In our country, obesity is rising far too fast. The last 20 years have resulted in a massive increase in obesity levels in the United States. In 1990, no state in the US had more than 15% of its population counted amongst the obese. Today, no state in the US has less than 20% of its population weighing enough to be considered obese.
Obesity plays a major role in harming health in our country and results in lost wages as well as reduced quality of life. Obesity shortens lives and destroys opportunities.
All of these problems are much worse for obese children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
- Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
- The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.
- In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
- Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.
- Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
- Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
- Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Bloomberg's Calorie Count and Other Efforts
In NYC, Mayor Bloomberg has led the way on empowering consumers to make smart choices about their food by requiring chains of restaurants to list the calorie counts for their foods on their menus. Many of the most popular foods contain many more calories than most people assume. The listing of calorie counts allowed New Yorkers to take control of their nutritional lives, even when they were eating in a restaurant. There was a positive impact from the Mayor's calorie initiative.
Also, under Bloomberg, our city's schools improve nutrition, increased physical activity time, and swapped whole milk with 1 percent and skim milk in 2005. School nurses also were trained to identify kids with weight problems and to educate the community. These changes may have already started reversing the obesity trend.
For the first time, New York City public schools have seen a statistical decline in the rate of obesity amongst students.
A study of New York City public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade found obesity rates fell from 21.9 to 20.7 percent between the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years.
The decline in NYC was the largest decline in childhood obesity in a large US city. NYC officials estimated that the decline experienced in our state translates into 6,500 fewer obese children in our schools.
No one is sure whether the changes implemented in 2005 have allowed our schools to reverse the trend toward higher obesity rates, but the achievement is worth studying in order to find answers. With obesity rates skyrocketing in schools and amongst adults, any decline should become a cause not just for celebration but also for scrutiny and replication.
African American Children Left Behind
White children in New York City experienced a 12.5 percent drop in obesity during the 2006 to 2011 period, Asian/Pacific Islander children (a 7.6 percent drop) and Hispanic (3.4 percent) children experienced less improvement. African American children in our city's schools did experience less obesity, but their improvement was least of all of the ethnic groups and was less than one-sixth as much improvement as was achieved by white children. African American children enjoyed only a 1.9 percent drop.
In addition, lower income areas experienced the least decline in obesity rates.
Therefore, while the areas that most needed to improve obesity rates experienced the least declines, all ethnic groups and all income levels benefited from a reduction in obesity. One of the most stubborn and terrifying public health trends of the last 20 years seems to be reversing in front of our eyes in NYC. We are all responsible for helping to continue the new trend toward better health and better lives from children in our city.