Obesity rates continue to soar among children in the United States, with the most severe cases affecting those below aged 5. The culprit behind this alarming health issue? Junk food.
Previous reports claimed that childhood obesity has either declined or reached a plateau when actually, it's the complete opposite. It's growing even worse, as reflected by a new analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The NHANES is among the federal government's main methods of measuring the state of childhood obesity in the country, and according to a team from Duke University, results for the past four decades have not shown any signs of improvement at all.
Instead, what they found is a significant rise in the number of severe obesity cases in very young children aged 2 to 5. Such trend began in the 2013-2014 cycle and persisted throughout the present.
In a paper published last Monday on the American Academy of Pediatrics News & Journals Gateway, the team reports that almost 50 percent of teenagers aged 16 to 19 are struggling with obesity.
That, however, is just a tip of the iceberg because what's even more distressing is that 26 percent of children aged 2 to 5 are overweight and 15 percent are already obese at such a young age.
Besides the lack of physical activity, health experts all agree on one thing: childhood obesity has become a bigger problem as junk food culture became the norm.
How Junk Food Advertising Impacts Childhood Obesity
Nowadays, children aged 8 to 18 have grown receptive to different kinds of media that they are capable of engaging in simultaneously. Because of this, they are less interested in any other activity besides watching television shows and playing computer games.
On average, an American child spends a total of 44.5 hours in front of these screens. That equates to 44.5 hours of exposure to junk food advertising, which the American Psychological Association describes as "exploitative."
"Children have a remarkable ability to recall content from the ads to which they have been exposed. Product preference has been shown to occur with as little as single commercial exposure and to strengthen with repeated exposures," explains the APA in a statement.
Besides obesity, the organization notes that such form of advertising promotes unhealthy weight control behaviors, which are carried through adolescence. This includes skipping meals, eating too little, and inappropriate usage of diet pills.
Not only do these practices bring on illness over time, but they also cause serious emotional problems such as depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.
The Solution To The Childhood Obesity Epidemic
To put an end to this worsening health issue, Boston Children's Hospital pediatric endocrinologist and researcher David Ludwig is calling for a stronger strategy in fighting childhood obesity.
"We haven't generated a truly systematic or comprehensive approach across society that addresses all drivers of childhood obesity — poor diet, a lack of physical activity, and a healthy food supply that will encourage everyone to eat well," he writes in an editorial.
To date, childhood obesity is among the top health-related priorities of the Trump administration. The presidential budget for 2018 promises federal funding for the advocacy of healthy eating and regular exercise, which includes the creation of America's Health Block Grant that would allow states to launch their own health programs.