Childhood obesity in the United States is at an epidemic level. Two of the keys to attacking the obesity epidemic is to positively influence the diets of children and to increase their physical activities. Everyone, including parents, educators, health care professionals, governmental officials, child care providers, community members, and children themselves must contribute to the efforts to reduce childhood obesity.
One of the top contributors to childhood obesity is the availability and consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks such as “regular” soda and fruit-flavored drinks (sports drinks are becoming an increasingly consumed source of added sugar). The consumption of sugar drinks is the largest contributor of added sugar and an important contributor of calories to the diets of children, with adolescent males consuming an average of about 300 calories from sugar drinks each day. Sugar drinks have little, if any, nutritional benefits but nonetheless are associated with obesity. The results from a survey conducted in 2009 indicated that 29.2% of high school students in the United States consumed one or more sodas per day (the highest rate was in Tennessee (41.3%) and the lowest rate was in Utah (14.5%)).
One positive way to influence childhood obesity is by eating meals together as a family, which has been shown to promote healthy eating behaviors and the maintenance of a healthy weight. Foods that are prepared and consumed at home may also offer better nutritional benefits than those provided at many restaurants. The 2009 survey found that 30.7 of students ages 12 to 17 in the United States did not have family meals most days of the week (the highest percentage was in Alabama (39.0%) and the lowest percentage was in Utah (22.3%)).
Because children spend so much of their time at school or in daycare, it is important that schools and daycare facilities limit the availability of sugar drinks and offer greater access to drinking water. Schools must also adjust their food offerings from high energy density foods (foods that are high in calories for their volume) such as candy, cake, cookies, fried snacks, and ice cream, to foods with lower energy density and higher nutritional value such as fruits, vegetables in their natural form, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and whole grain products. Schools must also insure that any food advertising on their premises (such as logos and brand names, fundraiser food items) is geared towards healthy choices inasmuch as such advertising may affect the food choices that are made.
It is recommended that television sets not be placed in children’s bedrooms because such placement has been shown to contribute to increased viewing time (and the resulting added exposure to advertising of unhealthy food items) and to the increased prevalence of obesity. The 2009 survey found that 32.8 percent of high school students in the United States watched three or more hours of TV per day (the highest rate was in Mississippi (44.9%) and the lowest rate was in Utah (16.3%)). The same survey found that 50.2% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 had a TV in their bedroom (the highest percentage was in Louisiana (70.6%) and the lowest percentage was in, you guessed it, Utah (24.4%)).
It is time that we address the serious behavioral risks that our children are exposed to in the United States that we have the ability (if not the moral obligation) to manage and reduce, and that we actively and aggressively address such risky behaviors in a positive way so that our children enjoy at least the same if not a better quality of life in the United States as we have enjoyed.
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