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Widening Waistlines: America's War on Childhood Obesity

Earn your BSN degree and become a nurse educator to help fight this national epidemic.

Childhood obesity is a serious health issue for 13.7 million children in the U.S.1 The rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled since 1980, while adult obesity rates have more than doubled.2 Research studies in 2016 revealed that 18.5% of American children ages 2 to 19 are considered obese.1

What Is Childhood Obesity?

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).3

Widening Waistlines: America's War on Childhood Obesity

How Nurses Are Joining the Fight Against Childhood Obesity

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.

Educating Parents and Children

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.4

Advocating for Positive Change

Nurses can make a powerful difference on a broader scale as well. The American Nurses Association (ANA) says, “Planning strategies and actions to prevent childhood obesity in our communities and throughout the population will require attention to policy and advocacy. We need to find ways to expand our ability as nurses to advocate for policies at the local, state, and national level that change conditions in society. These changes, including regulatory action, should be designed so that children and their parents can make healthier choices about nutrition and 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.5

Joining Forces With Others

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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