Sep 10, 2015

Dr. Jones: The United States has an increasing rate of childhood obesity, so why can't we seem to improve on this problem? I'm Dr. Kyle Bradford Jones, family physician at the University of Utah. We'll talk about this next, coming up on The Scope.

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Dr. Jones: Childhood obesity has long been a significant concern in the United States. The rate of childhood obesity has increased three to four times in the last 30 years. Approximately one-third of kids are either overweight or obese.

So this impacts multiple areas of health, both short-term and long-term, for these children such as impacting their heart, their lungs, their joints, and the possibility of developing diseases such as diabetes. It impacts their mental health as well as many other things.

Now, over the last few years there has been shown to be some mild improvement in the rate of obesity among young children age two to five years, so there is some bright side coming with hope on the horizon. However, a recent evaluation shows that the United States has the fifth highest rate of childhood obesity in the world. Now, in markers like this we tend to be number one in the world. However, I think this really underscores the problem. If we are number five that means this is a really big issue across the world and it's not just us.

So why is our rate so high? There are multiple factors. We're going to touch just on three.

Number one, our culture. It's changed a lot in the last 30 years. Our kids and adolescents and us as adults participate in a lot of screen time; so television, computers, video games, phones. Many households have more screens than people. So spending so much time in front of a screen leads us to be more sedentary and leads our kids to be more sedentary and not getting the activity they need.

When you combine this with concerns about safety outdoors, as well as the availability and cost of healthy fresh food, this can be a very important thing that leads to obesity. Soda and junk food tend to be ubiquitous and extremely damaging to our health. They are all over.

Number two, and this can be a little more controversial, but advertising to children for junk food. Young children cannot tell the difference between an advertisement and a show, and small children are often unable to understand good food choices. Now, advertisers have been shown to very carefully study what are the most effective ways to target children to get them to take these products and that seems to be having a big impact on childhood obesity.

Number three, school lunches. This is something that we're getting improvements very slowly but are getting some improvements, big efforts by people such as Michelle Obama to continually improve the health of school lunches. Now, this can include many different forms such as eliminating vending machines, decreasing the amount of fatty food, increasing options that are healthy. But this is a big contributor to the problem of childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity continues to rise in the United States, making us one of the worst in the world in this marker. Our culture, certain advertising methods, and food exposures at school among many other factors all contribute to the problem. So let's hope we can make some changes as a society to improve the health of our children.

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