Obesity has been called the "new American epidemic" by many doctors. It is estimated that 58 million Americans living in the United States are obese, and that eight out of ten people who are over twenty-five are overweight. (1) This condition, though, is not limited to American adults. (2) Doctors have recently found that nearly thirteen percent of all American children suffer from this problem... and that statistic seems to rise each year.
Understanding the jump in childhood obesity rates is directly linked to understanding obesity itself. The American Academy of Pediatricians defines childhood obesity as occurring in kids who have a BMI of more than 30. Other institutions, though, suggest that a child whose body weight is at least 20% higher than a child of a similar height is obese. No matter what the exact definition, obesity is, simply, excess body fat.
Obesity cannot only increase the risk of psychological problems in kids, such as eating disorders, depression, and anxiety problems, it can also put them at risk for all sorts of physiological problems including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. In fact, forty-five percent of all new cases of juvenile type-II diabetes are obesity linked.
Childhood obesity increases the risk of orthopedic problems. Because kids are forced to carry extra weight that their bone structures simply cannot handle, bowed legs and arthritis are increasingly present. Obese kids also have more skin disorders than children of a healthy weight. Obesity increases the skin area subject to folds, which, in turn, increases problems like heat rash and dermatitis. All of this can create serious problems for the child and for our health care system. In 1979, hospital costs associated with childhood obesity were $35 million. At the end of the decade, they had risen to $127 million.
Some might suggest that the rise in childhood obesity rates is due to naturally occurring medical conditions like hypothyroidism and Cushing's Syndrome. However, most doctors suggest that the occurrence of these problems in children is quite low, and the obesity epidemic is linked to more serious societal problems like low physical activity levels and poor eating habits. In any case, every child who demonstrates symptoms of obesity is advised to be carefully evaluated by a medical professional for these conditions.
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