Almost 15 percent of all American kids are overweight, according to USA Today, and the numbers are rising. Childhood dangers keep kids indoors more often, usually in front of the TV or computer. More work hours for parents translate into more convenience foods, which are often higher in fat, sugar and calories, as well as quick fast-food meals.
Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel, has conducted studies which give insights into why kids are more overweight and less active than ever. Kids eat 150 to 200 more calories a day now than kids did 10 or 15 years ago, according to Popkin’s research. Because of frequent snacking, kids consume one-third to one-half of a meal more a day than they did a decade ago, he says. Popkin believes this is because of the "omnipresent" ads aimed at children.
Obese or overweight children are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and all the consequences of diabetes like kidney failure, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, elevated risk of arthritis and shortened life span.
And while more kids than ever are overweight to obese, there is still a stigma attached to overweight, which subjects kids to teasing, being excluded from activities and bullying, resulting in depression and consequently increased weight gain.
Experts also cite the increase in sedentary behavior of children. Hours spent in front of the television increase a child's risk of becoming obese, according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, because of lack of physical movement, more mindless eating and increased exposure to junk food advertising.
"The answer lies first of all in public education," says one expert. "We need to mobilize communities and/or churches to generate safe after-school activities that involve exercise and to encourage schools to reinstitute physical education as a requirement."
Regardless of factors outside the home, parents still have a responsibility to model healthy behaviors, stock healthful, balanced food in the house and to be positive examples of physical health.
Associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York Keith Ayoob says that parents have more control and influence than they think. "I never see kids who have better diets than their parents."