As we enter the new year, the alarming rise in obesity rates among children is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention and concerted efforts to reverse the trend. Two recent studies found an increase in childhood obesity. However, as usual, there’s a plethora of things we can do to curb it, starting with the parents.
Study finds an increase in childhood obesity in the U.S.
A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics and reported on TIME.com reveals an increase in severe obesity among young U.S. children, challenging earlier hopes that rates were decreasing. The research focused on children aged 2 to 4 enrolled in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, a government initiative for low-income families.
The study found that after a decline from 2010 to 2016, the severe obesity rate rebounded to 2% by 2020, affecting about 33,000 children in the WIC program. Significant increases were observed in 20 states, with California having the highest rate at 2.8%, particularly impacting Hispanic children.
The reasons behind the increase remain unclear, with experts speculating that changes in daily hardships for families in poverty might be a factor. Policy changes in 2009 were initially credited with the decline in obesity rates within the WIC program, but the study suggests that these measures may no longer be sufficient.
The research has limitations, including a decline in the number of children in the WIC program over the past decade and incomplete information due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Despite these challenges, experts consider the study well done and indicative of ongoing concerns about childhood obesity, especially during the pandemic.
… And not just in the U.S.
“Health of England’s children at risk from policy inaction on obesity, report finds,” reports The Guardian in its December 2023 article. The gist of it is: A government-commissioned report in England warns that children face risks of diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues due to delaying anti-obesity policies until 2025.
The report highlights the normalization of ultra-processed foods (UPF) and high-fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) products in children’s diets, particularly among low-income families. Measures such as the evening junk food advertising watershed and bans on online ads and unhealthy buy-one-get-one-free deals have been postponed. The study reveals a rebound in severe obesity rates in children aged 2 to 4, emphasizing the detrimental impact on health, including the increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
The research, conducted by the City, University of London, underscores the challenges faced by low-income families in accessing healthier options, as UPF and HFSS foods become economically preferable. Wealthier families have more resources to stock healthier snacks, avoiding unhealthy retail environments. (Nothing new here.)
The report urges expanding access to Healthy Start vouchers, ensuring a living wage covering a healthy diet’s cost, and regulating misleading front-of-pack health claims. The recommendations align with the 2020 U.K. national food strategy, and the report emphasizes the need for immediate government action to mitigate the appeal and prevalence of UPF and HFSS while improving access to healthier snacks.
What parents can do to tackle childhood obesity in 2024
Hmmm, pretty much the same things they were doing in earlier years. Dr. Andrew Swiderski, a pediatrician at Open Door Family Medical Center in Ossining, quoted in a December 2023 article on Patch.com, says that setting small goals can help parents chip away at childhood obesity going forward into 2024. He elaborates:
I think many New Year’s Resolutions are too ambitious, so people often don’t fulfill their goals… I would say a family goal: some small improvement in their eating habits, maybe a bit more physical activity as a family, more family time with meals together, etc., something that all can be held accountable to and less likely to be forgotten or ignored!
Dr. Swiderski attributes the increase in childhood obesity cases, in part, to the challenges posed by the pandemic, including limited exercise opportunities and constant access to food at home. In his approach, Dr. Swiderski conducts lab tests, discusses dietary habits and lifestyle, and collaborates with patients and their families on a personalized plan. He encourages realistic changes, such as reducing sweet drinks and increasing physical activity. Dr. Swiderski also highlights the importance of sleep and suggests avoiding screen time before bedtime.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry summarized ways to manage obesity in children and adolescents in its October 2023 article, in an easy-to-comprehend list targeted at parents and other family members:
Ask for professional help
Meet with a nutritionist to help adjust eating habits
Focus on healthy habits as a family unit
Give lots of positive encouragement and choose positive words to reduce the risk of shame
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep
Plan meals and make different selections
Find out what your child eats at school
Ask for help selecting a variety of foods if money is tight
Increase physical activity (especially active playtime for children or sports)
Do not use food as a reward
Attend a support group (e.g., Overeaters Anonymous)
Childhood obesity is a complex issue that requires a collaborative and multi-faceted approach from the ground up (parents). And small changes can be mighty. Let’s start 2024 right.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Severe Obesity Is Increasing in Young U.S. Children,” TIME.com, 12/18/23
Source: “Health of England’s children at risk from policy inaction on obesity, report finds,” The Guardian.com, 12/25/23
Source: “Small Goals To Help Tackle Child Obesity In 2024,” Patch.com, 12/27/23
Source: “Obesity in Children and Teens,” AACAP.org, October 2023
Image by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash