Mrs. Obama has touched a national nerve with her campaign. There is broad general agreement that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in America; Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston calls it a “tsunami” of childhood obesity.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the rates for childhood obesity have tripled during the past three decades. Because of obesity-related health issues — such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes — researchers conclude that life expectancy over the coming decades could decline by two to five years. Among health professionals, there is genuine concern that the social, economic, and human behaviors that have contributed to the childhood obesity epidemic threaten long-term “medical, psychosocial and financial consequences” beyond America’s capacity to respond.
Overweight kids have become an all-too-common reality. Numerous sources estimate that approximately 40 percent of American children are either overweight or obese; the obesity rate for young children (ages two to five) and youth (ages twelve to nineteen) tripled, and for older children (ages six to eleven), the obesity rate quadrupled. That’s about 110 million children now classified as overweight or obese.
At the root of childhood obesity are two connected problems: At the same time that children are consuming more “empty” calories, they are also getting less exercise. Many factors have combined to foster a more sedentary lifestyle, even for children. In many communities, children are not allowed to walk or ride bicycles to school. Many schools have eliminated recess and physical education from the school day. At home, the children are watching more television and playing video games for longer and longer amounts of time during the day.
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