Study finds early childhood, birth to age 5, is the most critical opportunity to prevent obesity, but it is often the most overlooked
MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL, July 16, 2012 – As the prevalence of childhood obesity in children rapidly increases across the United States, and the nation continues to grapple with the life-threatening consequences of this epidemic, a new report released today from Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota examines how this public health threat is impacting children and families across Minnesota – and what can be done to address it.
In the report, “Starting Early to Prevent Childhood Obesity,” Children’s physicians and researchers examine the latest childhood obesity research, data and clinical trends to better understand how Minnesota stacks up against national trends and what resources and evidence-based solutions exist that can have a long-term, positive impact on the prevention of childhood obesity.
“Nearly one in four Minnesota children is overweight or obese. As a result, we’ve seen a disturbing growth in obesity-related diseases among our kids,” said Alan L. Goldbloom, MD, president and CEO of Children’s of Minnesota. “This increase includes conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, asthma, and joint problems – some of which were previously uncommon in children. This is an epidemic communities must join together to fight at our kitchen tables, in our schools and across our health care system.”
Like the rest of the country, childhood obesity rates have continued to increase in Minnesota in recent years. On a national scale, one in six children between the ages of two and 19 is now obese, a rate three times higher than it was in 1980.1 In Minnesota, nearly one in four children (23.1 percent) has weight problems and among the state’s adolescents (ages 10-17), more than one in 10 (11.1 percent) are obese.2
The report also reveals a variety of trends that could be contributing to more Minnesota children having weight problems, including:
- Lack of healthy eating and activity habits in the home. Fewer than one in five Minnesota kids eat the recommended five fruits and vegetables per day. Furthermore, regular family meals are shown to promote good eating habits, but more than one in three Minnesota kids (34.4 percent) do not eat meals with their families – worse than the national average. In addition, less than half of Minnesota children meet physical activity guidelines, many spend too much time in front of the TV, and on average, Minnesota children get 30 to 60 minutes less sleep than they did 20 years ago, especially among children less than three-years-old.3
- Childhood obesity has hit Minnesota’s poor and minority children the hardest. In Minnesota, obesity is a greater problem among poor and minority children than it is nationally. Black, Hispanic and Native American children in Minnesota tend to get less exercise, have poorer diets, eat together less as families and engage in more screen time than Caucasian children. In addition to socioeconomic issues, including food deserts and lack of safe play areas, there may also be cultural factors at play in creating these disparities.
- The national increase in Type 2 diabetes among children has also hit Minnesota. Today, nearly one in six kids ages 12-19 has diabetes (Types 1 or 2) or pre-diabetes.
- Early childhood is critical for obesity prevention, but is often overlooked. While there are numerous initiatives to help fight obesity among school-aged children and teenagers, there is a troubling gap in obesity prevention focused specifically on Minnesota’s youngest kids, from birth to age 5.
“When it comes to preventing obesity, the earlier we get started with children, the better the chance of success. Investing in early intervention is critical,” said Julie Boman, pediatrician and hospitalist at Children’s.
While it is likely to take years to reverse the trend of childhood obesity in Minnesota, Children’s outlined several recommendations in the report to help get Minnesota back on track. Those recommendations include the need for public and private health care and community organizations across the state to continue developing collaborative research and partnerships aimed at obesity prevention in children, especially among the most vulnerable communities.
Children’s report on obesity is the third study in the Children’s Check-Ups initiative, which is a series of in-depth reports designed to help Minnesota families and health care leaders better understand how Minnesota is doing on a number of key indicators of children’s health. A list of obesity prevention resources and partnerships in Minnesota, and the full report, are available at Children's Check-ups Series.