Children in America are facing an unprecedented epidemic. Childhood obesity is sweeping our nation in staggering numbers. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the number of obese children in America has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years.
In the 1970s, the childhood obesity rate was around four percent. In 2015, it has reached 18-19 percent. When you consider children who are either overweight or obese, that number climbs to 33 percent. Because of these rising rates, we are also seeing more cases of adult onset diabetes in children who are overweight or obese.
“When I was in medical school in the 1950s, I never saw a child under 10 with adult onset diabetes. Now, it’s rampant,” says Kenneth Cooper, M.D., M.P.H, founder and chairman of Cooper Aerobics. “It’s estimated that one in three children will develop diabetes before they are 50.”
Diabetes is “just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Cooper. In addition to diabetes, children who are overweight or obese are also at a higher risk for developing cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. “There is a long list of diagnoses related to obesity,” notes Dr. Cooper.
Why has childhood obesity become so prevalent in the US?
According to Dr. Cooper, there are four primary factors contributing to this epidemic:
1. Lack of P.E. programs in schools. In an effort to raise academic scores, physical education was all but wiped out of our education system. But Dr. Cooper says the schools have it backwards. Based on research by Dr. Cooper and Cooper Clinic, we know that physical fitness directly correlates to academic achievement and behavior.
2. Lack of physical activity at home. There was a time when children walked or rode their bicycles to and from school. That day is one of the distant past, largely due to safety concerns. This is just one example of how children’s physical activity levels have declined in recent decades.
3. Too much screen time. The average child spends 30 to 40 hours a week in front of a screen. That’s 30 or 40 hours that children are not getting their heart rates up, burning calories and improving aerobic health.
4. The fast food generation. According to Dr. Cooper, 49 million Americans will eat at a fast food restaurant today. There is no question that the majority of food served by fast food chains contains high amounts of calories, sugar and fat, as well as few essential nutrients. Sugary drinks, including sodas, also contribute to high rates of obesity in children.
What can we do about childhood obesity?
In order to combat the problem, we must tackle the individual factors that are eating away at our children’s health. Dr. Cooper recommends the 8-5-3-2-1-0 concept to help our children become healthier and avoid the risks associated with being overweight or obese. Every day kids should get:
8 hours of sleep
5 servings of fruits and veggies
3 servings of low-fat dairy products
No more than 2 hours of screen time
1 hour of exercise per day
0 sugary drinks, highly sweetened foods or sugar in general.
“If we would follow these rules, we would see a dramatic change overnight,” says Dr. Cooper.
How is Cooper Aerobics combating childhood obesity?
Over the last decade, Dr. Cooper has worked closely with Texas state legislatures to introduce a new fitness test in schools. The FITNESSGRAM® tool, created by The Cooper Institute, assesses children in five areas: body composition, aerobic capacity, muscular strength, endurance and flexibility. These assessments determine whether students are in a “healthy fitness zone” for their age and gender.
A study of more than 2.4 million Texas students found that students who are physically fit are more likely to do well on the state’s standardized tests and have good school attendance. Physically fit students are also less likely to have disciplinary problems.
“The impact exercise has on the growing brain is unparalleled,” says Dr. Cooper. “Increased exercise improves cardiovascular health, and that helps the brain function more efficiently and enhances its ability to learn.”
What can you do to help end childhood obesity?
Dr. Cooper calls on educators, parents, and legislators to support fitness testing in our schools. He also encourages adults to “set the example of health and physical fitness yourself.” Childhood obesity is an epidemic to be sure, but 67 percent of adults in the U.S. are also overweight or obese. If children don’t learn habits of health from their parents, teachers, coaches and mentors, how will they learn?
For more information about Dr. Cooper’s efforts to reduce the rates of childhood obesity in the United States, visit The Cooper Institute online.
Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.