Rising Youth Obesity Rates in America

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 Rising Youth Obesity Rates in America and How to Lower them Chris Liberta Intro Childhood obesity is one of the biggest health risks of the 21st century. In 2014, the global number of overweight children under the age of 5 years was estimated to be over 42 million, 31 million of them living in developing countries (Farpour-Lambert 2015).

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The number of obese people youths has been increasing for the last two decades. Some shocking statistics that I found were that according to the 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, the number of white youths who were labeled as having obesity was 14.1%. Another set of shocking stats for obese youths is that 20.6% of youths aged from 12-17 had obesity with 7.7% of them having severe obesity (NHANES). There are several different factors that have assisted the rate of obesity to increase over the years in youths. Some examples are that children do not have full control over their meals, convenience of fast food restaurants, majority of unhealthier foods are less expensive, and the struggles of living a healthy lifestyle.

There are several factors that help contribute to the rising obesity rate in youths. There needs to be just as many factors that help halt the rate of obese in youths as there are rising it. Some solutions to our obesity problem could be new zoning laws, changing schools approach to food and exercise, analyzing a five year plan created by the Americas, and educating the population on the crisis. What is obesity The center of disease and prevention website defines obesity as having excess body fat as well as being above the 95th percentile for their body mass index. the CDC says that some of the factors that contribute to obesity in youths are metabolism, sleep, physical activity, and your environment. All the factors that were just listed are all controllable by the individual.

Majority of the causes are impacted by your environment and behaviors. The exercise you do, the food you eat, and the community you live in. What you are at risk for when obese as a child There are many long term risks that come from being obese and there are worse consequences for the obese youth. These risks can be physically, socially, or even emotionally damaging to the well being of youths. Some examples of health conditions that they are at risk for are asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, diabetes, and heart complications (CDC). Obese children are more likely to be bullied in school which can lead to depression, a lower self esteem, and isolation (CDC).

A study was conducted by Tracy Waasdorp, Krista Mehari, and Catherine P. Bradshaw looks more into the connection between weight and getting bullied. Waasdorp and her colleagues discuss the struggles for obese youth. There is a lot of fear that the obese children are at a much higher risk of being bullied, not fitting in socially, and internalizing the struggles of being overweight. At the beginning of 2018 this study was conducted that attempted to see if obesity is linked to bullying and internalizing the symptoms. The researchers anonymously surveyed over 43,000 students in 107 different high school and middle school students in Maryland.

Bullying was broken up into three different categories for the sake of the study. Under these three categories there were 11 different behaviors that students answered questions in their survey about these behaviors occurring to them. The three categories are relational, verbal, and physical. A example of relational victimization would be spreading rumors or lies about another student. Verbal victimization behaviors were teasing or making fun of another student. The third category is physical which means a student was getting hit by another. Before students got to answer the survey questions on getting bullied they filled out questions about themselves so the researchers could categorize each student by age, race, weight, etc. Bullying increases the chance of internalize problems which leads to depression and anxiety. It was concluded from this study that obese and overweight youths were at an increased risk of experiencing victimization in schools from other students. Obese students were at a higher risk for physical victimization than overweight youths.

These findings are all consistent with previous literature too. Causes of Obesity in Youth After reading many studies it has became clear that there is not just one cause of the rising rate of obese youths. Many changes to our environment and culture have been the causes for the rise. Some of the causes that have become a larger factor over the last few decades are fast food restaurants, sugary beverages, portion size, amount of physical activity, and various environmental factors. First off there is fast food restaurants and their contribution to the rising obesity rate in youths. Fast food restaurants are utilized for their low prices, conveniency, and filling meals. What the consumer gains from saving money and filling their stomachs.

They lose from minimal nutritious value and extra calories. From 1990-2007, while the prices of healthy, fresh foods remained about the same, the price of fast-foods and soft drinks fell 12% and 32% (Lydon 2011). Fast food restaurants have been catering their menus and prices to people who want cheap filling meals that are easy to get too. Families with two parents who both have full time jobs often dine at fast food restaurants strictly for their convenience. Single parent families also visit fast food restaurants often in order to save some money. Such availability has led to both over consumption and under nourishment, especially in lower income neighborhoods that fail to offer healthier alternatives (Lydon 2011). Krushnapriya Sahoo published a paper in 2015 discussing the causes and consequences of childhood obesity. She discussed her findings after examining a observational study where researchers observed the eating habits of lean and overweight people eating at fast food restaurants. It was concluded that both types of people consumed more calories than they would had with an average meal, The big difference was that lean people tended to make up for the surge of calories from the fast food restaurant. They would adjust their meals before or after the fast food so that the overall calories in their day did not change too much.

This implies that overweight people are still having the same sized meals during the day plus a full fast food meal. Three more smaller causes that Sahoo discusses is the increase of sugary drinks, snack foods, and a larger portion size into our culture. Sahoo talks about a study in 1996 that looked at how sugary drinks impacted BMI in youths. It was that concluded that children’s BMI increased by small amounts each year with the introduction of sugary drinks (Sahoo 2015). These drinks can be soda, juices, or any type of sweetened beverages. The thought process is that these drinks provide extra sugar, minimal nutritional value, and they are not filling you up so you have multiple drinks. People are also snacking often throughout their days.

Majority of snack foods lack nutritional value and are just adding more and more calories to youths days. Sahoo cited that Research found that taste, hunger, then price are the most important factors in adolescents food choices (Story 2002). This supports the idea of children will choose better tasting and less nutritious meals or snacks over a more nutritious option. The last cause that I will discuss is that food is often used as reinforcement in schools, parenting, and as a type of celebration. Food is awarded to children in schools for good behavior. I remember being in first grade and my class earning a pizza party or a ice cream party if we were all good for a month straight. This only helps children associate sweets and unhealthy foods as prizes.

This continues as kids keep progressing through school. Second, Students would often bring in goody bags of candy on their birthday to hand out to all their classmates as well. Our culture associates candy, junk food, and baked desserts with holidays, birthdays, and celebratory situations. This only helps children associate these foods to good experiences which can create a association of junk food to pleasure and happiness. Genetics A big question that is often discussed when talking about obesity is how genetics play into it. Genetics can help excell the process of becoming obese or make a person more prone to the disease. However, your genetics can not cause you to become obese. Some studies have found that BMI is between 25% and 40% heritable (Sahoo 2015). Genetics needs to be matched up with certain certain behaviors to cause someone to become obese.

Another reason I believe genetics gets confused from being a cause of obesity is because of family dynamics. Parents choose foods to keep in the house as well as prepare meals for their children. This leads to children eating just like their parents. Which I believe can be easily confused with genetics when children are simply eating the same unhealthy meals and snacks as their parents. Someone does have a higher probability of becoming overweight or obese if their parents are overweight or obese. There are many reasons why this correlation exists, not just due to genetics. Healthy Lifestyle difficulties Eating unhealthy has only gotten easier and easier over the years. Fast food prices have dropped a significant amount (Lydon 2011).

More fast food locations have opened, soft drinks are everywhere, and exercising has been gotten more difficult for youths. Sedentary behaviors have increased with the implementation of laptops in schools and iphones at home. Kids are playing a lot more video games, watching more shows, and staring at screens a significant amount more than their parents did. This only increases the chances of youths becoming overweight due to the lack of physical activity. Environments have also impacted the number of chances children have of getting physical exercise. Parents are more cautious about where they are letting their children play.

Children do not walk or ride bikes to school as much anymore. Parents reasoning for this was that there were not many safe walking routes for their kids, fear of predators, and that it is not convenient for their kid to walk (Sahoo 2015).


  • Bassett, D. R., Jr., Pucher, J., Buehler, R., Thompson, D. L., & Crouter, S. E. (2008). Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 5(6), 795“814. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.unh.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2008-15197-003&site=ehost-live Etienne, C. F. (2014).
  • Countries pledge action to reduce child obesity in the Americas. The Lancet, 384(9959), 2021. https://doi-org.libproxy.unh.edu/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62328-X Farpour-Lambert, N. J., Baker, J. L., Hassapidou, M., Holm, J. C., Nowicka, P., O’Malley, G., & Weiss, R. (2015).
  • Childhood Obesity Is a Chronic Disease Demanding Specific Health Care–a Position Statement from the Childhood Obesity Task Force (COTF) of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO). Obesity facts, 8(5), 342-9. Lydon, C., Rohmeier, K., Yi, S., Mattaini, M., & Williams, W. (2011).
  • How Far Do You Have to Go to Get a Cheeseburger Around Here? The Realities of an Environmental Design Approach to Curbing the Consumption of Fast-Food. Behavior and Social Issues, 20, 6-23. doi:https://doi.org/10.5210/bsi.v20i0.3637 National Obesity Rates & Trends. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://stateofobesity.org/obesity-rates-trends-overview/ Pretlow, R. (2010).
  • What’s really causing the childhood obesity epidemic? What kids say. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 5(Suppl 1), 28. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.unh.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2010-00474-009&site=ehost-live Rasmussen, N. (2015).
  • Stigma and the addiction paradigm for obesity: Lessons from 1950s America. Addiction, 110(2), 217“225. https://doi-org.libproxy.unh.edu/10.1111/add.12774 Sahoo, K., Sahoo, B., Choudhury, A. K., Sofi, N. Y., Kumar, R., & Bhadoria, A. S. (2015).
  • Childhood obesity: causes and consequences. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 4(2), 187-92. Story, Mary & Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne & French, Simone. (2002).
  • Individual and Environmental Influences on Adolescent Eating Behaviors. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 102. S40-51. 10.1016/S0002-8223(02)90421-9. Waasdorp, T. E., Mehari, K., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2018).
  • Obese and overweight youth: Risk for experiencing bullying victimization and internalizing symptoms. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(4), 483-491. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ort0000294
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Rising Youth Obesity Rates in America. (2019, Mar 22). Retrieved December 3, 2022 , from

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