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Biking: The Solution to Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity, which affects nearly one in five children and adolescents, has long been a subject of growing concern for health experts. The prevalence of child obesity in America has tripled since the 1970s. And while there are a lot of factors behind this worrisome trend, not least among them is the fact that kids spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of a screen each day. 

Here, we’ll review some of the statistics around childhood obesity, its causes and consequences, and how we can use biking as a way to keep kids healthy. 

Statistics on Child Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), data from 2017-2020 showed that 19.7% of children and teens aged 2-19 were affected by obesity. That equates to 14.7 million individuals. 

Unfortunately, this number may still be on the rise. Recent research has made experts concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic—which resulted in school closures, more sedentary habits, and an increase in both stress and screen time—may have further exacerbated the problem. In fact, recent research shows that child obesity rates might have grown as much as 3% between 2019 and August of 2020. 

Data on childhood obesity has revealed some interesting findings about the populations most likely to be affected. For example: 

  • Rates of childhood obesity vary by race. Hispanic children show the highest obesity prevalence, followed by non-Hispanic Black children.
  • Obesity prevalence is significantly higher among middle- and low-income children and adolescents than it is among high-income populations.
  • Obesity may also be inversely correlated with education. Some research indicated that obesity prevalence was lower for children whose head of household had a higher education level.
  • Obesity rates tend to be higher among high school students in Southern and Midwestern states

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

As with their adult counterparts, obesity among children is a complex problem that can be caused or affected by a variety of factors. Chief among these are lifestyle factors—namely, too little exercise and unhealthy dietary habits. However, other variables can increase a child’s risk of obesity as well, including:

  • Genetics
  • Environment and family factors
  • Socioeconomic status, which can determine an individual’s access to nutritious foods and also their ability to exercise safely outside
  • Other underlying health conditions and/or medications
  • Stress and/or lack of sleep

Dangers of Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity presents a serious health problem, one that can potentially plague children for the rest of their lives. Some of the negative health outcomes associated with childhood obesity include diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, joint pain, asthma and sleep apnea, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. 

On top of the physical complications, children who struggle with obesity may also experience harmful social and emotional ramifications. Overweight children and teens are much more likely to be bullied, which in turn can result in issues like depression, isolation, and low self-esteem. 

How Biking Can Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

Ensuring that kids engage in an adequate amount of physical activity is one of the biggest things we can do to prevent childhood obesity and set children up for a healthy future. Experts recommend that kids get around 60 minutes of exercise each day

When it comes to physical activity, biking is one of the best ways to keep kids moving and entertained. In addition to being a great source of cardio, bicycling also builds muscle, which can help give your base metabolism rate a boost. 

Biking also gives kids a way to explore the world around them, either individually or with friends. Between the ability to get a change of scene and the opportunity for social interaction, kids are much less likely to get bored. Further, biking reduces stress levels, and for many children (and adults), stress can be a trigger for overeating or unhealthy eating. 

The connection between biking and healthy weight is a well-documented one. Some research has posited a connection between childrens’ physical activity levels and their environment—basically, if kids are surrounded by settings that encourage exercise, they may be more likely to engage in it. Scientists believe it’s no coincidence that obesity rates began spiking as active commuting habits (like walking or bicycling) began to decline. For that reason, some researchers, like Dr. Jason Mendoza of Seattle Children’s Hospital, have started conducting research on the efficacy of supervised bike trains in fighting obesity. 

Unfortunately, for some children, commuting by bike is neither feasible nor safe. For individuals in that situation, implementing exercise programs and creating exercise-friendly environments in schools can make a big difference. 

All Kids Bike is a national movement dedicated to bringing the mental and physical benefits of bike riding to every kid in America. Led by the Strider Education Foundation, our mission is to make bicycling skills an integral part of kids’ elementary school education. Our Kindergarten PE Program provides the curriculum, bikes, and safety equipment needed to teach every kindergartner how to ride at no cost to the school itself. Contact us to learn more about how you can support our vision to make this milestone skill accessible to children, or consider donating to a school in your community.