This is my third post in a series on Christianity and the obesity epidemic. While I encourage you to read the first two, here are a few critical takeaways.
Again, these posts are meant to shed light on a critical issue in the church, one that often goes overlooked. As my work focuses on honoring God in the way we think about and treat our bodies, the obesity epidemic must be addressed.
Having previously looked at obesity and adulthood, this post will focus on childhood obesity.
In 2019, 16.1% of kids ages 2-19 were overweight. 19.3% were obese. 6% were morbidly obese. But, after the pandemic, childhood obesity has increased to 22.4%.
Still, if prior to adulthood 1 in 5 kids are already obese, then consider that the average adult gains 1-2lbs a year, which equates to 30-60lbs of excess weight between ages 25-55.
But think about what that progression will mean for a child who becomes obese earlier in life. If obesity cuts 6-7 years off an adult’s life, how much more might that child’s life be cut short if he becomes obese by the time he’s 8 years old?
Shockingly, children can be classified as obese by age 2, but only because there are no set measurements to determine obesity in children younger than that.
Similar factors contribute to both adult and childhood obesity. While there are several causes, the more common and shared ones are:
When kids move less, they sit more. When they sit more, they snack more. And snacking more likely means excess calories from low-nutrient foods.
Plus, remember that the 1-2lb gain each year is an average. Depending on energy balance – how many calories you take in vs how many you burn everyday – it’s possible to put on much more weight much faster than that.
The phrase, love is blind, has proven true when it comes to a parent’s ability to recognize their child’s weight issues. One study by the Obesity Society looked at “maternal misperception rates” and found that most mothers – 89% of those with an overweight child and 52% with an obese child – label their offspring as normal weight. These findings also suggest mothers are less likely to encourage healthy behaviors in their children because they don’t believe their child’s weight is problematic.
Parents and guardians play an integral in their child’s weight gain. Because more is caught than taught, if a parent’s lifestyle produces obesity, most children will inevitably adopt that same lifestyle by default. (Incidentally, the same is true for disordered eating or full blown eating disorders.)
If one parent is obese, children have a 50% higher likelihood of becoming obese. That likelihood increases to 80% if both parents are obese.
So parents, if you struggle with weight issues, the best thing you can do for your child is to take steps toward lifestyle change – for yourself and the future health of your child.
While many adults are uninformed on the long-term consequences of excess weight (which I discussed in the last post), kids are obviously even less aware. Recall that diabetes, depression, and disability are just some of the common comorbidities with obesity. Just think about how children will be impacted if they experience diabetes, depression, and disability earlier in life.
Again, these are difficult realities to consider and, quite frankly, challenging for me to publicly discuss. While shame and guilt are neither my aim nor are they helpful motivators, I’m seeking to provide clarity and give parents the awareness and tools to help their children now.
Before closing out this post, there is one more thing we need to consider.
If obesity rates are highest among those who are most religious – specifically Southern Baptists – and is often generational, then logically children who grow up in religious households will likely be more obese than non-religious children.
When you put everything from the last 3 posts together, the picture is clear and quite staggering.
So, we’re left to soberly ask ourselves a few questions.
What behaviors do I engage in that are being reinforced in my child, ones that may saddle him with long-term health issues down the road?
What changes do I need to make to honor the Lord both the ways I treat my own body but also in how I teach my child to honor the Lord in her body?