In North Carolina, pediatric obesity has been on the rise in children ages 2 to 18 since 2012. Nationally, childhood obesity has been on the rise since the 1980s. Recent data confirms this trend: childhood obesity continues to rise in the United States. In NC, rates are on the higher end.


Facing the facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity now affects 1 in 6 children and adolescents in the United States, while NC Health News reports, “Newer research shows excess weight on their growing frames is causing musculoskeletal problems.’”

The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, an annual report sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, breaks it down for North Carolina youth, our state’s childhood obesity rates clocking in higher than the national average:

  • 15 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds are obese
  • 30.9 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds are obese
  • 16.4 percent of high school kids are obese

NC Health News points out that other findings even paint a worsening picture. Earlier this year, we learned that North Carolina has the 16th highest adult obesity rate in the nation. The Obesity Society, based out of Maryland, says that children of obese parents are more likely to be overweight themselves, particularly if the family environment promotes excess eating and insufficient activity: “There is an inherited component to childhood overweight that makes it easier for some children to become overweight than others."

‘Even children with genetic risk...will still only become overweight if they consume more calories than they use.'

The rates are climbing—but why?

There’s no grand checklist to pin down the exact number of reasons obesity has increased in children. But observing a few clear trends can reveal a bit more about the eye-opening statistics.

Increased focus on school test scores (and a cut in physical education/recess) could be at play in the climbing rates. NC Health News reports: “‘It’s been 25 years since our nation decided we need to spend more time on the ABCs and we took physical activity out and music out,’ said Leandris Liburd, associate director of the CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. ‘We thought we needed more time on the basics. What that did in a lot of ways was contribute to obesity.’”

“Obesity fatigue" is another potential target; people get tired of hearing about the same problem over and over. NC Health News reports: “Unfortunately...people have developed...‘obesity fatigue’ around the topic.” While this certainly doesn’t cause obesity, it’s a trend with a great impact on legislation around the issue.

‘No one really wants to hear about it anymore,’ Lazorick said. ‘But it should be the opposite.’

Other contributing factors as noted by NC Health News may include an increase in two-family households, more access to convenience foods and the technology boom, all trends that started in the 1980s and grew tremendously to today.

What are the implications?

There are some tough implications for kids facing childhood obesity. These trends help us look at the bigger picture.

Bone and joint development issues, especially in knees. “Take that extra weight and apply it to a young, developing person and other issues arise….Extra weight on a growing frame can cause [these] issues,” NC Health News reports.

Bullying, low self-esteem and fatigue. Obesity in childhood can have a significant impact on both the child’s physical and psychological health—and can profoundly affect their physical health, social health, emotional well-being and self-esteem. A study posted through the US National Library of Medicine explains that “[Childhood obesity] is also associated with poor academic performance and a lower quality of life experienced by the child.” The Mayo Clinic reports that social and emotional complications, such as depression, can even arise.

Increased healthcare costs; healthcare complications. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion U.S. dollars in 2008, according to the CDC; some research says the cost is now over $150 billion annually. In addition, “Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death,” the CDC explains.

Looking to improve

The foundation behind State of Obesity looks to certain cities, counties and states that have seen their childhood obesity rates go down, identifying success stories to map out a path forward. From the stories, we learn of a wide range of strategies used in these places (making healthy foods more available, encouraging physical activity in schools and communities)—which can be used as motivation for kids and families to make healthier choices. North Carolina’s own Granville and Vance counties were even featured in a 2013 “Signs of Progress” case study.

In addition, campaigns such as Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” and the MATCH (Motivating Adolescents with Technology to CHOOSE Health) program help raise awareness about healthy eating and the benefits of physical activity. Currently, the MATCH program operates in 49 North Carolina middle schools and is showing positive results.

'A kid cannot change how often they eat out or where mom shops, but there are a few things they can control.'

One key to working with children, especially older kids, is targeting what snacks they eat (offering healthier snacks such as apples instead of chips), what drinks they consume (substituting sugary drinks for water) and what they do with their free time (pushing for more active playtime and less screen time). These are three crucial factors we have control over and can better push for in schools and within our own families.

Are you involved in any local, North Carolina–specific obesity prevention groups? Do you have a story you’d like to share? Let us know, and read more on the coverage at NC Health News.

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