For the first time in our country’s history, the next generation is expected to have a shorter life span than the current one. This prediction is based on the fact childhood obesity is at unprecedented levels nationwide. Tennessee has the third highest rate of pediatric obesity in the United States and ranks 44th among the 50 states in health outcomes for its adult populace. Since health habits learned during the formative years are crucial to preventing negative health outcomes later in life, early intervention among school-aged youth is necessary and essential in reducing these alarming trends.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define childhood “obesity” as those children who are in the 95th percentile of all children’s combination of weight and height measurements. Children who are defined as “overweight” include children who are in the 85th to the 95th percentile of all children measured.
Tennessee is reversing the trend of childhood obesity. Excess weight is still very common among the state’s youth, however over 8,000 fewer children were classified as overweight and obese in 2008-2009 compared to the previous year.
The prevalence of overweight and obesity among the state’s children dropped from 40.9% to 39.0%.
Overweight and obese students face immediate health problems, such as high cholesterol, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome, as well as emotional issues. Excess weight in adolescence carried into adulthood also predisposes youth for serious adult health risks such as coronary disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, some types of cancer and osteoarthritis of the weight–bearing joints. (Source: US Surgeon General, The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, 2001)
Although the “bottom line” for weight gain is consuming more calories than one expends, obesity is a chronic disease with multiple factors contributing to its prevalence. The increase in obesity among children and youth is linked to environmental and social conditions and poor nutritional habits.
* Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Take Charge of You Health: A Teenager’s Guide to Better Health (2000)