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One of the biggest subjects when it comes to health standards in first-world countries these days is childhood obesity.  Food makers are reducing sugar content, public service announcements are encouraging children to get outside and play, and government leaders are attacking the problem with public speeches and policy changes.  But some argue that there is no epidemic, and that today’s children are healthier than we’d like to admit.  So is childhood obesity real, or are some people just playing to the fears of the populace to suit their own agenda?  Let’s look at both sides of the dispute.

Fear mongering:  There has been a huge crusade against childhood obesity over the last several years, but many claim that government leaders and nutritional experts are exaggerating the problem.  While the numbers truly are far greater than those in 1980, evidence shows that obesity rates have already leveled off.  This means that by the time we started worrying about it, it was already over.  Government leaders often like to use a shorter lifespan to threaten the general populace into doing something about this issue, stating that today’s children will live shorter lives than their parents if they don’t shape up.  But statistics show that life expectancy is still increasing.  Advances in medical care mean that today’s children, compared to their parents at the same age, are healthier.

Another argument against childhood obesity is that it is a relative term.  Some have defined it as children who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) above the 95th percentile.  Others have stated that obesity is termed as a BMI above the 95th percentile as compared to average growth charts from the 60’s and 70’s.  Either definition leaves us guessing, and a difference of as little as one pound can land a child in either category.  It’s also difficult to know just what caused obesity rates to rise over the last several decades or why they’ve leveled off more recently.  This lack of scientific data leaves the debate open to speculation.

Real:  Those who argue that obesity is a real problem state that parents of overweight children should be addressing the issue, discovering what the problem is, and helping their children fix it.  The earlier the better, too.  Obesity builds over time as a result of unhealthy choices.   When children are very young, their parents are the ones making their nutritional decisions for them. Parents need to set good examples so that children learn how to make these decisions in the future.  Many families eat out more often and consume more while they do so, resulting in a large intake of unhealthy or high-calorie food on a regular basis.  There is also a greater availability of processed and pre-packaged foods that make life easy but are packed with calories.  Proponents also comment on the sedentary lifestyles of children these days.  They warn that childhood obesity can continue into adulthood, and that it can create numerous other issues such as liver problems, hypertension, and low self-esteem.

Folks on this side of the debate agree that it can be difficult to determine exactly what makes a child overweight, which is why they use a BMI percentile (comparing their figures to other children of the same age and sex) instead of simply using their BMI.  Using these figures, they have shown that obesity has doubled in children since the 1980s and quadrupled in adolescents.  Even if there are arguments on the definition of obesity, those figures are big.

Conclusion:  The debate could rage on for years about whether childhood obesity is a true epidemic, how the statistics should be measured, and even how obesity should be defined.  Perhaps, for the moment, a better solution is to keep everything in moderation.  People on both sides of the argument agree that eating a variety of foods and exercising on a regular basis are good for you.  Instead of worrying about terminology or figural data, focus on living a healthy lifestyle in general.

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