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American children are fatter than ever.

American Children Are Fatter Than Ever

SAN FRANCISCO: American children and youth are the fattest they have ever been in history, and the rates of obesity are continuing to rise, an expert from the Harvard School of Public Health told members of The American Dietetic Association at a San Francisco meeting.

Steven L. Gortmarker, Ph.D, associate professor of the school's Department of Behavioral Sciences, said studies conducted from the 1960s to the 1980s show a substantial increase in obesity. Among children between the ages of 6 and 11, the rate of increase was 54 percent, and among children between 12 and 17, an increase of 39 percent was reported.

Both boys and girls of every race are affected. While blacks and children living in poverty have historically been less obese, Gortmaker said those differences have narrowed in the last 20 years. There are still some regional differences, with children in larger cities in the Northeast and North Central states tending to be heavier. "But what is striking is that the trend can be seen throughout the United States."

Much of the increase in childhood obesity can be attributed to lifestyle. "Dietary intake is the major component," Gortmaker said, explaining that increasing affluence means a greater availability of food. Other factors are the prevalence of fast food, and the constant reinforcement for consuming food, especially through advertising, and the role of food in American culture.

As children and adolescents have increased their food consumption, their activity levels have dropped. "One of the major forces leading to increased obesity is the tremendous amount of time youth spend watching television," Gortmaker said. "They spend as much time in front of the television as they spend in school. They aren't exercising."

Gortmaker cited a recent study indicating an association between television viewing and obesity in adults. Among 800 faculty, staff and students at the Harvard School of Public Health, those who watched television up to six hours a week had a four percent incidence of obesity, while 25 percent of the subjects who watched television 21 or more hours a week were overweight.

Another major factor contributing to obesity in children is the prevalence of obesity in American society. Being overweight is often accepted as normal.
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 1989
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