Obesity top health issue for children, reports say

research ak obesityNearly two-thirds – 65 percent – of adults believe obesity, or related risk factors such as physical inactivity and poor diet, is the number one health issue for children, according to a survey by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). This information and more is contained in “Alaska Obesity Facts” fact sheets produced by DHSS, Obesity and Prevention Control.

Alaskans have reason to be concerned. Data from three separate programs indicate that a substantial portion of young children are overweight or obese. Among children 2 to 5 years old, 35 to 41 percent are overweight or obese. Rates of obesity among these groups ranged from 16 to 24 percent.

Young children don’t necessarily grow out of their “baby fat.” According to national data, one-third of obese preschool children and about half of obese school-age children become overweight adults.

Medical conditions associated with obesity include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, fatty liver, sleep apnea, and musculoskeletal and psychosocial disorders. The risk of these health problems is no longer confined to adults. With the obesity epidemic, some of these conditions are now showing up in obese children.

Who is responsible for addressing childhood obesity in Alaska? More than 90 percent of adults surveyed in 2009 said parents and individuals have some or a lot of responsibility. Others share responsibility, too – see No. 1 Children’s Health Issue.

Is there a connection between the high rate of overweight and obese young children, and the decline in physical readiness for school?

As children start school, they are assessed on their readiness in five different domains, which include physical well-being, health, and motor development. Over the past three years, the average scores have dropped. Essentially this means more children lack the muscle strength and motor coordination they should have when starting school.

What’s to be done about the problem? The DHSS obesity fact sheets contain information about ways that parents, health care providers, schools, worksites and communities, and state government can contribute to reversing the obesity epidemic among young children.

For a complete list of the resources available related to obesity prevention and control, visit the DHSS website.