Childhood obesity is a serious health issue for 12.7 million children in the U.S.* The rate of childhood obesity has tripled since 1980, while adult obesity rates have more than doubled.† Research studies in 2012 revealed that 17% of American children ages 2 to 19 are considered obese, and more than 30% are either overweight or obese.*
Childhood obesity refers to children whose body mass index (BMI) is higher than 95%. A child’s BMI is determined according to their age, height, and weight. When the BMI is in the 50th percentile, a child is in the average range and does not have weight issues. A BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles means that the child is overweight (but not obese).‡
Every day, nurses are on the front lines of the childhood obesity epidemic. They witness the alarming effects of childhood obesity as they treat children in emergency rooms, primary care and pediatrician offices, schools, and other environments. They examine children with breathing problems like sleep apnea and asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, joint pain, musculoskeletal discomfort, anxiety, and depression.
In both traditional and online nursing degree programs, students learn the fundamental idea that they can be preventative care practitioners. Nurses are among the most trusted healthcare professionals in the medical field, so they can have a tremendous impact when they communicate the importance of healthy habits to young patients and their parents—whether they communicate information about healthy nutrition or the power of physical activity and exercise.§
Nurses can make a powerful difference on a broader scale as well. The American Nurses Association (ANA) says, “Nurses are advocating on behalf of the American child when they support various policy recommendations such as funding for school wellness programs, requiring federal nutritional standards for all foods served in schools, and creation of recreational facilities in underserved areas to provide increased opportunities for physical activity.” Nurses are also helping parents and other adults understand how important it is to be positive role models for children by improving their own eating habits and increasing their own level of physical activity.**
Nurses can find strength in numbers as they join various organizations in the fight against childhood obesity. The ANA and other groups are active partners with the White House in supporting First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, dedicated to reversing the obesity epidemic. Childhood obesity is a complex problem with multiple risk factors. It will take the collaborative efforts of parents, schools, communities, industries, businesses, and healthcare providers to create hard-fought victories for American children.
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*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Childhood Obesity Facts, on the Internet at www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html.
†The State of Obesity, Obesity Rates & Trends Overview, on the Internet at www.stateofobesity.org/obesity-rates-trends-overview.
‡Obesity Action Coalition, What is Childhood Obesity?, on the Internet at www.obesityaction.org/understanding-obesity-in-children/what-is-childhood-obesity.
§R. Rifkin, Americans Rate Nurses Highest on Honesty, Ethical Standards, Gallup Poll Social Series, on the Internet at www.gallup.com/poll/180260/americans-rate-nurses-highest-honesty-ethical-standards.aspx.
**American Nurses Association, ANA Issue Brief, Fighting Childhood Obesity: Taking a stand to control an epidemic one child at a time, on the Internet at www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/Policy-Advocacy/Positions-and-Resolutions/Issue-Briefs/Childhood-Obesity.pdf.