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While adolescents around the world are eating more calories, they are not necessarily eating healthier food. High fats and more calories, combined with a decrease in physical activity, have created an obesity problem among adolescents around the world. The increase in popularity of television viewing and video games, better public and private transportation, and the urbanization of cities account for adolescents adopting more sedentary lifestyles. In addition, children have fewer safe neighborhoods to walk, run, play and ride their bicycles in.

Between 1980 and 1994, the percentage of children who are overweight increased from 11 percent to 24 percent. The trend is also evident in Brazil, Chile, Britain, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, China (among children of high-income parents), Taiwan, Thailand, and Australia. American adolescents, although they are eating more in calories, have diets that are low in many important nutrients. Because of this, many are at risk for hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and obesity. Sixty-one percent of children between five and fifteen who are overweight have one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and 27 percent of these children have two or more risk factors. Increasing numbers of children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which was once considered an adult-onset disease related to obesity.

Overweight children have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults. Obesity in childhood, leading to obesity in adulthood, multiplies the health risks for these individuals. Obesity in childhood also brings with it emotional pain from being teased, isolated, and discriminated against. Overweight children also suffer from low self-esteem, which may affect their ability to succeed at school.

While more adolescents become overweight, the media and peer pressure demand that girls look thinner and boys get bulkier. These societal pressures lead many teens to engage in disordered eating behaviors, such as extreme dieting. Consequently, many suffer from some form of eating disorder. Teens face a dilemma in a society that values youthfulness and thinness but encourages a lifestyle of sedentary convenience. Such a lifestyle includes a decrease in physical activity, and therefore energy expenditure, as well as fast foods full of fat and high in calories, making it difficult for adolescents to escape a sentence of obesity and ill health.

It is therefore important to encourage children, teenagers, and adults to adopt a physically active lifestyle and healthful eating habits, and to try to motivate young people to become healthier individuals. In addition, public policy to limit junk foods in schools and to encourage families to make healthful food choices for their children can also play a role. see also Adolescent Nutrition; Dietary Guidelines; Fast Foods; Food Guide Pyramid; Preschoolers and Toddlers, Diet of; School Food Service.

Kweethai C. Neill

Bibliography

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hyperlipidemia: high levels of lipids (fats or cholesterol) in the blood cardiovascular: related to the heart and circulatory system diabetes: inability to regulate level of sugar in the blood eating disorder: behavioral disorder involving excess consumption, avoidance of consumption, self-induced vomiting, or other food-related aberrant behavior lifestyle: set of choices about diet, exercise, job type, leisure activities, and other aspects of life

U.S. Department of Agriculture (2000). Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 5th edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. National Research Council (1989). Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th edition. National Center for Health Statistics. (2000). The Adolescent Chart Book. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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