Did you know that September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month? This awareness month exists because child obesity rates in America are extraordinarily high. As of 2020, 19.7% of all children and teens in the US were obese. Black and Hispanic children were disproportionately represented in this number: 26.2% of Hispanic and 24.8% of non-Hispanic Black children were obese, compared with 16.6% of non-Hispanic White and 9.0% of non-Hispanic Asian children. Children in low-income households are also likelier to be obese.
Here’s why excessive weight in children is such a serious problem and how various community institutions and programs can help to prevent child obesity.
Major Health Problems Caused by Obesity
The number of obese children in the US is troubling in part because excessive weight is so dangerous to the health of young people and because it often continues into their adulthood. In addition, kids and teens from low-income families are less likely to have health insurance or access to adequate preventive or interventional healthcare. This means that weight-related health disorders are more likely to go untreated, which can lead to hospitalization and premature death. Being obese puts children and teens at a higher risk of the following:
Cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and stroke
Musculoskeletal disorders and joint damage
Certain cancers (like breast and colon cancer)
Cerebrovascular disease (blood vessel damage in the brain)
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Child Obesity Prevention Programs
In order to effectively mitigate the causes and effects of excessive body mass in young people, it’s essential that communities implement high-quality obesity prevention programs. These can be administered through schools, after-school programs, medical centers, and other institutions. Here are some ways that such organizations and programs can help keep children healthy, especially kids and teens in underinvested communities:
Salad Bars to Schools. Salad Bars to Schools is a program that facilitates grants to help schools get salad bars added to their cafeterias. This provides students with access to fresh produce for healthy lunches.
Offer healthier food and beverage choices overall. Schools can reduce or eliminate sugary beverage options and instead offer a variety of drinking water choices. They can also ensure that the food available on campus (in the cafeteria, snack machines, etc.) more closely matches US nutrition standards.
Educate students about healthy diets. Schools are arguably the best place for teaching kids about the many benefits of a whole food plant-based diet (WDPB) Eating fewer processed foods and more produce can reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system, provide fiber, reduce the risk of cancer—and help kids maintain a healthy weight.
Promote wellness and physical activity. In addition to offering high-quality physical education programs, schools can encourage wellness through PSA-style messaging and by designing school contests and challenges around exercise.
Encourage participation among low-income children and teens. After-school programs can actively recruit students for participation, and may be able to waive fees for low-income students. This can help to keep students engaged, help them build new skills, increase their self-esteem, and live healthier lives.
Find creative ways to promote good health. After-school sports naturally encourage healthy physical activity, but can also teach athletes about how a healthy diet improves individual and team performance. Even non-sports-related activities and clubs can find creative ways to promote good eating habits and fun forms of exercise.
Encourage participation among low-income children and teens. After-school programs can actively recruit students for participation and may be able to waive fees for low-income students. This can help to keep students engaged, help them build new skills, increase their self-esteem, and live healthier lives.
Find creative ways to promote good health. After-school sports naturally encourage healthy physical activity and can teach athletes about how a healthy diet improves individual and team performance. Even non-sports-related activities and clubs can find creative ways to promote good eating habits and fun forms of exercise.
Medical Centers and Community Health Centers
Patient screening. Pediatricians and family healthcare professionals at hospitals, medical centers, and community health centers of all kinds can screen children for lifestyle risk factors like diet, stress management, and exercise.
Patient education. Healthcare professionals can educate families about the dangers of obesity and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. They can also help families develop customized diet and exercise plans based on individual needs and resources.
You can help prevent childhood obesity by advocating for schools and public health program funding as well as the opening of farmer’s markets and community gardens in underinvested communities. And can contribute to nonprofits that work to support childrens' health.
Help Prevent Childhood Obesity With BeamUp
High-quality education, healthcare, and other support systems are extremely important for helping young people prepare for a bright future. BeamUp offers programming to help underinvested youth succeed in every aspect of life. Our goal is to provide opportunities for youth and young adults of lower socioeconomic status to equip themselves with the tools needed to lift themselves out of poverty and violence.
At the core of BeamUp is access to quality education about a healthy lifestyle, professional education, plant-based whole foods, making climate-friendly choices, and mindfulness. Help us support and teach kids by shopping for swag or donating today!