Here is a spooky thought: The obesity rate for children in the U.S. has tripled in some cases.
With Halloween upon us, we must consider the impact that unhealthy eating habits and lack of activity have on our children. It is more important than ever to increase awareness about the potential health risks associated with obesity, which are only exacerbated by Halloween.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1976 to 2006, the childhood obesity rate increased from 5 to 12.4 percent in children ages 2 to 5. In children ages 6 to 11, the rate has risen from 6.5 to 17 percent, and in ages 12 to 19, the rate has shot from 5 to 17.6 percent.
The CDC reports that kids who are obese are likely to remain so as they age. As children develop into adults, significant changes to eating habits become less likely, giving rise to the astounding 67 percent of adults ages 20 and up who are obese or overweight.
An important way to prevent the future adult population from becoming obese is to educate youth about the health risks directly connected with weight problems. Obesity can have detrimental effects on the emotional, social and physical health of a child.
Lack of activity combined with poor food choices fuel the obesity problem. Since healthy eating is the first and most important step in combating the epidemic, adults must help children make proper food choices. Did you know a single package of some of the most popular Halloween treats can contain up to 232 calories, 21 grams of sugar and 14 grams of fat? This Halloween, instead of passing out candy, consider giving children a snack that is more beneficial to their health, such as apples or lower-calorie fruit snacks. Parents can also limit the number of homes their children visit while trick-or-treating.
We have also become a society highly dependent on technology, but technology can inhibit the physical activity of our children as well. Children have become so fascinated with spending prolonged periods of time sitting in front of a television, video game console or computer that physical activity becomes a minimal part of their daily lives.
Fighting obesity early in life can help prevent the onset of diseases such as Type II diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, joint problems, depression and anxiety. Did you know that diseases associated with obesity alone account for 27 percent of all medical costs? By reducing obesity rates, we can reduce the overall cost of health care and drastically reduce preventable doctors' visits.
Obesity in schoolchildren is also linked to absenteeism and lowered academic performance as a result of the associated emotional health problems. The CDC reported that children who spend their childhood overweight are at increased risk of suffering from low self-esteem throughout their lives.
By no means am I advocating that we cut all comfort foods from our diet. I am simply advocating for a community-based initiative to increase health awareness related to food choices. To prevent children from suffering the emotional, physical and health-related consequences of being overweight, we must develop a support system where neighbors and friends can encourage one another to succeed. Children who experience the support of a community while combating obesity will be less likely to experience the effects of low self-esteem while they pursue a healthier lifestyle.
Halloween is an opportunity for children to carve pumpkins, dress in costumes, attend parties, go trick-or-treating and, most importantly, have fun. As a former candy fanatic, I do not support removing candy entirely from the holiday. My belief is that parents should take initiative and limit candy intake during this period when an abundance of candy and unhealthy foods is available. If parents make their children aware of the health risks associated with failing to make proper food choices, we will also see improvements in initiatives by children to achieve healthiness within our society.
We cannot be afraid to make this change to our lives. Keeping ourselves healthy and informing children of obesity risks will not only keep us alive longer to enjoy our families and friends, but most importantly, we will help increase the quality of life for the future of our society: our children.
Theresa Foley is a resident of Byfield and a student in the Honors Program at UMass Lowell majoring in nursing and minoring in nutrition.