Childhood Obesity May Reduce Life Expectancy
By Crystal D. Swann
May 9, 2005
According to a newly published report in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers estimate that the current rate of child obesity could reduce U.S. life expectancy by four to nine months. And if the trend continues, researchers conclude that life expectancy could be shortened by two to five years in the coming decades. This would be the first time in modern history that a future generation's lifespan would be shorter than their predecessor.
Researchers David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston, epidemiologist S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues based their predictions on data on the prevalence of obesity from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and previously published estimates of years-of-life lost from obesity. The current trends of rising rates of childhood and youth obesity signal the beginning of a preventable epidemic of among other things, early heart disease and cancer among young adults.
The National Institutes of Medicine (IOM) study, "Preventing Childhood Obesity Health in the Balance," reports that US children, over the last three decades, face drastically different environmental and social living conditions which have contributed to the developing obesity epidemic. "Many of these changes such as both parents working outside the home, longer work hours by both parents, changes in the school food environment, and more meals eaten outside the home, together with changes in the physical design of communities often affect what children eat, where they eat, how much they eat, and the amount of energy they expend in school and leisure time activities."
Obesity is known to increase risk for heart disease and cancer, and the surge in childhood obesity has already triggered an unprecedented rise in type 2 ("adult") diabetes in children. The IOM report further contends that obesity prevention requires an evidence-based public health approach to assure that recommended strategies and actions will have their intended effects.
Mayors across this country have begun addressing the raging epidemic. Many of the largest cities, including Chicago, Boston, Austin, Cleveland, New Orleans, Seattle, Philadelphia, and San Antonio were awarded five-year STEPS to a Healthier U.S. cooperative agreements, in 2003, from the Department of Health and Human Services to implement chronic disease prevention efforts focused on reducing the burden of diabetes, overweight, obesity, and asthma and addressing three related risk factors: physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use.
In addition, many other cities have begun initiatives on their own. For example, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell announced Healthy Nashville STEPS. The Healthy Nashville 2010 Leadership Council developed Healthy Nashville STEPS as the way to become more physically active and make better nutrition choices, specifically 100 fewer calories a day, until healthy levels of physical activity and healthy weights are achieved and maintained. In Houston, after another year of being named America's Fattest City by Men's Fitness magazine, Houston Mayor Bill White launched "Get Moving Houston "to improve economic development and residents- quality of life and get the city off the "fattest cities" list by January 2006. The program includes a Mayor's Wellness Council made up of health professionals and business and civic leaders including representatives from health clubs, schools, universities and YMCAs.
For more information on programs like these, visit the website www.usmayors.org/chhs for the upcoming 2005 Best Practice edition of "Promoting Cancer Awareness and Healthy Cities."