A rising concern in recent years has been the increase in obesity among children and adolescents. For children between the years of 2 and 5 and adolescents between 12 and 19, the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1970s. For children between the ages of 6 and 11, the rate has tripled. Almost one third of all children today are at risk for becoming overweight. Sixteen percent of them already are.
When it comes to boys and girls, the rates are similar. The rates have increased since the 1960s for both sexes. In the last years of the previous century, over 29% of all boys were at risk for becoming overweight, while 27% of all girls struggled with the same problem.
Of course, some groups are more effected by this phenomena than others. Among boys, those who are of Mexican American descent tend to have a greater problem with obesity, with over 42% of boys in this group being effected by the problem. Among girls, the problem is more serious for those of African descent.
In determining obesity, we use the BMI - Body Mass Index - a chart that uses a ratio of weight to height, dividing the person's weight in kilograms by the square of their body's height in meters. For children between the ages of 2 and 20, the BMI is calculated on a special chart based on their age and sex.
We cannot discuss obesity in the same terms when it deals with children as it relates to adults. Some researchers avoid the word "obesity" altogether in an effort to avoid stigmatizing individuals. Others use the term "childhood obesity" to speak of a general phenomenon. Nevertheless, obesity is indeed a problem among young people, no matter what terminology you choose to employ.
For adults on the BMI scale, you are considered overweight if you have a rating between 25 and 29.9 kg per square meter. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of an even higher rate. Severe obesity defines those individuals with a rate that exceeds 40. Note that "overweight" and "obesity" are not mutually exclusive terms, in that individuals struggling with obesity are also overweight.
People who are overweight and/or obese are at major risk for contacting severe chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and hypertension. For children afflicted with severe weight problems, they can contact gall bladder disease, liver disease, sleep apnea, and may run the risk of high cholesterol.
Children are also at risk for contacting asthma. Overweight boys tend to have a higher risk than overweight girls. The effect of asthma is greater in children who are nonallergic. A recent study concluded that asthmatic children who were obese suffered a lot more than non-obese asthmatic children. Obese children with asthma tend to wheeze more, require more medication, and end up having to make more visits to the emergency room.
Another major problem of obesity is the psychological burden of being overweight or obese in a society in which these body types are stigmatized. This can lead to all sorts of psychological and emotional problems.