Teenage obesity in the United States is an epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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.
The big question: Why has teenage obesity increased? And was this a gradual increase we didn’t notice, or a sudden phenomenon? Here are a few reasons we found.
Unhealthy Dietary Habits
It’s no secret unhealthy foods lead to weight gain, and sugar can wreak havoc on a child’s development. 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.
BBC News reports fast food has seen an alarming increase in popularity in the UK, as well, with fast food outlets numbers growing by 34% between 2010 and 2018 alone. Since fast food has been linked to childhood obesity in multiple studies, it stands to reason an increase in fast food consumption is at least partially to blame for why teenage obesity has risen in recent years.
The bloated fast food industry isn’t the only villain. Walk the aisles of any grocery store and you’ll notice shelf after shelf piled high with heavily processed meals and snacks. Cookies, microwave meals, chips,
It turns out the startling upward trend of obesity can be traced back to more than 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.
According to a study conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, and published in the Preventive Medicine journal, teenagers are at the highest risk of physical inactivity. The group of teens studied 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’s not conducive to weight loss and actually promotes weight gain. Many cities are considered obesogenic because:
- They encourage commuting by car instead of walking.
- Their streets are dominated by fast-food restaurants, 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?
Teens tend to be headstrong and do whatever they want, but you can encourage your child to live a healthy lifestyle by modeling one yourself. Eating healthy foods in reasonable-sized portions and ridding your home of excessive junk food are great first steps.
Learn how to talk to your teenager about weight, and make physical activity fun — cycling, hiking, kayaking, swimming — by engaging in outdoor activities as a family.
Why Has Teenage Obesity Increased? — Sources
USA Today — National Center for Health survey
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study