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Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States.
Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for treating childhood obesity for the first time in 15 years, emphasizing the need for intensive interventions, including surgery and medication.
In 2017-2019, the CDC reported that about 20 percent of children were obese, defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC’s gender-specific BMI growth charts.
Additionally, children gained increased weight during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those who were already overweight. In the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate in the United States has tripled, and today, one in three children is overweight or obese.
Distance learning, the removal of after-school sports and social activities all contributed to the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle during the pandemic. Due to the anticipated demise, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for in-person classes to resume in the summer of 2020. Unfortunately, they weren’t so blithe with their recommendations on social and physical activities.
For many, normal activities only resumed at the end of 2021, and for some this is still not the case.
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While the pandemic and overall increase in electronic device use have largely contributed to rising obesity rates among our youth, they are not solely to blame.
The term “fat-shaming” was born in the last decade, leading to many doctors being too afraid to have honest discussions about weight with patients.
Doctors have been told to ditch words like “overweight” and “obesity,” commonly accepted medical terms, and instead replace them with phrases like “above a healthy weight” to prevent someone from feeling bad about being overweight.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also emphasized the importance of using sensitive and non-stigmatizing language when discussing weight, focusing more on the stigma of being overweight than on its medical urgency.
Mainstream and social media are fueling the trend movement promoting body positivity and “self-love,” including obesity.
Social media influencers and other famous faces have taken over pop culture with millions of followers trying to cultivate a platform to promote plus size bodies.
Teen sensation pop star Lizzo is known for speaking out about her weight. “When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see in the media was someone who was fat like me, black like me, beautiful like me,” she said, receiving an Emmy Award in 2022.
A recent interview with TIME magazine even suggested that sport is an activity with roots in white supremacy. The piece, titled “The White Supremacist Origins of Exercise,” describes how training began in the early 1900s by white Americans trying to strengthen their race amid increasing immigration.
Advocacy groups have even created a Plus Size Appreciation Day to “remind us that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to beauty… to celebrate the curves that rock men and women everywhere.”
It’s important to note that Plus Size Appreciation Day is only recognized in the United States, not internationally. Perhaps that’s because in most high-income countries, about two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. In the US it’s 70 percent.
In summary, the messages being conveyed are: weight discussions are bad and sport is racist.
No wonder childhood obesity is on the rise.
While body positivity is undeniably important for mental health, obesity has blurred the line with the well-known physical health impairments.
The key message should not be fat versus thin, but the focus should be on reducing the risk of preventable chronic diseases associated with obesity, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint problems and cancer.
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Childhood obesity is a serious public health problem in the United States that cannot be solved with a pill. A comprehensive approach is needed to create a healthier environment within the family for the long-term benefit of the child, as obese children are more likely to remain obese into adulthood.
One of the best approaches to reducing childhood obesity is to improve eating and exercise habits throughout the family and to ensure families have access to healthy, unprocessed foods.
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From a medical point of view, the normalization of obesity must end in order to prevent the overwhelming amount of chronic diseases that will surely result.
Finally, it’s important to realize that excess body fat is risky and leads to many chronic diseases.
While body positivity should be encouraged, it must be borne in mind that people receive and encourage adequate information about the risks associated with being overweight.
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