One in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, and families need to take action to stop it, a professor said during a lecture Monday.
Obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years for people between 2 and 19, and the trend isn’t showing any signs of slowing, said Elaine Taylor, a nursing professor at North Georgia College & State University.
“Obesity has grown from 6.5 percent for children in 1980 to 19.6 percent in 2008,” she said. “That’s still 1 of 5 children who are above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. One in 5 is not doing too good, y’all.”
Wrapping up NGCSU’s seven-week community education series, Taylor explained how childhood obesity leads to adult obesity, health problems and a shorter life expectancy. She showed several shocking news reports and public service announcements about childhood obesity and diseases.
“What’s the most disturbing part of that video? It was made in 2003,” said Taylor, who has been a pediatric nurse for 35 years and continues to see patients one day a week. “The problem was happening then, and it has only gotten worse. We still haven’t turned it around, so what are we going to do about it?”
Though genetics is partially to blame, food choices and physical activity are the big culprits. Children are more likely to sit in front of televisions or laptops for hours during the day, and parents are more likely to stop by drive-through restaurants when on the run.
“I’m a working mom and all for women’s lib, but the reality is that when women began working, they weren’t at home taking care of their children,” said Taylor, who had her own struggles as a single parent to provide healthy food options for her daughter. “I’m not saying that we should go back to that, but we need to find a balance. I saw a 12-year-old who was off the charts with obesity, and his mother said he would only eat fast food. Steam was coming out of my ears. Who’s driving him to get that food? His mother.”
Seeing a trend in obese children coming from families with overweight parents, Taylor recommends a lifestyle change for the family to include healthier meals and physical activity.
“A child assumes the eating habits of the family as early as age 2,” she said. “Childhood obesity is thought to be an accelerator for adult diseases, and the sad thing about this is that research shows losing weight doesn’t necessarily reverse trends of long-term health problems.”
Taylor encouraged parents to help children visualize what they’re putting in their bodies. She passed around a set of test tubes with measurements of fat that she shows to patients — 3 ounces of fish fills one-third of the tube, 3 ounces of chicken fills one-half of the tube and a small serving of fast food fries fills the entire tube.
“This may be the first generation to have a life expectancy shorter than their parents,” Taylor said. “A report I read said that 1 in 3 people in 2050 will have adult onset Type 2 diabetes. Our society cannot afford that, especially with the possibility of national health insurance. We’re going to make our country go broke.”
Taylor showed several advertisements and websites that encourage kids to get off the couch and play. She highlighted www.LetsMove.gov, the health initiative started by First Lady Michelle Obama.
“We have to get together as community groups, civic groups and church groups to address this. We need to empower parents and caregivers, promote healthy food in school, improve access to healthy and affordable food and increase physical activity,” she said. “There are a lot of options on this website. Our government is paying for it, so we should make use of it.”