Juvenile Obesity

Boxer jumping rope in the ring.

Obesity is generally defined as a physical condition in which the person possesses a harmful amount of excess body fat. Unlike the term "overweight," which is often misused as a synonym for obesity, a person who is a few pounds over ideal weight will not be considered as obese; a harmful or a dangerous amount of excess body fat is of the quantity that impairs either normal physical movement, limits the ability of the person to partake in normal aspects of an active lifestyle, such as exercise, or otherwise presents a significant risk to bodily systems such as the cardiovascular, renal, or other systems.

Juveniles are those persons under the age of 18 years; in assessments that take into account physical maturation, females are often considered adults physiologically at age 16. A juvenile is one whose physical maturation is not yet complete. A juvenile is distinct from a child, whose sports science definition is a person under the age of 12 years. Teenagers is a familiar expression used to describe juvenile persons.

There are a number of objective measures used to determine whether a particular person is obese. The first is the determination of the precise amount of fat carried on the body, referred to as the percentage body fat. Measuring the skin that can be pinched or folded at the abdomen and triceps will provide a reasonable estimate of body fat, because most body fat is stored in the adipose tissues located directly beneath the skin. Displacement tanks are also used to calculate how much mass is required to displace known amounts of water. It is generally held in the scientific community that 30% body fat is a hallmark

Throughout North America and most of the Western and developed world, juvenile obesity rates have increased by as much as 300% since 1980.
of obesity; a person may be unhealthy due to excess weight at lower body fat levels. One common measuring tool for obesity, the body mass index (BMI) is a calculation that correlates height and weight. The BMI is an unreliable obesity measure for juveniles who have not completed their musculoskeletal growth. The BMI does not distinguish between healthy large body mass, such as muscle, or body fat. Conversely, those juveniles, particularly females, who suffer from bulimia, the eating and purging disorder, may be very thin and yet possess a body fat percentage in excess of the 30% mark.

The eating and exercise habits established when a person is young are most often the patterns carried through to adulthood, as are the significant health problems that are either caused or contributed to by juvenile obesity. Through North America and most areas of the Western and developed world, juvenile obesity rates have increased by as much as 300% since 1980. Genetics are a contributing, although secondary factor; research has determined that if young person has an obese parent, there exists an increased risk that the child will also become obese. The two greater contributing factors to the rise of juvenile obesity are increased food consumption, particularly carbohydrates and fats, coupled with significantly reduced levels of physical activity.

The modern lifestyle of the teenager is significantly influenced by technology. Television, computers, and various hand-held devices form a significant portion of leisure activities. This cultural shift emphasizes the television screen, instant messaging, and the video game console as central to the life of many young people. While these pursuits do not exclude other, more physically active and energy-consuming activities, the rise in juvenile obesity has occurred in the context of a technologically focused youth culture.

Juvenile obesity has four major health impacts, all of which tend to worsen in their effect into adulthood unless remedial measures are taken by way of diet and increased physical exercise. These major health impacts include type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and depression.

Type 2 diabetes is the non-insulin dependent form of diabetes, It is a serious illness with potentially devastating impacts on the cardiovascular system, kidney function, vision, and the body's ability to combat infection. Hypertension (high blood pressure) represents an inability of the arteries in the cardiovascular system to bear the normal pressures generated by heart action. In addition, skeletal bone formation occurs almost entirely within the first 20 years of life. Poor nutrition may hinder bone development if essential minerals are not sufficiently consumed in the juvenile years; physical inactivity in youth deprives the bones of healthy resistance forces that aid bone density. Osteoporosis will often manifest itself in the later adult years. In addition to all of these, these, the vicious circle of juvenile obesity creates a negative body image in the mind of the young person, which often leads to a depressive condition.

The strategies to combat juvenile obesity are straightforward. The promotion of a diet that is more directed to whole foods, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with less emphasis on or availability of processed, high fat, and calorie-rich content is the first component. Diet modification must be coupled with regular and increased physical activity. American culture is a particular example of the notion that sport must be organized for young persons to participate; all forms of energy-producing exercise are useful counters to juvenile obesity. Whole lifestyle, not simply caloric intake or energy output, is the most effective measure.

SEE ALSO Diet; Fitness; Nutrition; Youth sports performance.