SEATTLE – Nearly one-quarter of the eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders in the state are overweight, part of a national trend of increasing child obesity, a University of Washington study indicates.
The study issued Thursday by the university’s Human Services Policy Center also found that 58 percent of the state’s adults weigh too much, further evidence that the problem is multigenerational and that before long most Washington residents will be considered obese, said Louise Carter, the center’s assistant director.
“It’s families, children, parents, communities,” Carter said.
The younger the child, the less control he or she has over factors that govern weight gain, she noted.
For example, the study found that nearly half the women who gave birth in Washington state in 2003 were overweight before becoming pregnant – a factor that increases a baby’s likelihood of becoming obese or diabetic.
Calorie-laden junk food is sold in many school vending machines, and an average child sees 30,000 commercials for candy, breakfast cereal and fast-food annually at home, Carter said.
“It’s the responsibility of the adults, policy makers and parents to provide them with the best possible start in life,” she said.
An adult with a body mass index, the ratio of height to weight, of at least 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI of at least 30 is considered obese. For children, overweight is defined as a BMI exceeding 85 percent of the BMIs of other youngsters the same age and gender, and those with BMIs higher than 95 percent of peers are considered obese.
Nationally, obesity rates have nearly quintupled among 6- to 11-year-olds and tripled among teens and children 2 to 5 since the 1970s, and – as with adults – a key factor is lack of exercise.
Within the state, according to the report, the cost of physical inactivity is projected to be $8.8 billion this year in medical expenses, workers’ compensation claims and lost productivity.
Extensive research has shown that overweight and obese children are more likely to become overweight and obese adults.
“The younger you are when you weigh in at the obese level, the higher the probability you will be an obese adult,” Carter added. “That’s why more and more people are looking at what we can do very early in development to intervene so kids will grow up healthy and fit.
“The seed needs to be planted that what you do as a teen could affect your children and your children’s children. That’s a heavy thing for a teen to think about. Overweight males are as important as overweight females. If either parent is obese, the child is at increased risk,” Carter said.