Childhood Obesity: Changing the Narrative

December 21, 2015 / By Bernadette Onyenaka, NAACP Health Programs Specialist

Childhood Obesity NAACP HealthIn a perfect world, the very notion of a child carrying an excessive amount of weight, enough, to be considered obese, would furrow brows in concern and sound the alarm that perhaps, something in that child’s life–their nutrition, their environment, their emotional well being-has gone awry.  But in the imperfect world we live in, an entire generation of American children is in fact, suffering from obesity, and something, indeed, has gone wrong.

1 in 3 U.S. children, and adolescents are considered overweight or obese.  According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 16.9% of the nation’s children ages 2-19 years are considered obese.  Stratified by race, those statistics are 20.2% for African American children; 22.4% for Latino children, and 14.1% for White children.  Children who are considered overweight or obese are significantly more likely to suffer from adult chronic diseases Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or early signs of heart disease.  This is the first generation in 200 years that is projected to be outlived by their parents, by up to 5 years.  Given the magnitude and far-reaching proliferation of this problem, the time has come for our society to acknowledge that this quite literal boogieman, that is threatening the livelihood and lifespans of our children, has underpinnings that go far beyond the individual choices made by families.

How Did We Get Here?

Contrary to our strongest inclinations to blame individual families for “choosing” to feed their children fast food and frozen dinners, while exchanging outside play for screen time, the facts paint a clear picture that as a nation, we in fact, dug ourselves into this hole.  From a car culture that supersedes the common benefit of comprehensive public transportation, to the reduction and elimination of physical activity from the school curriculum, to a food culture continuously dominated by convenience and the super-saturation of salt, sugar, and fat flavor sensations, while simultaneously mocking and pigeonholing the concept of healthy eating as salads and kale, to the aggressive misappropriation of exercise as a means to looking good rather than a crucial part of living well, we did this.  What’s worse is that due to the historical injustices that lay the very foundation of our nation and the contemporary injustices that proliferate our society as it stands today, low-income populations and communities of color have been, and continue to be systemically backed further into the proverbial corner of poor health and life outcomes.  Systemic disenfranchisement through federal and state policy has perpetuated and exacerbated the cycle of poverty, and has consistently resulted in reduced access to healthy and nutritious food sources, inhospitable spaces to work, live, thrive, or dare play, the erosion of opportunities for enriched learning environments in the public system, and a blatant devaluation, criminalization, and dehumanizing of the oft “hyphenated Americans” of African-, Native, and Latin- descent.

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