August 27, 2019
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By: Alden Bergeron, RDN, LD/N; Nutrition Manager at Poverello

In the United States, food advertising and marketing industries have tactfully been focusing their aim to attract children and adolescent consumers. Food marketing techniques that are commonly used to reach children and adolescents include strategic television advertisement, the Internet, in school marketing, in-store product placement, and product brand logos. Marketing aimed specifically toward youth directly affects their food choices,food preferences, and eating habits leading into adulthood.Unfortunately, most foods marketed toward youth are predominantly high in calories, refined sugars, sodium, and/or saturated fats. As a result, childhood obesity within the United States has been increasingly climbing at an alarming rate. Childhood obesity can lead to many potential adverse health risks such as adult obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and premature death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the prevalence of childhood obesity has more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5 (5.0% to 12.4%) and ages 6 to 11 (6.5% to 17.0%); in teens ages 12 to 19, prevalence rates have tripled (5.0% to 17.6%). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines obesity as having excess body weight which is determined using body mass index (BMI); BMI measures height to weight ratio to assess weight status. The CDC suggest that health care professionals apply BMI percentile rates to measure young people ages 2 to 20 years; additionally, health care professionals use growth charts to determine BMI percentile rates for young people.The CDC defines children and adolescents to be overweight if BMI is equal or greater than the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile in relation to growth charts; CDC also defines obesity in children and adolescents as BMI equal or greater than 95th percentile in relation to growth chart.

The childhood obesity epidemic can be attributed to the saturated marketing techniques aimed toward youth and increasingly sedentary lifestyles of today’s youth.Obesity rates in children coincide with increased hours of screen-time spent on devices such as computers,tablets,video games, and watching television.Research has found that children exposed to more than three
hours of television each day are 50% more likely to become overweight or obese.Children’s programs on television are dominated by approximately 50% unhealthy food advertisements such as candy, snacks, cereals,fruit juice, and fast food products.Prevention efforts must be implemented to combat excessive weight gain as children and adolescents grow into adulthood.Adolescents that have low physical fitness and/or obesity are more susceptible to developing chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes later in life.A recent study examined the correlation between cardio respiratory fitness and weight of adolescent males ages 16 to 19 years;the study concluded that low cardio respiratory fitness was strongly associated with subsequent disabilities, with the greatest risks observed in obese individuals.

Establishing healthy eating habits at an early age is critical to the prevention of childhood obesity. Children will often mimic the eating habits of their parents; therefore, it is essential for parents to illustrate the importance of consuming healthy foods versus processed foods. Approaching foods consumed with a therapeutic mindset could prevent potential adverse health outcomes later in life. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates famously stated, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Individuals have the choice to consume foods that will either prevent chronic  diseases or consume foods that will lead to various chronic disease states. Implementing therapeutic lifestyle changes at an early age will ensure that children and adolescents grow to become healthy adults. In addition to establishing healthy eating habits, it is also important to engage in routine physical activity to combat unintentional weight gain. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that children and adolescents maintain a healthy calorie/energy balance to prevent risk of excessive weight gain[3]. Parents should set limitations on their children’s screen-time and encourage 60 minutes of daily physical activity to combat undesirable weight gain. Families can engage in fun physical activities together such as biking, hiking, swimming, yoga, or playing sports at your local park. Establishing routine daily physical activity decreases your child’s chances of becoming overweight or obese. Remember, eat right and play hard!

The Poverello Center, Inc. provides nutritious food, services and basic living essentials with the highest degree of understanding, respect and love for individuals living with critical and chronic illnesses Including HIV, in South Florida.

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Childhood Obesity

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