September is the month of school starting, football season kicking off, and the start of fall. It's also the month medical professionals use to bring awareness to a trending epidemic in children: Childhood Obesity.

According to the Center for Disease Control, about 1 in 6 children in the United States has obesity and the health effects can last a lifetime.

BY THE NUMBERS

"If you look back to the 70s and 80s, the percent of childhood obesity was around 5 percent," said Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Jill Emerick, pediatrics subspecialty service chief, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. "The most recent data of 2015 and 2016, we see that has increased to 18.5 percent in children ages 2-19."

Obesity is defined by more than just the number measured on the scale. It takes into account body mass index, which is measured to determine childhood overweight and obesity. Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same sex and age. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile.

"Childhood obesity is one of the fastest growing health epidemics, if not the most, affecting our nation's children that we know of today," said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Candace Percival, pediatric endocrinologist, Brook Army Medical Center. "It's far reaching. It reaches children of all social economic classes. It affects all ethnicities and genders."

Childhood obesity is preventable. Emerick said the sooner the health issue is identified the better, so parents and the health care provider can begin a treatment plan.

"It's really important to be aware of the issue," said Emerick. "We as pediatricians and parents want to stay on top of it because childhood obesity can increase your chances of health issues and concerns as an adult."

Emerick said the topic is sometimes hard to talk about with societal stigmas attached to the word obese. However, it's important for parents and pediatricians, both, to be open to the conversation.

PREVENTION

It's important to realize obesity is multi-factorial said Percival. There's not one single reason someone becomes overweight or obese. The best way to prevent obesity is taking a holistic approach to healthy living.

"The focus should be on healthy living versus dieting," said Percival. "Families should embrace habits that are lifelong and not temporary changes. The goal is to focus on the lifestyle change toward healthy habits."

Both doctors recommend following the "95210, Let's Go!" method. The goal is for children to get 9 hours of sleep, 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, 2 hours or less of screen time, 1 hour of physical activity, and 0 sugary beverages each and every day.

The goal should be to establish healthy behaviors early so they become healthy behaviors for a lifetime versus bad habits that are engrained over a long period of time we have to overcome said Emerick.

"Childhood obesity can be managed by making healthier choices as a family," said Emerick.
The "95210, Let's Go!" resource page recommends setting goals with your children and participating with them. The goal is to lead by example and set a family challenge.

"Families who work together as a family unit and commit to change tend to do much better with success," said Percival.

LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES

The long-term consequences of childhood obesity are almost unmeasurable for our society and some effects are irreversible. Children with obesity are at a higher risk for having other chronic health conditions, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.
"What we see a lot more now and was unheard of 30 years ago is an increase in Type 2 diabetes," said Emerick. "In childhood, we used to only see Type 1 and now about a third of cases are Type 2 and that's shocking."

Children with obesity can be bullied and teased more. They are also more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression and lower self-esteem.

"The ramifications of obesity on wellness can be a change in mood, a higher rate of eating disorders and anxiety," said Percival. She added, another issue is developing an unhealthy relationship with food causing guilt or shameful eating habits. And our military kids are not immune to this epidemic.
"There's a myth," said Percival. "The myth is that our military lifestyle protects our kids, but military kids are on par with their peers."

According to the CDC, in addition to the medical costs of obesity-related issues, data shows implications of obesity on recruitment by the armed forces. During the 2007-2008 study, more than 20 million potential recruits were ineligible for enlistment due to being overweight.

"It's an important topic for all of our children," said Emerick. "But especially for our military. Our military families are a source of where we get our future force."