Nearly 1 in 3 children in California is overweight or obese, dramatically increasing their likelihood of developing serious and costly health conditions and making childhood obesity one of the biggest public health risks California faces.
77% of obese children become obese adults, increasing their risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Childhood obesity rates in California are high and begin when children are young. 17% of low-income, preschool-aged children in California are obese, the highest percentage in the nation. Childhood obesity is estimated to cost Americans over $14 billion annually; however, this figure balloons to $168.4 billion when obese children become obese adults.
Figure: Percent of overweight kids in California
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Children’s built environments affect their health. Children living within a quarter mile of a convenience store are nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese as children living further away from such stores. Similarly, children living within a half mile of a large park are less than half as likely to be overweight or obese than those who do not. In 2010, only three-quarters (76%) of California high schools provided all students with the opportunity to participate in physical activities such as sports or clubs. And only 15% of California high schools always offer fruit and non-fried vegetable options in vending machines, school stores, canteens or snack bars.
Research shows that advertising has a powerful influence on the food preferences of children, ages 2 to 11, and that less than 1% of television food and beverage advertising to children is for healthy products. Moreover, the amount of children’s television viewing is associated with their caloric intake. During weekends, 3 out of 4 California children (75%) spend at least 2 hours a day watching TV or playingvideo games.
California should institute a comprehensive approach to combating childhood obesity, focusing on healthy food and beverage choices, increased physical activity and nutrition education. Specifically, the state should create a public policy agenda to address the multitude of factors underlying childhood obesity, support a state tax on sweetened beverages, offer students healthy food and beverage choices and increase physical activity during and after school.
Hundreds of school sites in California will benefit from more than $12.5 million in new state and federal grants to provide nutritious food to students.14 These grants provide eligible elementary schools with funding to offer students a variety of free fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks during the school day. Other grants will provide funding to start or expand the School Breakfast Program for K-12 students.
Despite the federal government’s failing to issue voluntary nutritional guidelines for food and beverage companies marketing to children, individual media companies have the opportunity to improve their own standards. For example, Disney established its own company nutrition standard to determine which food and beverage products are advertised, promoted or sponsored on the Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney.com and on Saturday morning programming for kids on ABC-owned stations. Additionally, Sesame Workshop recently announced plans to offer use of their characters including Big Bird and Elmo free of charge to supermarkets, produce companies and farmers to help promote fruits and vegetables.