Experts tell us that there is a global obesity epidemic and, troublingly, our children are also at risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that obesity is one of the world's most neglected public health problems, and it affects both adults and children alike, in both developed and developing countries. In 2014, the WHO's records showed that more than 1.9 billion adults 18 and older were overweight. Of these, over 600 million were obese, and approximately 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2014.
As for Canada, self-reported estimates show just over half of Canadians are either overweight or obese. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 13% of Canadian children and adolescents (age 3 to 19) are obese, a proportion that has almost tripled since the late 70s.
Why do childhood obesity rates cause alarm in the medical community? One of the major concerns is that obese children may grow into obese adults who will then arrive at an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and other chronic conditions. Officials believe that with such a large segment of the population facing increased risks of developing these conditions, the threat to public health is becoming serious.
At the individual level, the consequences of these diseases include a possible decrease in overall quality of life due to the development of a chronic health condition, and even premature death. At a societal level, this epidemic will have financial costs as well as social implications, as families will have to deal with increasing health care challenges for themselves and their family members.
So how can we counter these increasing obesity rates? The answer appears to be two-fold. It involves the food we eat and the amount of energy we spend.
First of all, we need to modify our diets and reduce our intake of high-energy, high-fat foods. In North America, these types of foods are common, and they arrive in large portion sizes. Adults and children should consume diets that follow Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide. Keep in mind that the energy we take in through our food should not exceed the energy we spend on physical activity.
And that leads us to the second part of countering the prevalence of obesity. Increasingly, our society as a whole is becoming less active and more sedentary. Children report spending hours per day in front of the television or playing video games or other low-energy activities. More physical activity is needed! Experts have stated that children require 60 minutes a day and adults require 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week – and appeals have been made to school boards to work this into the curriculum for students from kindergarten up to grade 12.
Why not take control of your diet and your amount of physical activity? Set the standard for your family and encourage them to follow. Children in particular need to learn healthy habits early on – it's an important step to help combat the epidemic of obesity.
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