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is child obesity really an epidemic?

I don't think you need an explanation for this.

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    Nov 17 2013: BMI SCHEMEE MI..... The more weight and mass we carry around the harder our heart has to work to keep the blood circulating and covering all that mass. The more weight we carry the more compacted your organs become and the more stress we apply to our joints. The heart is just a pump and any pump will wear faster if it has to constantly work harder.

    Its simply physiology and the BMI does not tolerate obesity any more than the body does.
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      Nov 17 2013: Well said William,
      The body/mind is made up of systems that are all interconnected. If one system is not working well, it affects all the other systems. I think of it as a know? Would we continue to drive our vehicle without giving it the appropriate fuel or other precious fluids? It would not operate! The body/mind is similar in my perception.

      Unfortunately, I observe lots of people taking meds for dieting, blood pressure, diabetes 2, when many of these issues can be regulated with simply giving the body/mind the right foods and exercise.

      I also observe people who are overweight having surgery on the back, knees and hips, and I am surprised surgeons will do that work without advising the folks to lose weight FIRST. I know of a person, who weighed between 300-400lbs, who had back surgery, knee replacements and breast reduction surgery, and did not change eating or exercising habits! Why would a person do that to themselves? Why would ANYONE in the medical profession do those surgeries if a person had no intention to change eating/exercising habits? In my perception, that is foolish.
  • Nov 17 2013: I personally love the Body Mass Index (BMI). It is so useful and helpful and we should all follow it religiously and use it to determine our health levels. Not to mention we should use that as the only factor for determining obesity in the world. *Author's note: Please re-read that dripping with sarcasm.

    According to the Body Mass Index, I have NOT been obese at only one point in my life. I was working out 4 - 6 hours a day, had a body fat percentage of around 3 percent and even then, I was still borderline obese. Needless to say, I find it a useless tool. It is an average based only on height and weight and has no real usefulness other than an indicator.

    That being said, yes, there are large amounts of the population who are obese by any standard. Parental decisions about food affect the children and their activity levels. Increasing amounts of television and online gaming are another factor influencing inactivity. And simply the fact that we do less physical activity on a regular basis. All make an impact on our obesity levels.

    We should be more worried about aerobic physical activity in all areas of our lives which is known to have a positive benefit in our lives, and our health. Not to mention, some new studies are coming out showing a positive trend in physical activity and positive brain activity. We should focus less, if at all, on BMI as an indicator. There are better charts and materials out there. But we must do something to address the issue of dietary intake and physical activity to have a positive impact on our children.
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      Nov 17 2013: There you go... going wee wee on the BMI thing.
      You are probably right about proper food intake and physical activity... I remember reading about the Original Americans who ran everywhere they went and subsisted on pemmican, berries and nuts. As soon and the Europeans penned them into reservations, they stopped running, ate fast food and got .... heavy. Also acquired Type 2 diabetes and a host of other ailments. So much for modern civilization.
      • Nov 17 2013: Yes, I do go wee wee on the BMI thing. ;)

        It is perfect if you are perfectly average. There are far better ways to determine body fat percentage and body type than just the BMI. Even doctors don't just use the BMI for determining healthy weight and such. They have different charts.

        And yes, our bodies were designed to move and our brains need oxygen. If you want to create the worst possible setting for a person to be the least productive and healthy, sit them down all day and do repetitive tasks which require minimal energy expenditure. The brain does not do so well in that setting.
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      Nov 17 2013: Dear Everett,
      I "got" the sarcasm, and I too have been heavier than the BMI recommends at times. I think muscle tissue is heavier than fat tissue, so along with other factors, that is another one to consider. The BMI is just one little tool we can use as an indicator, as you insightfully remind us, and it doesn't make sense to focus on that one little indicator and ignore all other information:>)

      I agree with everything you affects the energy level...which influences activity/inactivity....which all can become a cycle that is not good for the body/mind. These are choices we make every single time we put something in the mouth, and every single time we choose to take a walk or sit in front of the TV.
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    Nov 15 2013: Child obesity is an epidemic, but it is a result of many factors.
    Lack of activity is one of the key factors and so is the attachment we have all gained to technology. Our sedentary lifestyle is one of the culprits.
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    Nov 13 2013: Here are data in graph and table form from the Center for Disease Control, a reliable source of data for health information in the United States.
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      Nov 14 2013: statistics are kind of interesting, F. You may recall that I am enamored of the Masai tribe in Kenya. The Masai hate to have their census taken, if the government tries to do so, the Masai either chase them out of Masailand, or lie to them. Consequently, noone knows how many Masai there are. I have read three different books on Masai, and all of them asserted that there are different numbers of Masai in the world. One said there are a few thousand. One said 100,000. One said 14 million. And these were real books, published by real publishing houses, whose authors had obviously spent time and effort authoring them.

      A Masai man is not supposed to know how many cattle he has. If one goes missing, he should miss it as he would miss a friend.
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        Nov 14 2013: I did not look for the data collection strategy the CDC used, but I expect that it is far more reliable than a census of the Masai would be.

        Would you think a census taken by the CDC would be less reliable than people's casual observations or perhaps much more reliable?
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          Nov 14 2013: well, I'm glad you pinned me down here, F. I've always been enchanted by the Masai rejection of numbers. There is something that feels hard and cold about numbers. Yet I skimmed some of the background on your CDC link and the info looked reliable, and on first thought seems useful. So I'm stuck, completely stuck. It seems like a person should make a choice, either they believe in numbers or they don't, and I'm stuck where I'm seeing a good argument on both sides. I suppose one could take the position that there are times to use numbers, and times to reject them, and what one chooses might depend on one's purpose, I did ask the fellow who started this conversation what his purpose was in starting it.
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        Nov 14 2013: I don't see it this way- that one decides to believe in numbers or not. You know the saying about "throwing out the baby with the bath water." One needs to make judgments not about whether there is likely to be an imperfection but rather whether the magnitude of likely error makes the work worthless. Normally one looks for a variety of sources produced conscientiously to triangulate on a reasonable estimate rather than staking something major on a single measurement.

        So no one should just "believe in numbers." But their likelihood of being imperfect does create a great excuse for people in some settings to decide that if professionally done research could possibly have the slightest flaw, their guesses are just as likely to be right! There is the logical fallacy. Many things may be possible but it is worth considering likelihoods here.
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          Nov 15 2013: well, the question might be "Why do the Masai not want their numbers taken?" Perhaps they are afraid that, for whatever reason, the Kenyan government will declare war on them, and if the government knows how many of them there are, it would be easier for the government to attack.

          I suppose there is always some trust involved when you let somebody "get some numbers on you." For example, what if you participated in the government's study of obesity, and then the government suddenly declared that all fat people are to be executed. I suppose you would be first on the list since they already know about you.
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        Nov 15 2013: There can be so many reasons. Some cultural groups originally did not allow their photographs to be taken, because they believed it stole their souls. I do not remember which, but I remember reading this long ago.

        Your speculation in relation to the CDC's obesity study may mislead a reader willing to believe pretty much anything they hear that is negative about the United States.
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          Nov 15 2013: Well, it sounds like you think those cultural groups were wrong for their beliefs about photos. But perhaps there was some justification for their belief? There's something about the Masai distrust of numbers (or I'm calling it that, I don't know if they distrust numbers in all circumstances) that seems a little more thoughtful, and thought-provoking, at least for me, than the rejection of photos. I suppose it's because numbers have been around a lot longer than photos, someone who rejects photos might simply distrust change and modernity, but someone who rejects numbers has really thought about it.

          Well, not sure "speculation" is the right word. And the comment isn't confined to the CDC study, I only cite it as an example, using the words "For example." As I say, I'm still wrestling with this numbers question, I suppose it's more of a gut feeling than something I can articulate, which isn't too useful for a TED conversation. It sounds like you more or less like numbers, as long as they're reliably obtained. Can you see a downside to numbers, even ones that are reliably obtained?
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        Nov 15 2013: I made no judgment about the legitimacy of people's reasons for rejecting photography.

        I don't know that rejection of being counted is more or less thoughtful.

        Any thinking person probably realizes that numbers capture what numbers capture and that qualitative accounts of things capture something different. Indeed the Maya, the Inca, the civilizations in Mesopotamia, and Ancient China are examples of the long-standing practice of counting things. Counting provides one piece of information. Counting establishes, for example, how much corn there is but not necessarily how good it tastes. Counting ears of corn captures something different than measuring the weight of the corn.

        One has to get used to what information a number captures and what it does not capture. Like any piece of information, it needs to be interpreted correctly to be useful.
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          Nov 15 2013: well, let's just say the Masai do generally reject numbers, Fritzie. Would you find anything charming about this, or "romantic" about this? There are certain situations where we just don't want to hear about numbers, aren't there, for example, if a man brings a woman a bouquet, she'd recoil somewhat if he immediately told her how much they cost?
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        Nov 15 2013: I would not characterize rejecting numbers as charming or romantic. Is that how you see it yourself?

        There are charming and not charming people who love math and the same for those who hate math. There are charming people who like to weigh themselves and charming people who don't.

        I see these characteristics as entirely unrelated.

        I think it is obvious that most of what we talk about in a day is not about taking or sharing numerical measurements.
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          Nov 16 2013: thanks, Fritzie. Well, it's a wobbler for me. Part of me wants to say yes, numbers are not charming or romantic. Well, think of the stereotype of an accountant, dull, pedantic, etc. On the other hand, I could certainly imagine meeting an accountant who was very interesting, demonstrative, etc. I'm afraid I don't have a definitive answer, although I think in my gut I steer a little away from numbers, but is there any usefulness on TED conversations in saying you just feel something in your gut, but can't articulate reasons?
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        Nov 16 2013: Yes. This is a discussion site rather than a think tank and your thoughts give others something to consider. Whether people are convinced by other people's gut feelings is another thing. People typically have very good intuition in some areas and not in others. A craftsman working in wood likely has good intuition as to how his wood will respond to certain things he would do to it but would have poor intuition in areas outside his special experience and expertise. People are often overconfident, I have noticed, in their intuition in areas outside their fields of actual expertise
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          Nov 17 2013: I apologize that I keep replying without saying too much of substance, Fritzie. We call these conversations, and I try to be true to that word, in other words, if you and I were in a conversation, we wouldn't say let me go away and think about it a while, we'd keep talking to just.......have a conversation?

          Well, I still say numbers are a mixed bag, anyway. Here's an example: you've probably noticed me talking about how I mostly live on milk, and it's really excellent. For instance, on this diet I maintain at 165 pounds, a very healthy weight for my six feet, two inches. Now, if I quote those numbers to you, 165, 6 foot two, they may be quite useful, they are an objective standard that tells you something about the value of this diet. You may say those are very healthy numbers, I'm going to try that diet and see if it will help me. On the other hand, the numbers might make you feel oppressed and belittled, you may say I don't want to follow that diet, I don't think I can stick to it, I can never achieve those numbers, damn him for telling me those numbers, it just points up my shortcomings. So what is the answer, perhaps I should just try to guess in any situation whether a set of numbers will benefit a person or only make them feel bad?
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        Nov 17 2013: Precisely. While people make mistakes, we typically have a pretty good idea of the information, both numerical and qualitative, that is best not to share or to ask others to provide in social interaction.

        For example, you probably don't ask older people their age and probably seldom ask other people their weight, how much they earn, or which personal care products they use (notice this is not numerical).

        Your judgment might be different for people very close to you than for more casual acquaintances.

        While you probably know not to inquire about people's weight or blood pressure, the doctor knows to measure those things and discuss them with the patient.
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          Nov 17 2013: thanks, Fritzie. well, I think in an earlier reply you had said we don't speak of numbers very often during our day. Any thoughts on why that is, because we certainly could find a reason to speak of them often if we wanted to.
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        Nov 17 2013: Why do you think? Why do we not talk about colors more often or textures? We certainly could find a reason to speak of any of these attributes of things more often.
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          Nov 17 2013: well, actually, it's conceivable to me that you're incorrect, maybe there are people who talk about numbers quite a bit during their day. So a better statement might be that you and the people you know don't talk about them much during the day, and I and the people I know don't either. It might be that I and the people I know are more interested in emotions, or little combinations of emotions & thought, and there's something about numbers that's a little damping to emotion, but the question is why, why do numbers damp emotion, maybe when you use numbers it's a less personal expression than words? For me there's a contradiction here, however, in my mind if you don't like to talk about something it means that that's a bad thing, but can I say definitively numbers are a bad thing? probably not, in some cases they seem quite useful. So I'm pretty much as stuck as I was towards the beginning of this "sidebar." Can it be that we don't like talking about numbers too much, but we like having them there if we need them? But how does that work psychologically, it almost seems like we like numbers but we don't like them, but can you entertain both feelings simultaneously?
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        Nov 17 2013: I think this sidebar has run its course, but if you are interested in pursuing your question further, you should start a new thread.
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    Nov 17 2013: There is a lot of enthusiasm here for proper diet and exercise. And as a broad generalization, there is truth there.
    Personal testimony about how these goals were achieved.
    However, it is the exceptions that should be considered. I live in an area where a number of my neighbors are "wounded warriors". I call out to my neighbor two doors up "race you!" .... He yells back "no fair, you can stand up".
    I have heard all the admonishments about exercise and eating right and the good life. Not all of us can do that.

    Now, this conversation is about children. So, let's look at bringing play back to schools. We give active children drugs to slow them down and behave in class. In my day, an hour on the play ground and everyone was settled down and behaving in class.
    While we are at it, let's bring schools back to teaching children to become functional adults. Not every child is destined to be a Rhodes Scholar or brain surgeon. Let each child find his own destiny and not be ridiculed that he is not going to college aka pass the state examination.
    We need brain surgeons, but we need auto mechanics and landscapers, no career is too menial....
    We need functional adults that know enough to deal with their personal finances, relationships, communications and most of all; smart enough to not to be swayed by smooth talking politicians...
    If they are also fit and healthy.... frosting on the cake.... maybe not a good metaphor.
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    Nov 17 2013: No, if we don't let them eat KFC or junk foods so much and let them practice more exercise. We should take actions to stop it becoming worse.:)
  • Nov 17 2013: Yup. It is.
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    Nov 16 2013: Maybe I am not one to comment on obesity. My BMI is about twice what it should be.... I love the BMI numbers... you really don't have to say how heavy you are.... or what your weight is.
    But we are talking about youngsters... I am not sure national figures, I go by my observation. I see more chubby kids now then I used too. Some have said it is a problem in poor and less educated families. Again, I didn't ask those chubby kids about their family finances.
    But, I see chubby kids in stores, sometimes with chubby moms, with shopping carts full of chubby foods. Or they stand in front of me at the burger barn ordering little johnnie, a double down burger with super fries and a diet coke.

    I see all kids will little dodads in their hands, fingers flying over little buttons.

    I went to my grandson, who in the 5th grade has no axe to grind.

    "Talk to me about gym class" I said.

    "Gym class?"

    "You know when you go out and play"

    "Oh, P E class !" " I have P E three times a week, just before lunch"

    "So, you play dodge ball or something?"

    "Oh no, nothing where you can get hurt" "My favorite is the Round Robin,, where you run across the all purpose room as fast as you can and I do it in 5 seconds, the third fastest."

    "Good for you" "How many times do you run during the class".

    "Maybe three, we all take turns"

    Yeah, with all the little dodads; only running maybe 20 seconds in 45 minutes of a P E class; eating supersize fries and double burgers, we could be turning out chubby kids.
    • Nov 17 2013: Mike, I read this and just dropped my shaking head. I teach PE. And yes, I have seen this mentality of "do activity but don't do anything that would get someone hurt". I have been through the trend of cooperative rather than competitive activities. And yes, I have been in classrooms just like this. I don't know what to tell you other than that is not how it should be.

      As a physical educator, this really does frazzle me. Because it is not physical education as it should be taught. This doesn't even rise to the national standards for physical education for activity levels and how classes should be taught.

      We have no hope of changing the levels of physical inactivity if we don't show how fun it is to be physically active and provide a wide range of options. Not to mention, teaching kids about eating healthy and the concerns about eating fast food a lot.

      There are better programs out there than the one you described.
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    Nov 16 2013: Obesity seems to be a growing challenge for children AND adults. And then, on the other side, so are other habits and eating disorders which cause people to be unhealthily skinny. If the adults in our population are having challenges with health issues, and eating habits, it seems natural that the challenges would filter down to our children, by way of the adults who are modeling the behaviors.

    Perhaps we need to look more at the underlying dis-ease in our world, rather than, or in addition to simply talking about, and trying to treat the symptoms? Some of the underlying causes have been addressed on this conversation thread, including, and not limited to, lack of exercise and poor eating habits, both of which contribute to a more or less healthy life style.

    On a general note, people could be more aware of taking care of the body....what does our body mean to us? Is it important enough to keep it healthy? Do we choose to be sick and incapacitated because of poor health habits? Or do we want to live life fully, in a healthy way? I have always been relatively healthy because that is what I choose for myself, in an effort to support the life journey. If we cannot move well, and are often mentally or physically challenged, it limits our life experiences. Why would we do that to ourselves?
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    Nov 14 2013: Yes, child obesity is an "epidemic" given that, by definition, it is rapidly spreading throughout most of the developed and developing nations of the world. As for why obesity is spreading, the simple explanation is that children are living more sedentary lifestyles (i.e. spending more time sitting in front of TVs and computers), and consuming more calories than what they burn in a typical day. For more information, check out:

    Although we could blame fast food restaurants, manufacturers of processed foods, beverage companies, and pretty much every company that utilizes high fructose corn syrup in the majority of their products. The fact of the matter is that we have been eating horrible food and consuming sugar water for several generations. The major difference is how we are spending our time.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, men (15 years of age or older) spend an average of 6.0 hours a day on leisure activities, while women (of the same age range), spend an average of 5.2 hours a day on leisure activities. Not to mention that an average work day for both genders is 7.7 hours. Accounting for the fact that, statistically, we work sedentary jobs, if one adds up the amount of time that we typically spend living sedentary lifestyles, this amounts to roughly 13.7 hours per day for men, and 12.9 hours per day for women.

    Long story short, on the average, we are spending most of our lives doing sedentary tasks/activities, and our children are very likely to be doing the same.
  • Nov 14 2013: Epidemic? No, it would have to be contagious for that.
    A very real problem? most definitely. The statistics are all conclusive.
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    Nov 14 2013: No obesity is NOT an epidemic because it would first have to be infectious and, although the lifestyle that leads to obesity does seem to be infectious, the actual effect of gaining excessive amounts of weight is not.

    However obesity does fit the definition of a disease in that it is a pathology that has seriously detrimental consequences on one's body. The heart has to work so much harder to cover and feed all that extra mass,organs become so compressed and compacted that it impairs their normal functioning and the whole skeletal structure, especially the supportive joints and feet, can become overwhelmed by the weight. All of which causes increasing and eventually debilitating dis-ease to every aspect of one's body.

    Many view obesity as an addiction and, while that is true for some, it can just as easily be the result of a dysfunctional organ such as the thyroid, or simple genetics. But there is no denying that fast food consumption can be addictive in that one can become so dependent upon the convenience and taste that they ignore the health related consequences just as so many addicts do. Then there are those families who dine at home but others prepare the meals and clean up afterwards so convenience and access play a big part there as well.

    Of course, for the couple of billion human beings who worry about how or when they will acquire their next meal obesity does not seem to be much of a health concern. But for those of us who have 24/7 easy and infinitely convenient - we deliver! - access to a seemingly infinite amount and variety of food stuff - healthy and otherwise - the enjoyment of eating can easily become just another of the pleasure centers that we so easily become obsessed with endlessly stimulating to the point of impairing our health and ultimately our own well being.
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    Nov 14 2013: Max, I typed in height and weight charts and look for a man 6' tall ... small frame = 149 - 160 Medium frame = 157 - 170 Large frame 164 - 188 .... so in my circle I do not know any 6' men that are not at least 200 and IMO they do not seem to be fat in appearance.

    So here is my question. Is it time to look at the charts and update them to modern man.

    I went to the store and bought a outfit for a 6 month old child and it was not even close. Most kids are off of the height and weight charts used by both doctors and manufactures.

    I agree that many are over weight ... but is it really a epidemic?

    I see heavy people using the carts at the stores and look in the baskets and see very unhealthy food that are a large contributor to the problem ... heavy families that eat at the local drive in on a regular basis ... and on and on ...

    The first step would be to get these people to want to help themselves ....

    I am not the best source as I am 5 pounds over where I feel good and 35 pounds over where the doctors says I should be. I am 70 and 5' 10" and he wants me between 151 - 163. Good luck with that. I feel great at 185 and looked like a scarecrow at 170. LOL

    Perhaps there is a middle ground where the charts and the weight should meet.

    Now for the humor ... the doctor who told me to lose weight is about 60 + pounds over weight and smokes.

    I wish you well. Bob.
    • Nov 14 2013: "Now for the humor ... the doctor who told me to lose weight is about 60 + pounds over weight and smokes."

      Few and far apart are those who can follow their own advice...

      "do as I say, not as I do" had to come from somewhere, after all.
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        Nov 16 2013: Yes, Nadav

        The "do as I say... " admonishment... I have given that advice for years to my sons and
        it has fallen on deaf ears. I think that is where the " I told you so" comment came from.
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    Nov 14 2013: i don't know. Why are you asking the question?

    I don't have many dealings with children. I don't trust statistics 100%.
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    Nov 13 2013: Yes; childhood obesity is indeed an epidemic.

    From the CDC:

    Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.

    In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.