Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the United States in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The share of children aged 6 to 11 years who were obese ballooned from 7% in 1980 to 20% in 2008, while the portion of obese 12- to-19-year-olds went from 5% to 18% in the same period.
Obese youths are more likely to suffer from a lengthy menu of ailments, including high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, and self-esteem issues. Over the long-term, obesity can lead to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and a long list of other illnesses.
Society as a whole suffers as well, due to the increased costs of treating obesity-related disease.
There have been many causes cited for rising obesity rates and other worrisome trends related to poor nutrition among our youths. They include more sedentary lifestyles, clever marketing of fat-laden fast food, sugary sodas and prepackaged snacks, and the weakening of traditions such as family dinners.
In our grab-it-and-go culture, many of us have lost the connection to fresh, wholesome, unprocessed food, while succumbing to reality-challenged advertising images of skinny models gobbling oversized burgers and French fries.
Nonetheless, when I met last week with three experts on childhood health and nutrition at Newport-Mesa Unified School District, my scary-story scenario began to take on a different flavor.
I had walked into the meeting armed with the above statistics, and ready for a grim discussion about the dismal state of childhood nutrition.
Instead, district Director of Nutrition Services Richard A. Greene, Operations Manager Geoff Ianniello and district nutritionist Pam Williams treated me to a passion-fueled talk about their quest to teach families how to eat well.
Yes, many families are woefully lacking in the healthy lifestyle department, they said, but a little knowledge can be a powerful thing when it comes to turning that around.