In just two generations, the rate of active play, physical education, and physical activity has dropped 32% in the U.S.
Obesity now impacts 1 in 6 kids in the USA today
At the same time, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to almost 21% over the same period.
In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
From 1980 to 2012, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years old, who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21%
One study found that among 17 developed nations, the U.S. had the highest rates of childhood obesity among those ages 5-19 (National Academy of Sciences, 2013). There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence, with Hispanics and African Americans experiencing higher rates than whites (CDC, 2010).
More than a quarter of all Americans between the ages of 17 to 24 are too fat to serve in the military. Recruiters turn many away, and others never try to join. Of those who attempt to enter, roughly 15,000 fail their entrance physicals every year because they are overweight.
Obesity rates among children and young adults have increased so dramatically that they threaten the future strength of our military. (Too Fat to Fight, 2010)
Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being.
Today’s children could be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy
lives than their parents due to obesity and other related diseases.
Immediate health effects of Childhood Obesity
- Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.
- Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
Long-term health effects of Childhood Obesity
- Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
- One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.
- Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The cost to the U.S. healthcare system to treat obesity is as much as $131 billion a year (CDC, 2015). Direct and indirect medical costs related to obesity are estimated at $147 billion a year, twice the size of the budget for the U.S. Department of Education.
Direct costs are expected to more than double by 2030.
In total, lifetime societal costs are $92,235 greater for a person with obesity, and if all 12.7 million U.S. youth with obesity became obese adults, the societal costs over their lifetimes might exceed $1.1 trillion. (Brookings Institute, 2015)
Decline of Sport Activity
In 2007, Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) household survey showed that 34.7% of children ages 6-12 were active three times a week in any sports activity, organized or unstructured. By 2014 that number had dropped to 26.9% (among 13-17-year-olds, it fell from 44.7% to 39.8%).
Today, the evolving and complex youth sports system in the U.S. necessitates significant resources to develop an athlete and play competitive sports (Sport Participation Rates Among Underserved American Youth, University of Florida’s Sport Policy & Research Collaborative, 2014).
The barriers to participation emerge early, with the rise of grade school travel teams and elite sport training options that are not accessible to many lower-income kids.
While only 20% of U.S. households report an annual income of at least $100,000, 33% of families participating in sports enjoy that income level. Travel-team parents spend an average of $2,266 annually on their child’s sports participation, and at the elite levels, some families pay more than $20,000 per year.
In 2015, about one in three parents (32%) from households making less than $50,000/year told researchers that sports cost too much and make it difficult for their child to continue participating. That is compared to the one in six parents (16%) from households earning $50,000/year or more who said the same.
The barriers to participation emerge early, with the rise of
grade school travel teams and elite sport training options
that are not accessible to many lower-income kids.
As adults, the disparity between participation based on income levels continues. Only 15% of lower-income (household incomes less than $25,000/year) adults play sports, while 37% of higher-income do (household incomes of $75,000/year or more). (RWJF/Harvard/NPR).
23% of middle schools and 40% of high schools do not offer intramural sports
Physical inactivity is now an epidemic, and we must act immediately to break this deadly cycle. 5.3 million deaths will be as a result of physical inactivity while smoking, long considered a leading killer, is responsible for 5 million deaths a year.
The USA healthcare infrastructure, social services, and national economies cannot possibly endure the cost of physical inactivity.
Pickup ball is of a bygone era, this form of play organically promoted innovation and fitness among generations of Americans. More than 40% of parents whose child plays an organized sport say their child does so year-round (RWJF/Harvard/NPR).
Free active play has been shown to produce higher levels
of physical activity than organized sports.
One study found that 43% of youth sports practice was spent being inactive. (Physical Activity During Youth Sport Practices, 2011).
Also, there is a lack of mainstream options for moderately interested athletes. About 23% of middle schools and 40% of high schools do not offer intramural sports (Bridging the Gap, RWJF, 2012).
Only 40 percent of kids between the ages 6-12 regularly played team sports in 2013, down from 44.5 percent in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The deficits continue through the middle school years. In schools serving low-income youth, only 1 in 4 students play sports.
In communities with fewer resources, sports options can be especially are organized around the more motivated athletes and families.
How to Break the Cycle
If we reach children when they are young enough, before age 10, they can learn to love physical activity and sports for life. They’ll reap the rewards and pass them on to the next generation.
Afterschool physical activity programs would reduce
obesity by, at most, 1.8%, among children ages 6 to 12.
91% of Americans say sports are essential to child development, while 94% say more needs to be done to protect their health and safety. (Kelton Research, ACSM, 2011)
In a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers analyzed obesity prevention strategies and their ability to reduce obesity by the year 2032. They found that afterschool physical activity programs would reduce obesity the most, 1.8%, among children ages 6 to 12. That’s twice the impact as a ban on child-directed fast-food advertising.
Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Parents, schools, communities need to take an active role, and this needs to be a public/private endeavor that brings all parties together for the greater good.
Fitting regular exercise into your daily schedule may seem difficult at first, however adding in a few activities each week makes a difference. It’s easier than you think if we all work together!