One in three kids will eat fast food today.

So, perhaps it’s little wonder that childhood obesity ranks as the leading child’s health concern in C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s 2015 poll of nearly 2,000 adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 18 percent of all children and teens in the U.S. are “obese,” with that number nearly tripling since 1980.

In addition to the obvious health issues that obesity can lead to, studies reveal that being overweight can affect how well a child can do in school. A 2013 published report by Kayla M. Naticchioni at John Carroll University cited connections between excessive weight, diminished academic performance, and lack of self-esteem.

Dr. Robert Siegel, director of the Center for Better Health and Nutrition, a pediatric obesity clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told CNN: “Obesity affects virtually every organ system in the body, including the brain. It’s an inflammatory state, and that may have effects on the developing mind.”

So, why are more and more kids becoming obese before they become adults? One of the reasons is fast-food consumption. “About 34 percent of all children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 consume fast food on a given day,” Cheryl Fryar of CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics told National Public Radio (NPR).

Continuous marketing, low price point, and taste seem to draw kids to fast food. “We’re programmed to seek sweet and salty foods, and fast food knows how to pander to those cravings,” says Stephen Pont, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on obesity. “A particular challenge with teenagers is that they all feel invincible and they’re not as sensitive to the long-term impacts of (diet) on their health.”

Of course, there are multiple reasons beyond the consumption of fast and unhealthy foods which have led to the rise in children’s weights. Fewer physical activity programs in public schools and a rise in the consumption of sodas and juices are among them.

Experts believe that preventing children from becoming obese is a much more efficient way of combating the problem than helping people lose weight as adults.

So, what can parents do? The American Heart Association suggests reducing “screen time” to no more that two hours per day for TV, video games, and the Internet, encouraging exercise, and making meals and snacks healthier by removing calorie-rich temptations and ingredients.

The CDC says schools can make a difference by providing appealing and healthy lunches and activity programs that include quality physical education, classroom physical activity breaks, recess, and opportunities for physical activity before, during, and after school. Safe neighborhoods and parks, as well as safe walking routes to school, also encourage physical activity.

Look to Learning Liftoff for more family friendly advice on family fitness, including healthy alternatives for meals and snacks.

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