Obesity remains a substantial issue for many American children, despite a growing national movement towards improving food education and more people learning how to decode their food labels.
A new study published in the journal Pediatrics used nutritional data from 3,000 children collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study compared body mass indexes collected in 2013 and 2014 to more recent data collected in 2015 and 2016.
Researchers found that obese children between the ages of 2 and 19 make up a whopping 18.5 percent of our nation's youth—which is worrisome, given that it was just 14 percent in 1999.
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Children between the ages of 2 and 5 were shown to have the sharpest increase among all others. Within the age group, reports of obesity increased from nearly 9 percent to 14 percent. The issue is particularly rampant for African American and Hispanic children—researchers found that half of all Hispanic children are either overweight or obese.
"That's the highest level of obesity that we've seen in 2 to 5 year olds since 1999," says Asheley Skinner, an associate professor of population health services at Duke University and one of the study leads. She told NPR that this discovery wipes out any other previously reported improvement on the topic of childhood obesity.
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It’s also noteworthy that researchers found no difference in the overall obesity rate between the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 surveys. The lack of improvement is disheartening for many, especially considering recent policy changes tackling issues related to childhood obesity.
The subject of childhood obesity rose to national prominence largely due to former First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign. Even a few researchers at the CDC reported that the epidemic had slowed at the time, leaving people wondering if the future was bright for kids and teens alike.
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This study may be disheartening, but there are a few quick steps you can take to start teaching your children some healthy habits at home:
- Own lunchtime: If you already know that the lunch program at your child's school isn't in tip-top shape, there are many ways to pack healthy lunches (or order them!)
- Shop smart: Remember that groceries you bring into the home will definitely get eaten at some point. What are you serving at snack time? Are you cooking meals that are convenient, but still healthy? When you enter the checkout line, think about what will end up in your kid's hands.
- Dine smart: When you eat outside of your own home, there are better meal choices for kids—even at chains and fast food restaurants.
- Get them involved: Inviting children into the kitchen is one of the best ways to naturally teach them about nutrition and healthy choices.
- Get moving: It may seem obvious, but it can be hard to achieve with a busy schedule. Being active doesn’t have to be conventional—especially in the technology age (where movement and exercise can actually be fun!)