Oct. 16, 2000 Theresa A. Nicklas, DrPH, Professor of Pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine reported that the prevalence of obesity (body weight more than 20% greater than recommend for height and sex) in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Obesity is now the most prevalent disease of children and young adults in the USA. Between 1980 and 1990 alone, the prevalence of obesity in US adults increased 40%. (This occurred in less than a generation and therefore cannot be ascribed to changes in genetics) About 55% of American adults are now considered either overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in children parallels that of adults. Among children aged 6 to 11, obesity has increased 54% since 1960 with a 40% increase among adolescents 12 to 17 years of age. Worrisome is the fact that obesity contributes to five of the leading causes of death in the USA: heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes.
In secular trends, the increase in the body weight of children averaged 5.5 pounds not attributable to gains in height in the decade of the 70s' This body weight increase doubled to 11 pounds in the following decade. For any one child to gain 5 pounds over a year, he/she would only need to consume an additional 48 Calories per day.
The explanation of this increase in body weight has been suggested to be due to greater inactivity such as television watching (2-4 hours per day), decrease in physical education at school, increased use of automobiles and buses for school transportation, and/or the increased frequency of eating out, increased serving sizes, and poor diet quality as a result of skipping breakfast, consuming less than the minimal five servings of fruits and vegetables, increased soft drink beverage consumption, and inconsistent meal patterns. Lacking are studies with a more "behavioral" focus using both cross-sectional and longitudinal approaches. Preliminary evidence presented at the obesity workshop of this annual meeting revealed that a very strong correlation exists over nearly two decades between the increase in consumer expenditure for eating out and the concomitant increase in obesity. Apparently the consumer priority when eating out seeks "value for dollar" and this priority supercedes various healthy eating concerns practiced at home.
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