Child Obesity – Wake Up and Smell the Sugar


Written by Veronika Bradley, Editor for Children's Health and Safety Association - October 8, 2013 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019

The medical, statistical data from reputable associations and organizations are not lying to us – they're warning us. 

The steady influx of fast food chains providing junk food combined with a sedentary lifestyle has caused childhood obesity to reach epidemic proportions in Canada and around the world.  Children's muscles atrophy after a period of abuse and neglect, and manifest the onset of chronic adult diseases. 

Some parents don't think their children are overweight or obese and believe they are eating healthy meals, and other parents readily admit their children are overweight but believe they will eventually outgrow their 'baby fat' stage.  As long as parents continue to look at their children with a blind eye or skewed attitude, serious health issues will escalate exponentially and children will ultimately pay the price.

Dr. C. P. Bansal, the national President of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics stated, "Adolescent health and nutrition status has an intergenerational effect."

"Habits acquired during childhood and adolescence remain with a person throughout his life and also set an example for his children…obesity in childhood invariably continues into adulthood, leading to a very high incidence of non-communicable lifestyle disorders later in life," adds Bansal.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 'adult onset' diabetes in children has risen more than 1,000% over the last two decades in the United States.  Children have unlimited access to sugar and processed food, and are consuming 600 calories more per day than they were 30 years ago.  40% of children are now overweight and over 2 million are morbidly obese who have either pre-diabetes or diabetes.

The CDC states that half of American overweight teens have unhealthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels and childhood obesity epidemic has brought on Type 2 diabetes.  "It's one thing for an overweight or obese 55-year old gaining an extra few pounds a year to develop diabetes at age 65 and then have a heart attack.  It's a very different thing if the clock starts ticking at age 10", said David S. Ludwig, a childhood obesity expert at Children's Hospital in Boston.

Young diabetic teens will be diabetic adults in the near future struggling to keep their blood sugar levels under control and encumbered with the effects of long-term diabetes such as blindness, nerve damage, heart attacks and strokes.

Statistics in United States

A study was released in the 'Pediatrics' journal in May 2012 that looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys over the past 10 years.  Here are the overwhelming statistics:

  • One in four adolescents has, or is, borderline diabetic. Ten years ago, the ratio was 1 in 10.
  • One in four adolescents has two or more risk factors for heart disease.
  • One in seven has an LDL level (cholesterol) that is borderline or high.
  • One in five has high blood pressure.
  • One in four is obese.
  • According to the CDC, obesity related medical bills will cost $147 billion each year.
  • Food manufacturers spend $10 billion advertising their products to children and 98% of the food products are high in fat, sugar and/or salt.
  • By 2030, when today's newborns will become adults, 42% of Americans will be classified as obese compared to 36% today.
  • Obese parents provide the biggest risk factor for children's later obesity as adults, according to Stanford University's School of Medicine.

80% of food products in U.S. grocery stores are spiked with added sugar.

 1/3 of Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

Statistics in Canada

Statistics Canada states that almost a third of Canadian children are overweight or obese.  The 2009-2011 Canadian Health Measures Survey reports:
  • 5% (approx. 1.6 million) of children from the age of 5 to 17 are overweight or obese.
  • 33% of children from the age of 5 to 11 were overweight compared to 30% of those children aged 12 to years of age.
  • 1% of boys are obese compared to 8% of girls.
  • 59% of adult Canadians are either overweight or obese.
  • Cities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were significantly higher in overweight/obesity population than the national average.
  • Only 15% of children were overweight or obese in 1978 compared to a 2007 Statistics Canada report, which stated that 29% of adolescents had an unhealthy weight. Most adolescents do not outgrow a weight problem; in fact, many continue to gain excess weight.  If current trends continue, by 2040, up to 70% of adults aged 40 years will be either overweight or obese.
  • Adults who have unhealthy weights are at increased risk of heart disease, cancer, strokes and type 2 Diabetes.
  • In 2005, the total cost of obesity to Canadians was $4.3 billion - $1.8 billion in direct healthcare costs and $2.5 billion in indirect costs.


According to the Economist's 'Big Mac Index', a Big Mac costs more than many people earn in a day's wage and so they consider fast food a symbol of wealth in India.  Most parents do not feel a sense of responsibility for their child's weight problem nor do they acknowledge or recognize they are compromising their child's health.


A study conducted at the Midwest Regional Hospital in Limerick, Ireland, reported that up to a third of children in hospital are brought fast food by their parents during their stay and more than a third of 6 to 12-year-old children admitted to the facility are overweight or obese.

Researchers at the University of Limerick and Dalhousie University in Canada looked at the types of food eaten by child patients and established there was a lack of water, brown bread, dairy products, fruit and vegetables.  "This challenge is reinforced by our finding that nearly 67% of parents of overweight or obese children believe that their child was of normal weight," stated Professor Colum Dunne, author and researcher.


A study undertaken by an academic at Goldsmiths, University of London, looked at 4,000 Scottish children aged 3 to 5 years-of-age and compared fast food with freshly cooked food  and found that:

  • Children that eat fast food meals will grow up to have a lower IQ than those who regularly eat freshly-cooked meals.
  • Childhood nutrition has long lasting effects on IQ, even after previous intelligence and wealth and social status are taken into account. Parents with a higher socio-economic status reported they gave their children meals prepared with fresh ingredients more often, which positively affected their IQ.  Lower socio-economic status was linked to more children having fast food, which led to lower intelligence.

Positive Initiatives

Positive initiatives to tackle the global obesity epidemic are reverberating around our planet.  Organizations are implementing changes to their policies, integrating proactive measures and acting responsibly for what has been so blatantly apparent and what they can no longer deny – social conscience, awareness and accountability. This long overdue chain reaction in asking corporations and parents to do the right thing for all the right reasons brings the obesity plight to a crucial crossroad from a moral and ethical standpoint that echoes: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Fast food advertising in Quebec aimed at children has been banned online and in print for the last 32 years.  Studies indicate they have the lowest rate of child obesity in Canada.

  • A variety of fresh fruit is mandatory in British school canteens and the only drinks available are bottled water, low fat milk, pure fruit juices, yogurt, and milk drinks with less than 5% sugar.
  • School vending machines in California now have yogurt, nuts, and milk instead of candy bars, chips and soft drinks. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, signed a bill banning the sale of all sodas in schools and set an allowable standard for fat, sugar and calories for all foods.
  • Sweden, Norway, Ireland and Québec implemented a total ban on junk food ads. In January 2013, Disney announced the banning of all junk food ads on TV networks.
  • It is important to note that in Quebec fast food advertising aimed at children has been banned online and in print for the last 32 years and studies indicate they have the lowest rate of child obesity in Canada.
  • There are 35 million overweight and obese children in developing countries compared to 8 million in urbanized countries.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.
  • The fifth global risk for mortality is obesity and it is the leading contributor for diabetes at 44%, ischemic heart disease at 23% and some cancers at 7-41%.
  • 59% of all people that eat at fast food chains are children.
  • Aside from physical diseases, obesity is related to mental health issues, poor self-esteem, bullying and depression.
  • More than 33% of diseases and 60% of premature deaths among adults are associated with behaviours or conditions that started during adolescence.

"Physical activity plays a powerful role in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, however, little data exists to describe the role of physical activity in the prevention of type 2 diabetes in obese youth," says Dr. Jonathan McGavock, a Canadian Diabetes Association past scholar and research scientist at the Manitoba Institute of Child Health.

120 obese youth from 13 to 19 years of age were recruited for the P.O.W.E.R Trial (Physical Activity Intensity and Adiposity in Obese Youth) and randomly placed into three groups: a vigorous physical activity group, a moderate physical activity group, and a sedentary control group.  Over a period of six months, physical activity programming was delivered three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes to both the vigorous and moderate physical activity groups.  Visceral adipose tissue (fat tissue around the internal organs in the abdominal cavity), liver fat content, total body fat and waist circumference were measured and the study concluded that increased physical activity, regardless of intensity, promotes fat reduction in obese youth.  Vigorous physical activity was not associated with greater loss of fat tissue relative to moderate physical activity, despite the original hypothesis stating that vigorous intensity physical activity would lead to a greater reduction in fat tissue.

"These findings are important as they indicate any level of physical activity will reduce the long-term effect of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in obese youth," says Dr. McGavock. 

"The future goal for my work is to create much-needed objective evidence to inform public policy and clinical decision making for the role of physical activity in the prevention of type 2 diabetes in youth."

Additional Resources

Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles:

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