Childhood Obesity: It’s Not “Baby Fat”— And It Matters – Part 1



Childhood Obesity really matters. That’s why all living U.S. Surgeon Generals and First Lady Michelle Obama have, at different times and in different settings, identified childhood [and teen] obesity as one of the nation’s leading  health problems. While overweight and obesity has increased in all major U.S. populations,  the increase in African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans reflects an epidemic, with about 50% of all women in these three populations being overweight or obese. Yet, except for the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” childhood obesity campaign and related activities, little public attention is being given to this major health problem at present. In many communities, overweight and obesity have been largely accepted as the  norm. In fact, for historical and cultural reasons, many individuals appear to consider overweight and obesity more desirable than being normal in size (sometimes called skinny, or thin).

Why Preventing Childhood [and Teen] Overweight and Obesity Matters:

(a) Childhood obesity represents the beginning of a pathway that usually leads to adult obesity;

(b) Overweight children in the U.S. are starting to develop Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol levels, putting them at risk for heart disease, and stroke. These chronic diseases are costly financially, socially, and in some instances economically – regarding employee absenteeism and, and thus the nation’s future economic growth.

(c) Some overweight and obese children also develop asthma and sleep apneaSelf-esteem related issues also occur as a result of teasing and stigma associated with being overweight or obese.

(d) When one parent of a teen is overweight or obese, the teen has a 70 % chance of becoming overweight or obese, and the risk increases to 80% when both parents are overweight or obese.

(e) The percent of U.S. adults with obesity increased in White, Hispanic, and African American U.S. populations, but most strikingly, among African Americans between 1988 and 1994, as noted on the Health Power table below.

Overweight & Obesity Table 3: Increase in Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity among U.S. Black, Mexican-American, and White Populations, 2002
Percent Overweight
(BMI 25 to 30)
Percent with Obesity
(BMI 30 and above)
Racial / Ethnic Group 1988 to 1994
Ages 20-74 yrs
1999 to 2000
Ages 20 yrs & over
1988 to 1994
Ages 20-74 yrs
1999 to 2000
Ages 20 yrs & over
Black 2.4 3.5 7.9 15.1
Mexican-American/Hispanic 1.1 2.4 4.8 5.5
White 1.8 3 3.4 4.9

Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Journal of AMA 2002. See Health Trends by Health Power for other minority/multicultural tables and reports.

Given all of the above, the best approach to overweight and obesity prevention  is to start early and be consistent in promoting and facilitating healthy eating and regular physical activity for both children and teens. However, to accomplish this, or recommend it to others, one must first understand and appreciate the context and environment in which the effort will be, or is being, made.

Coming in Part 2: We will address the various stages of life in which different experiences contribute to an increased risk, or chance, of developing overweight or obesity.

By Norma J. Goodwin, M.D.
Founder, President & CEO
Health Power for Minorities
(Health Power);

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