Academic journal article Policy Review

The Child-Fat Problem

Academic journal article Policy Review

The Child-Fat Problem

Article excerpt

JUST THREE MONTHS ago, a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed what any American with eyes even half-open could already have reported--that not only our adults, but also our children, are fat and getting fatter all the time. As the Department of Health and Human Services put it in a summary of this latest study's evidence, "Among children and teens ages 6 to 19, 15 percent (almost 9 million) are overweight according to the 1999-2000 data, or triple what the proportion was in 1980."

The widespread media attention given to this bad-news story would appear to be justified, for the JAMA study followed at least two other blue-chip examinations during the past year or so of the underage fat explosion. One of these, a report on the whopping economic costs of child and adolescent obesity, was published in Pediatrics magazine by researchers for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The other publication was a less prominent but also intriguing report in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition written by researchers at the University of North Carolina. This one emphasized one of the lesser-known aspects of the fat problem--that "adolescent obesity increases significantly among second- and third-generation immigrants to the United States," in the words of a UNG press release.

This is not to say that underage corpulence is unique to Americans and their offspring--far from it. Misconceptions and undeserved reputations to the contrary most other advanced countries (and for that matter, a number of not-so-advanced ones) do indeed share in the child-fat-and-obesity problem, for the most part differing from us in degree rather than kind. In England, reported the Guardian earlier this year, "Adult obesity rates have tripled and those in children have doubled since 1982." In Canada, says the Globe and Mail, also in 2002, "More than a third of Canadian children aged 2 to 11 are overweight, and half that number are obese, according to newly published Statistics Canada data." Moreover, "Canada now has more fat children than fat adults." As for Australia, a 2000 study there found that children of either sex were twice as likely to be defined as overweight in 2000 as in 1985.

Nor is the Anglo-speaking world the only one with a child-fat problem. Its svelte reputation quite aside, for example, continental Europe and its children are ballooning as well. In Italy, report researchers for the Bollettino Epidemiologico Nazionale, "Neapolitan children were more at risk of obesity than were children from France, Holland, the United States, and also than children living in Milan in northern Italy," while in the province of Benevento, "The prevalence of overweight and obesity was greater... than in England, Scotland, and the United States." In Germany, according to researchers in the International Journal of Obesity, a "large study on all children entering school in Bavaria in 1997 shows patterns of overweight and obesity which are comparable with other European data" (though still "lower than us and Australian data"). Even vaunted France, if the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research is to be believed, admits an obesity problem among 10-year-olds of "epidemic proportions. " "The number of seriously overweight children in France," reports the same institute, "has more than doubled since the 1980's."

Yet even granting the ambiguous relief of knowing that we are not the only giants pounding the earth, there is still no denying that the world's sole remaining superpower is also its most supersized. We Americans are remarkably catholic in this fat problem of ours--and, the nod to egalitarianism aside, our universalism here works to just about everyone's detriment. The fact that we fatten up even our immigrants, several subsets of whom are measurably bigger here than are counterparts in their home countries, means that we are virtually guaranteed a steadily growing quotient of bigger and bigger people, with an unhealthy degree of heaviness becoming ever more the unremarkable norm. …

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