Nearly one million children in Georgia are overweight or obese. That puts the state of Georgia in second place for the highest number of obese children in the country, right behind Mississippi. Illinois is close behind at number four. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is filled with children who have type 2 diabetes, hypertension, liver and kidney disease or are in need of joint replacement — all of which could have been avoided with proper weight control. And now, they’re taking a stand.
First, let’s cover some background. It’s a harsh truth that 40% of children in Georgia are overweight. And as you know, Georgia isn’t alone. What you may not expect is how frighteningly fast the rates are rising. The last time data was collected for Illinois, 34.9% of children were overweight — which was a staggering 19.1% rise from 2003 when the rate was 15.8%.
2003 Rates of Overweight and Obese Children
2007 Rates of Overweight and Obese Children
* Obesity is defined as body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the 2000 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention BMI-for-age growth charts. Children with BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile are classified as overweight. BMI is calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. Children age 10-17 are included in this data. Courtesy of National Conference of State Legislatures.
It’s a problem not many wish to address for a variety of reasons. We don’t want to embarrass our children. We don’t want to seem mean or judgmental. The fact is that weight issues are deeply personal and emotionally charged. 75% of parents who have overweight or obese children do not recognize the problem.
At the heart of this issue is the fact that most people view being overweight as a cosmetic problem — and while personal appearance is a concern, the real trouble are the heath problems that inevitably worsen as a result. Understandably, it’s often difficult connect health problems that can sometimes occur far in the future. Children are viewed as either resilient (and may grow into a healthy weight) or needing to be protected and sheltered (their self-esteem needs to be insulated).
From a healthcare perspective, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, liver and kidney disease, joint replacement surgery and other health issues precipitated by weight cost over $3.4 billion annually in Illinois alone. That’s because one out of five children are obese and one out of three are obese or overweight — and 62% of our state’s adults are overweight.
The officials at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta have had enough. They’ve launched a five-year, $25 million anti-obesity campaign that includes training pediatricians, developing educational programs in schools, setting up a health clinic, developing a microsite, TV, radio, outdoor, print ads and social media.
The campaign is being praised by the community, families, experts and health officials, but isn’t without controversy. Rodney Lyn of Georgia State University’s Institute of Public Health feels the effort is too harsh and says, “This campaign is more negative than positive.” Frustrated by so much preventable disease, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta patterned the ads after popular anti-smoking and anti-methamphetamine campaigns — and intended them to be blunt. “Ignoring this problem is what got us here. It’s time to wake up,” clearly states the hospital’s microsite strong4life.com.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s campaign is part of a growing movement in the United States to address weight issues head-on. Today, more and more hospitals are already offering nutritional counseling, healthy eating programs, bariatric surgery and other services to adults. Creating a campaign to help children and their parents learn to manage their weight is a courageous undertaking — which can have a truly positive effect on our future.