I’ve been writing a series of articles on obesity and I want to continue by discussing a topic that is alarming: obesity in children.
I’ve talked about obesity around the world and in the U.S., and how statistics show that the obesity trends continue to increase.
It’s bad enough to see the rates increase among adults; it’s even worse to see them increase among children.
This does not bode well in many ways. It increases the health risks for these children now, and/or when they become adults. And it increases the health care costs of society in general.
In the U.S., nearly one in three children and teens are overweight or obese. In Mississippi, which is the nation’s most obese state, 44% of children and teens are overweight or obese.
And one in four obese children in the United States has early signs of type II diabetes, which is the type of diabetes seen only in adults until recently. In fact, almost half of the children and adolescents now diagnosed with diabetes have the type II form of the disease, which is strongly linked to obesity and lack of exercise.
Things aren’t better in other countries, as I pointed out in the article on Obesity: A Problem for the Whole Wide World.
Even more specifically, let’s look at childhood obesity in Asia – Asians are catching up with the U.S. and Western world in their obesity statistics.
Where malaria, typhoid and malnutrition once were the major killers in Asia, millions of people are falling prey to “Western” diseases – diabetes, heart disease and strokes, all associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
This dramatic, almost abrupt change in lifestyle follows centuries in which the vast majority of Asians survived on a diet of less than 2,000 calories a day derived from food grown from the soil – particularly rice.
“The number of calories consumed by Asians, historically speaking, haven’t been that high,” says Dr. Robert Keith, a professor of nutrition at Auburn University in Alabama. “Food was sparse with very little saturated fat and was derived mostly from grains, rice and vegetables.”
By modern standards, it was a bleak lifestyle, far removed from the opulent lifestyles now commonplace in burgeoning cities throughout Japan, China, Thailand and Malaysia.
Until recently, obesity and its related problems were associated almost entirely with the West, where food was cheap, fast and fatty and physical inactivity was the norm rather than the exception.
But Asians are catching up fast. As health professionals are learning, the rising tide of affluence that has followed industrialization and urbanization throughout much of Asia has been accompanied by the same problems associated with the West – skyrocketing rates of obesity coupled with plummeting levels of physical activity.
“Like the West decades ago, Asians have prospered by producing more consumer goods and attracting tourist dollars,” Keith says. “And as a result, they now have more disposable income, and their lifestyle allows them to purchase more convenient food.”
But opulence comes with a price. More often than not, this food, while cheap, convenient and plentiful, also is loaded in saturated fat and, in most cases, sugar. As a result, in only one generation, many Asians have gone from consuming between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day to between 2,000 and 3,000 calories. And many of these calories increasingly are being derived from milk, ice cream, cookies and soft drinks.
What this has meant is that there is rising rates of obesity not only among adults but amongst Asian children and teens. Like millions of Western children, they’re developing something health experts seldom ever saw a few decades ago – adult onset diabetes.
The World Health Organization reports that obesity among Thai children, ages 5 to 12, has risen to nearly 16 percent – a 4 percent increase from only a couple of years ago.
In Japan, where the problem isn’t as serious, obesity has risen from just under 3 percent to almost 10 percent among boys and from almost 3.5 to 8 percent among girls.
One of the factors for this increase in Asia is the wide availability of televisions, personal computers and video games. Like their counterparts in the United States, millions of Asian children are spending an increasing amount of time either watching television or playing computer games – and in the meantime, snacking on the wide array of readily available Western-style snacks.
Another factor associated with affluence, described by Asians as “malling,” also appears to be taking its toll. Like millions of their counterparts in the West, Asian children and teens are spending an increasing amount of their leisure time in malls, shopping and munching on fast food.
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