We all know that America’s sedentary behaviors and love of fast food are undermining our health, but are we aware of just how much it’s hurting the next generation? Speakers at a session Thursday on the impact of metabolic syndrome shared some staggering findings:
- Children as young as 5 are now showing signs of metabolic syndrome.
- One-third of all American kids are overweight, as are close to 30 percent of children ages 2 to 5.
- 50 percent of children who are obese at age 7 remain obese as adults.
“The statistics are scary, but they are modifiable,” said Alan Delamater, PhD, of the University of Miami. “Psychologists are in the business of changing behaviors.”
Now more than ever, psychologists need to step up their efforts to prevent metabolic syndrome, he and other presenters said. Characterized by such factors as excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure and low HDL (good) cholesterol, metabolic syndrome increases the risk for stroke, diabetes, heart disease and possibly even cognitive impairment, the speakers said.
Research has shown that physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are key to preventing the syndrome — behaviors that psychologists are well-equipped to help their clients with. But psychologists also need to help change the culture. To make a real difference, said Delamater, we need public policy changes, such as curbing the food industry’s marketing to children and ensuring schools offer daily physical education.
“You can’t just look at one system,” said Dawn Wilson, PhD of the University of South Carolina-Columbia. “You have to look at all of them.”