Why are a quarter million children in central Indiana overweight?

It’s more complex than you may think… part 1 of 3 in a series for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (September)

Maybe you’ve heard that 20% of children nationally—and 40% right here in central Indiana—are overweight or obese.

Mother and daughter running on street

Perhaps you know this makes childhood overweight and obesity 3 times more common today than it was 30 years ago. Why are so many children today growing up at unhealthy weights?

Screen time and sedentary activity

If you immediately thought of video games, computers, tablets, and other screens, then you know part of the explanation. Children spend an average of 7 hours a day engaged in recreational screen time. Experts recommend 2 hours or less.

Cartoon of Rodin's The Thinker except he's overweight and staring at the TV.  It's captioned The Thicker.

Children need instead to be active for at least 1 hour every day. It doesn’t have to be a consecutive 60 minutes. Short bursts of activity are equally valuable. Moderate to vigorous activity is essential, though; children should be out of breath.

Activity barriers

Electronic devices aren’t entirely to blame for children’s sedentary habits. In some neighborhoods, challenges in the built environment present children and families with extra obstacles to overcome.

Children play with hula hoops outside

Many neighborhoods lack sidewalks, trails, or other safe routes for walking and biking—even near schools. Playgrounds may not be accessible without a car or may not be safe places to play. And until very recently, schools were reducing recess time and reducing or eliminating physical education classes in favor of other curriculum priorities. In short, not all children have had adequate opportunities for physical activity.

There’s more

Excess screen time and sedentary activities are certainly pieces of the obesity puzzle, but food culture, quality and access have changed, too. Next week we’ll dive deeper into the causes of childhood obesity.