National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month: What Progress Has Been Made?
by Lisa DiFalco
As many are aware, obesity is an epidemic in the United States and even abroad. What is even more startling is the effect that the American Western diet has had on the waistlines and self-esteem of youth. Those who are overweight or obese as children are likely to develop into overweight adults and are at higher risk of developing weight-related health conditions. As September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, welcome news is out that shows that the rate of childhood obesity is beginning to slow in specific communities. Researchers and health professionals are coming together with the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) to show their support and find new ways to accelerate progress in the reduction of childhood obesity. Health care providers, case workers, behavior analysts, patients and their families can benefit from integrated efforts of experts across fields of study and new resources now available. Understand the childhood obesity issue and new advances in the fight.
Problems Associated With Childhood Obesity
In addition to carrying around excessive weight, being overweight or obese as a child can lead to a number of health problems. Research has shown links between obesity in children and teenagers and health problems including:
- Sleep apnea- a sleep disorder whereby sleeping children repeatedly stop and start breathing as they sleep;
- Asthma- there is a greater potential for overweight and obese children to also have this condition;
- Type 2 diabetes- a chronic condition affecting how sugar or glucose is consumed in the body. A sedentary lifestyle and obesity are significant risk factors;
- Heart disease- the buildup of plaque and narrowing of arteries can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack; and
- Social discrimination- children may develop low self-esteem and feelings of depression from teasing or bullying from their peers.
According to Let’s Move, children and teenagers that are obese have risk factors including:
- Abnormal glucose tolerance;
- High cholesterol levels; and
- High blood pressure.
These risk factors all raise the risk for a child to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD). In addition, children that are obese are more likely than their slimmer counterparts to become an obese adult. In a sample size group of overweight children and teens from 5 to 17 years of age, nearly 60 percent had a minimum of one CVD risk factor. Approximately 25 percent of the children deemed overweight showed two or more such risk factors. This is a concern for overweight children and their families as it relates to a child’s long-term health.
Overweight and obese children can also have difficulty in the classroom. According to the Mayo Clinic, overweight children can experience more anxiety and less adept social skills than slimmer peers. These problems can cause overweight children to either:
- Act out in the classroom; or
- Socially withdraw.
Social and emotional health of young children and teenagers may be affected by becoming overweight or obese. Such children often become the focal point of classroom teasing and bullying. This can interfere in the development of positive relationships with their peers and hinder their focus in the classroom environment.
A Positive Trend Emerges
New research is beginning to show a potential decline in the rate of childhood obesity in some communities. As childhood obesity is a significant issue, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came together to create the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR). The mission of NCCOR is to:
“Improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and application of childhood obesity research through enhanced coordination and collaboration.”
The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity (NCCOR) urges health care professionals and partners to help show their support and add their efforts to the positive momentum against this current issue affecting our vulnerable youth. Learn more about the ways NCCOR is making strides against childhood obesity.
NCCOR gathers experts from many perspectives to examine the issue. NCCOR was instrumental in bringing together a diverse group of experts in a March workshop to explore innovation across disciplines, as applied to behavioral design, in order to foster healthy eating and active living. In addition, others lent their expertise on youth energy expenditure to collect new data in regards to youth MET values. The efforts of these experts and NCCOR resulted in a supplement to the Journal of Physical Activity and Health that highlighted findings from 17 papers. Readers gained valuable insights on the types of physical activities children and youth participate in.
NCCOR explores emerging issues. NCCOR has investigated a number of topics significant to obesity researchers, families, and the health care community. One of the most interesting was the “drivers of childhood obesity declines.” NCCOR presented sessions on potential U.S. and international strategies to decrease childhood obesity through Connect & Explore at the Society for Behavioral Medicine this past March.
NCCOR is making it easy to find out more about childhood obesity for researchers. Research tools and resources, maintained by NCCOR, offer researchers the ability to review and compare various surveillance systems and measures as they relate to childhood obesity research. In addition to the Youth Energy Expenditure tool set to launch in 2017, NCCOR provides the following free, online resources:
- Registry of Studies;
- Measures Registry; and
- The Catalogue of Surveillance Systems.
NCCOR enables researchers from diverse disciplines to gather data on the latest findings on childhood obesity and continue their efforts to provide free and useful tools for exploration.
Health care professionals and behavioral analysts are only some of the people that can benefit from the efforts of NCCOR and their partners. Findings can significantly impact our understanding of the factors directly related to childhood obesity and improve our approach to combating childhood obesity in local communities and for those we serve.