Childhood and adolescent obesity is a growing concern worldwide. The number of overweight and obese children in the UK has doubled in the last two decades, with one in five 15 year olds classed as obese. In 2006, a UK study (National Centre for Social Research) identified that 18.9% of boys and 17.8% of girls aged between 2 and 15 years were classified as obese. In addition to this the same study highlighted that a further 13.7% of boys and 16.3% of girls were overweight. This quantified to 2.3 million obese children in the UK, at the time. Worryingly for the UK, such statistics reveal our children are some of the unhealthiest in Europe.
So how can fitness professionals help? It is proven that very few children put on weight because of an underlying medical problem, but actually put on weight because their lifestyle sees a lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet. Personal Training and Fitness professionals have the potential to be at the forefront to assist in improving this epidemic, by educating parents and helping children be more active. So the main questions are, what are the causes of childhood obesity in the UK and what can we, as fitness professionals, do to help?
The biggest rise in overweight and obesity statistics is amongst the under 11’s. Between 1995 and 2003 the prevalence of obesity in children aged two to ten increased from 9.9% to 13.7%. The data collected showed that around 11% of children were obese before reaching school age.
The 11-15 age group has also seen an increase in the number of overweight and obese children. Between 1995 and 2003 the number of obese and/or overweight boys went from 14% to 24% and in the same time frame girls increased from 15% to 26%.
Research suggests that childhood obesity statistics vary across the UK, based on region and socio-economic status. Findings suggest that children living within households with the lowest income were at a greater risk of obesity that children from households with higher levels of income.
Children living in Yorkshire and Humberside and the South East of England have the lowest risk of obesity. Obesity is more prevalent for those who live in the North East and London. Finally, obesity is higher amongst children and adolescents who live in inner city areas that those living in any other area.
Causes of childhood obesity
As mentioned earlier, children are rarely obese or overweight due to medical problems. In fact research suggests that children are more likely to be obese if their parents are overweight or obese. Evidence is still unclear though as to whether this is down to genetics, the fact that families tend to follow the same eating and activity habits, or a combination of the two.
It is thought that children put on weight because of their lifestyle, including diet and activity levels. Children can consume excess calories very easily nowadays with fast food and cheap calorie laded produce aimed at them. A lack of parental guidance and knowledge exacerbates this issue further. In addition to this working parents have less time to spend on food preparation and meal times in general, often opting for calorie rich fast foods and ready meals.
Couple the unhealthy diet with low activity levels and the reason for a rise in obesity levels becomes clearer. Less children walk to school or ‘play out’ in a social context. The Government recommends minimum of 2 x 30 PE sessions per week in schools, but this is not compulsory. To add to this there are number of children who have suffered with negative experiences when taking part in PE activities at school, which unfortunately puts them off throughout adolescence and sometimes into adulthood.
What can you do to help?
Below are a few tips on how you as fitness professionals can help reduce the obesity levels or at least help towards reducing the rise and prevalence of the epidemic.