Chantay Brown

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Childhood obesity is a “serious problem” in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including among very young children.

According to research published in the journal Pediatrics in 2018, 26 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are overweight and more than 15 percent are obese.

Researchers, looking at data from 1999-2016, also found more than 40 percent of 16 to 19-year-olds are obese.

“Children born in the year 2000 and since…will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents”, said Elizabeth Weikle, a licensed registered dietitian and adjunct professor of human nutrition at Winthrop University.

Weikle, who was a guest on the Palmetto Report to discuss the topic, also worked as the chief clinical dietitian at Piedmont Medical Center for 13 years and is now in private practice as the owner of the Nutrition Network.

She said adults can determine if they have a healthy weight by using their body mass index (BMI), but children are compared with other kids of the same age.

“We’re still plotting (children) out by weight and by length, so we start at birth,” said Weikle. “They’re plotted out based on a percentile, so if a child is in the 50th percentile for their age, we considered that they’re average for their age.”

There are various reasons, she said, for the high rate of obesity in children, including poor eating habits, a lack of exercise and the overuse of technology.

According to Weikle, the way food is produced today, may also be contributing to the problem.

“The idea of supersizing, supersizing is killing us, so we think that everything should be supersized, when in fact, correct portion sizes, we don’t know anymore,” she said.

Parents can also play a major role in developing a child’s eating habits, because, Weikle said, parents are role models for their children and sometimes force kids to clean their plates, which can cause them to overeat.

“Children have an amazing ability,” said Weikle. “They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, and if we force them to clean their plate, we’re forcing them to overeat.”

However, a child’s body type or struggles with weight can also be passed down genetically.

“There are 10 factors that effects someone’s metabolism that makes each one of us different,” Weikle said. “It’s why someone can eat anything and everything and they struggle to maintain their weight”.

She said parents should always consult a pediatrician, if they’re concerned about their child’s weight.