Youth Overweight Trend Confirmed

Heli J. Roy  |  3/23/2005 9:30:01 PM

Being overweight is a growing health issue affecting children and adolescents. Many causes contribute to the problem, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Heli Roy.

The American Council for Fitness and Nutrition recently released a study on eating behaviors and exercise habits of American teen-agers over the last 20 years. The ACFN study analyzed federal data of high school students from 1980 to 2000.

The study found that while the calories teens consumed had increased slightly, only 1 percent, physical activity had declined by 13 percent. In 1980, 42 percent of teens reported participating in at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily, but by 2000 only 29 percent of teens reported that same activity level.

Roy says the findings from this study show that calorie intake remained constant through the 20-year period while physical activity declined. The rate of overweight has doubled for children and adolescents in the last 20 years.

"Overweight in children and adolescents is generally caused by lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns or a combination of the two, with genetics and lifestyle both playing important roles in determining a child's weight," the LSU AgCenter nutritionist says.

Roy notes that television, computer and video games contribute to children's inactive lifestyles; 43 percent of adolescents watch more than two hours of television each day. Children, especially girls, become less active as they move through adolescence.

"Health consequences related to overweight can begin in childhood or adolescence," Roy says, adding, "Overweight children and adolescents are at increased risk for various chronic diseases in later life."

Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese.

Expert committees recommend the use of body mass index to screen for overweight and risk of overweight in children and adolescents. BMI is defined as body weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2). Children with BMI for-age values at or above the 95th percentile of the gender-specific BMI growth charts are categorized as overweight. Those with BMI values between the 85th and 95th percentiles are categorized as at risk of overweight. For children, BMI is gender and age specific; therefore, BMI for-age is the measure used for children ages 2 to 20 years.

Roy says this research supports the need to address both diet and activity levels as vital components of a healthier lifestyle. One way that states are responding to this need is by putting daily physical activity back in schools. Illinois remains the only state that requires daily physical education classes for all students in grades K-12. This year, Louisiana passed a law requiring 30 minutes of daily physical education for grades K-6.

The American Council for Fitness and Nutrition is a group of food, beverage and consumer products companies, not-for-profit organizations and trade associations working together to improve the health of all Americans, particularly youth, by encouraging a healthy balance between fitness and nutrition.

The cornerstone of all ACFN initiatives is the belief that lasting solutions to the nation's obesity problem must be based on sound science and behavioral research.

Analyses of data were performed on nationally representative data sets from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for dietary and overweight and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for physical activity of individuals 12-19 years of age.

Roy also suggests contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office to learn more about controlling obesity. In addition, visit the Food & Health section of the LSU AgCenter Web site.

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