The imperative to prevent and treat childhood obesity: why the world cannot afford to wait
Messiah SE, Lipshultz SE, Natale RA, Miller TL
In the past 20 years, the prevalence of obesity in the United States increased almost 50% among adults and by 300% in children. Today, 9.7% of all U.S. infants up to 2 years old have abnormally high weight-for-recumbent length; 25% of children under age 5 are either overweight or obese; and 17% of adolescents are obese. Ethnic disparities in the rates of obesity are also large and apparent in childhood. Further, 44% of obese adolescents have metabolic syndrome. Obese children tend to become obese adults; thus, in a decade, young adults will likely have much higher risks of chronic disease, which has tremendous implications for the healthcare system. However, early childhood may be the best time to prevent obesity. Teachers' healthy eating choices are positively associated with changes in body mass index percentiles for children, for example. In addition, 8 million children attend afterschool programs, which can successfully promote health and wellness and successfully treat obesity. This childhood epidemic of obesity and its health-related consequences in adolescents should be a clinical and public health priority. However, this major public health problem cannot be managed solely in clinical settings. Rather, public health strategies must be integrated into home and family, school and community-based settings.
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