MU researcher predicts rise in child obesity

Thursday, June 23, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

MU researcher Frank Booth predicts that every child in America will be obese by 2044.

Booth qualifies his prediction by saying that while this is mathematically possible, it might not actually happen. He uses data that shows a three- to four-fold increase in the percentage of overweight children since the mid-1980s, and extrapolates it to arrive at the grim forecast.

He said his intent is to draw attention to the alarming rise of childhood obesity in America.

Obesity is defined by the National Institutes of Health as being more than 20 percent above ideal body weight, a measurement that takesinto account the person's height, age, gender and build.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 16 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are overweight, which is a 45 percent increase from the number of overweight children in statistics from 1988 to 1994.

“The reason for this rise in the obesity rate is obviously the environment, and not genes,” said Booth, a professor in the veterinary biomedical sciences department, an adjunct professor in the physiology department and a Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center investigator.

Barbara Mitchell, a clinical dietitian at the MU Health Clinic, said many factors contribute to childhood obesity.

“Both food choices and an inactive lifestyle contribute to problems with childhood obesity,” she said. “There is a direct correlation between the time spent watching TV, playing on the computer, playing video games and obesity.”

Booth said the consequences of childhood obesity are that obese children are more likely to develop adult diseases like Type II diabetes and heart problems.

“Obese children are also more likely to develop bone and orthopedic-related problems because of increased stress on joints,” Mitchell said.

She said it is never a good idea to put a child on a diet. Rather, she said the whole family needs to make good food choices.

Mitchell said learning good food choices starts young, and the family is responsible for exposing children to the right decisions regarding the kind of food they eat.

Booth said the only solution to the problem of childhood obesity is with adults, because children do not have the maturity to understand the gravity of the problem.

“Adults need to accept responsibility for kids sitting around all day. Parents, schools and Scouts need to tackle the problem,” he said.

Booth also said that just adding physical education to the schedule will not solve the problem. He proposed the concept of “equality physical education,” where playing is winning and not playing is losing. He said that sports in schools need to lose their competitiveness, and unorganized play needs to be encouraged.

“We need to bring physical education back the smart way,” he said.

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