Child obesity exists everywhere, even in developing countries. It affects all income levels in developed countries, but studies show it's more prevalent in poor, urban neighborhoods.
The rate of obesity among children has more than doubled over the past three decades in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers say it is especially alarming in poor neighborhoods. A study at Rice University found a link between poverty and obesity.
“What we found is that for children in poor neighborhoods, they had higher odds of obesity compared to children who lived in more affluent neighborhoods,” said Rachel Tolbert Kimbo, who led the research.
Other research has linked child under-nutrition to obesity. Without enough nourishment, children can suffer stunted growth and other developmental delays, and even lower intelligence. If a child is overweight, he can still be undernourished and suffer a double burden of disease and developmental delay.
“Double burdens means that countries, and in fact, families may have both under-nutrition so they may have children or adults who have reduced height, but also they may become overweight or obese and that has bad consequences for diabetes, for heart disease, for other chronic diseases,” said Dr. Robert Black of Johns Hopkins University.
Even children with enough to eat can suffer from malnutrition and stunting if they don't get the right nutrients. The United Nations Children's Fund and other organizations are trying to raise money to provide the right nutrients for the 165 million children stunted by poor nutrition.
Other programs try to address and prevent obesity where food is abundant and nutritious.
In the U.S., the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth has been working to eliminate childhood obesity in urban neighborhoods in Virginia by providing an hour of exercise after school in a safe setting.
Richard Foster with the Virginia Foundation for Healthy youth says the program is designed to get children to develop lifelong habits.
“Our goal is to get the children moving, to keep them more active to teach them how to eat better and to take better charge of their own personal health and to live longer healthier lives,” he said.
Exercise also can help children do better in school. A recent report from the National Institute of Medicine shows that increasing students’ physical activity and fitness not only reduces obesity but may improve academic performance in math and reading.
Trustina Sabah also contributed to this report.