Fitness and Wellness

Prevention of chronic diseases begins in childhood with proper eating habits important for growth and obesity prevention. Most youth do not follow proper nutritional guidelines, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Among youth (ages 6-19), 67% exceed suggested dietary guidelines for fat intake, while 72% exceed the recommendation for saturated fat consumption.

In 2009, only 22.3% of high school students reported eating the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding potato chips and fries), and 86.2% ate fewer than three vegetables per day. HHS recommends that youth (ages 6-17) participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. In 2009, only 37% of high school students had done so in five of the previous seven days.

Physical activity declines strikingly as children age. Of all high school youth, only 33.3% attended daily physical education classes. However, this figure drops significantly to 22.4% by senior year. While physical activity has decreased steadily, markers for sedentary behaviors have alarmingly increased: 55% of non-Hispanic Black students and 41.9% of Hispanic students watched three or more hours of television per day, compared to only 24.8% of non-Hispanic White students.

The percentage of overweight youth has more than tripled among adolescents (ages 12-19) throughout the past 20 years. Figure 1-5 shows that obesity now affects over 17% of children and adolescents in the United States. Significant racial and ethnic disparities exist in obesity, defined as >95th percentile for sex and age-specific body mass index (BMI), with obesity rates in non-Hispanic Black and Latino youth exceeding that in non-Hispanic White youth (Figure 1-5). Overweight and obese individuals — influenced by poor diet and inactivity — have an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, joint problems, and poor health status. Obese children are at significant risk of becoming obese adults. Likewise, they are more likely to develop numerous health problems, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure associated with heart disease as adults. Type 2 diabetes — previously considered an adult disease — has dramatically increased in overweight children and adolescents.

In a 2007 study, 70% of obese youth (ages 5-17) were found to have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Obese children and adolescents are at greater risk for bone and joint disease, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. Conversely, children at a healthy weight do not typically experience these weight-related diseases and are less at risk of developing them in adulthood.