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Doctors Concerned About Childhood Obesity Rates

Childhood obesity is growing steadily in the United States and around the world. New research findings have given doctors new clues to fighting the trend. Jim Bertel narrates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the percentage of obese American children and adults has grown during the last 15 years. Estimates indicate nearly one in five American children is overweight. Large portion sizes and lack of physical activity are usually cited as the major reasons for obesity.

But they are not the only factors. Dr. Joseph Afram is head of the Bariatric Surgery Center at George Washington University. “There are quite a few factors creating or propagating obesity. The major one is genetics. Of course, environmental or cultural issues get into it. And behavior. So people are bombarded with [the] food industry anywhere in a culture how we live here."

A recent study from the University of Illinois reports people eat far more when they are given larger containers for their food. Experiment participants were randomly given either small or large bowls for ice cream. The participants with larger bowls gave themselves 50 percent more ice cream than those with smaller bowls.

Doctors recommend children control food intake and get more exercise. Most current guidelines recommend an hour a day of physical activity. But a new study of more than 1700 pre-teens and adolescents in Europe suggests kids may need at least 90 minutes of exercise per day. It doesn't even have to be aerobic. Dancing, light play, cleaning and walking all count.

One mom recounts the struggles her child had to go through due to his obesity.

"We've just had to make modifications all the way. You couldn't just go to a restaurant if it was just booths,” says Brenda Jones. “You had to make sure you had tables. It's been quite a rough time."

Drugs provide an alternative for children who can't lose weight by conventional methods. One clinical study reports teens who took a new weight loss drug called Meridia shed 18 pounds more in one year than teens who took a placebo. The teens also showed improvement in cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Meridia is thought to act directly on brain chemistry to decrease appetite. A drug called Xenical blocks fat from entering the intestines during digestion. Both medicines can cause stomach discomfort.

But Dr. Afram says curbing the obesity trend will require more than a medical fix. It will require an entire life and behavioral makeover. "To reverse that, it will take a lot of time, it will take a lot of effort. It will take a change in our national behavior to change that track."

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine projects the life expectancy of the average American will decrease by two to five years if the rate of obesity continues its steady growth over the next several decades.