breathe harder. A good night’s sleep helps level off rapid breathing, putting your body in a more relaxed mode, allowing you to put stress or anxiety away for many hours.

• Sleep slows the heart rate. In stressful situations, the heart will beat much faster, which frequently occurs during the day. A consistently rapid heart rate can cause other problems if not controlled or reduced. A good night’s sleep will help slow down the heart, allowing it to recuperate.

• Sleep helps repair damaged cells, which help kids grow. When asleep, the body is performing repair work that it can’t complete during the time it is awake. It will regenerate damaged cells, repair tissue, and undergo an overall renewal process for all bodily functions, which prepares you for all the challenges of the coming day.

• Sleep helps the body control appetite. Research suggests that getting enough sleep keeps hormone levels that are related to appetite stable, helping you to feel satisfied and full after you eat. Conversely, sleep deprivation keeps these hormone levels lower, which may cause you to feel hungry after you complete a meal. Sleep also helps you retain more energy from the foods you have eaten which in turn will give you more energy to burn during the following day.

• Sleep helps improve cognitive skills and concentration. While sleeping, the brain is busy rejuvenating neurons so that it may continue to function well. A sleep deprived child can have problems with broken concentration and clumsiness.

• Sleep can help improve memory. Sleep is like food for your brain. Sleep helps to repair and rejuvenate your memory processes, and stimulate overall growth and development.

• Sleep fights depression. Sleep influences many of the chemicals in your body, such as serotonin, a brain chemical that gives us self-confidence and an all-around good feeling. People with low serotonin levels are prone to suffer from depressive moods.

• When your body is sleep deprived, it goes into a state of stress. This causes a rise in blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart attacks and strokes. High levels of stress can also impact your ability to fall asleep at night.

• Sleep helps us look and feel better. In many cases, children who don’t get enough sleep don’t look healthy, with dark circles under the eyes, a pale complexion, and a lack of that “healthy glow.”

• Proper sleep can help prevent illnesses. Sleep affects the human body’s ability to regulate insulin levels and to metabolize glucose effectively. Not only does insulin control blood sugar, but it also promotes fat storage, which can make weight loss more difficult. Getting the proper amounts of sleep can help prevent some mental illnesses. Sleep deprivation has been known to cause mood swings, making individuals irritable and combative. A lack of sleep has been associated with creating blood pressure and cholesterol problems, both of which are known risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Improper sleep habits have been associated with obesity. Children who stay up later have more time to become hungry and to eat.


(3)   The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, January 11, 2007


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