“Childhood obesity”; once not a topic of discussion now a global epidemic. Childhood obesity has become a global epidemic as increased trends obese and overweight children are apparent in developed and developing countries. Global data from 2005 estimated that over 20 million children under the age of five were found to be overweight (Koulouglioti et. al). It is defined by the World Health Organization as having a BMI of 30 or greater (Wellesley institute). Causes of childhood obesity may be due to genetics, environmental factors, dietary habits, behavioral factors, sleep deprivation etc. (koulouglioti). From the 1970’s, rising trends have been noticed and available estimates for the period of 1980’s and 1990’s show a two to five times greater rise in overweight and obese children (Flynn et. al). This trend was up to four times higher in developing countries. Obesity in general leads to decreased overall health and wellbeing. Obese and overweight children are more likely to be affected by high blood pressure and cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, stress and asthma, which are associated with cardiovascular diseases (Koulouglioti). These health outcomes follow the individual into adulthood and many are more likely to be obese adults, which causes further complications. It is estimate that life expectancy of obese children will be decreased by three to four years compared to healthy children (Wellesley). Additionally, it not only affects individuals but communities as well and as a result, increases demand on the health care system.
Not all children are equally affected by obesity and poor health. It is a serious problem for low income families, ethnic minorities, and children living in single parent homes. In the US, children living in low income families are 1.7 times higher at risk of being obese. Children who live in families that do not have adequate resources are more likely to be overweight than families that are better off (Koulouglioti). Contributors to poor health includes not only poverty, but unsafe housing, poor access to good food, stigma and social exclusion from society, and other social determinantsOf health being below par. In Canada, in2004, 26 percent of Canadian children between the age of 2-17 were found to be overweight or obese. Over the past 25 years, the rate of overweight youths aged 12-17 has doubled, while the obesity rate has tripled (Wellesley). Gender differences also exist as adolescent boys are more likely to be obese or overweight than girls (34 to 23 percent respectively) (Wellesley).
Being overweight as a child and adolescent has many social implications. Overweight and obese children are more likely to be stigmatized for their weight, fell excluded by loss of friends, physically abused, name calling, have low self-esteem etc. Boys are more likely to be bullied than girls and obese adolescents are more likely to perpetuate bullying (Wellesley). Obese children are more likely to engage in smoking and drinking alcohol than non-obese children. (Wellesley).
The rise in childhood obesity over past years is due to many reasons other than genetics. First, over the past twenty years, children have been getting between 30 to 60 minutes less sleep. Sleep deprivation or inadequate hours of sleep in children has been associated with higher weight. Children who are sleep deprived are at a 3.5 times higher risk of becoming overweight. A reason for the rise in sleep deprivation is that children living poverty are less likely to have bedtime routines set by parents. In the US, only 58% of parents reported holding the same bedtime and mealtime routines for their children every day. This percentage was found to be lower for single mothers. The majority of low income families are single mothers, and they have been found to struggle the most with these routines. The reported having less flexibility, less resources to help balance home and work demands and less autonomy. As a result, there is a variation on sleep times among these children and there is no enforcement of bedtimes.