Teen obesity in the United States is an epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of obese adolescents and children in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. The UK reports similarly dismal numbers, with one in five children between the ages of 10-11 currently classified as obese.
These numbers are shocking and they should inspire parents everywhere to take action. While there is much debate over the underlying reason for the worldwide obesity crisis, here are a few reasons why teen obesity is increasing at such an alarming rate.
Unhealthy Dietary Habits
It’s no secret that unhealthy foods lead to weight gain. Yet, people continue consuming highly processed, nutritionally-deficient “foods” in large quantities. According to a National Center for Health survey, more than one out of every three adults in the United States consumes fast food every day. These unhealthy habits rub off on our children and can potentially cause them to choose unhealthy foods well into adulthood.
The BBC News reports that fast food has also seen an alarming increase in popularity in the UK, with fast food outlets increasing by 34% between 2010 and 2018 alone. Since fast food has been linked to childhood obesity in multiple studies, it stands to reason that an increase in fast food consumption is at least partially to blame for increases in teen obesity.
While it’s tempting to place all the blame on the bloated fast food industry, the food industry
It turns out the startling upward trend of obesity can be traced back to more than just poor dietary habits. Physical activity (or the lack of it) also plays a large role in teen obesity. Kids in the 1970s were much more active than today’s kids and spent more time playing outside. Today, many parents estimate that their kids spend half as much time playing outside as they did when they were kids.
According to a study conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, and published in the Preventive Medicine journal, teenagers are at the highest risk of physical inactivity. The studied group of teens got the same amount of exercise as seniors by the time they turned 19. The lack of physical activity during their
Living in Obesogenic Environments
An obesogenic environment is one that is not conducive to weight loss and actually promotes weight gain. Many cities are considered obesogenic for these main reasons:
- They encourage commuting by car instead of walking
- Their streets are dominated by cafes and shops selling calorie-dense foods and treats with minimal nutrients
- They don’t provide the public with sufficient recreational areas
- They discourage physical activity by hiding stairs in hard-to-find areas and putting escalators and elevators in prominent areas
All of these factors, combined with the popular culture of playing video games for hours or inviting friends to “Netflix and chill” contribute to an obesity culture that’s affecting so many teens today.
What Can We Do?
It’s time to take action and help our kids regain their health. Teens tend to be headstrong and do whatever they want, but you can encourage your teen to live a healthy lifestyle by living one yourself. Eating healthy foods in reasonable-sized portions and ridding your home of excessive junk food are great first steps. You can also make physical activity fun by engaging in outdoor activities as a family. Bike riding, hiking, kayaking and swimming are all enjoyable activities that can help your teen expend energy and become healthier.