Childhood Obesity Goes Global
The U.S. continues to lead the way in childhood obesity, with as many as 37% of its children and adolescents carrying around too much fat. But other countries are rapidly catching up. More than 20% of European youngsters between the ages of 5 and 17 are either overweight or obese. Children in North Africa and the Middle East aren't far behind. The trend to childhood obesity has been documented even in urbanized areas of sub-Saharan Africa .
Childhood obesity in Asia
Asia lags behind the U.S. and Europe in its obesity statistics, but Thailand , Malaysia , Japan and the Philippines have all reported troubling increases in childhood obesity in recent years. In China , where a one-child-per-family policy has created millions of spoiled and overfed children the rise in childhood obesity is particularly alarming. Up to 10% of China 's 290 million children are believed to be overweight or obese, and that percentage is expected to double a decade from now.
Genetics affects childhood obesity:
Genetics can make a difference in childhood obesity as well. Those who are most susceptible to gaining weight on high-fat, carbohydrate-rich diets are those who are primed to produce high levels of circulating insulin in the first place. The inhabitants of the South Pacific island of Nauru, who — thanks to a surfeit of cheap, calorie-dense foods, along with a shift away from jobs requiring physical activity — have the unwelcome distinction of being some of the fattest, most diabetes-prone people on the planet.
Dangers of childhood obesity:
Obese children have a high risk of becoming obese adults. The surge of childhood obesity presages a global explosion of illnesses. Fully 9% of obese children and adolescents already suffer from a condition known as metabolic syndrome. A substantial fraction of obese children, for example, have elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, putting them at risk for atherosclerosis. Many obese children also have elevated blood-sugar levels, a precursor of Type 2 diabetes. As a result, complications like nerve and eye damage, which typically take years to develop, are appearing among people in their 20s.
Causes of childhood obesity:
Why do children become obese? One important factor is insulin, which enables the body to store extra calories as fat. Physical exercise helps control insulin levels, while certain foods elicit its massive release. A child who sits in front of the TV for hours on end, eating potato chips and doughnuts, is an ideal fat-storage machine.
That adults are finally becoming aware of the problem of childhood obesity and are willing to do something about it is extremely positive. But unless they do so in much greater numbers, the steady increase in life expectancy that has marked the 20th century may reverse itself in the 21st, and far too many members of the next generation could end up dying before their parents.