The Typical American Kid — Overweight

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Jessica Rose is a typical American kid. She loves to spend hours in front of the TV playing video games. She loves food that tastes good but isn't always good for her.

And, as CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, Jessica, like a staggering one-in-four American youngsters — twice as many as 20 years ago — is overweight.

"I could lose weight and I would look better if I just lost at least 10 more pounds," said Jessica, age 9.

The psychological toll is obvious — kids teasing. But far worse, doctors know overweight kids are likely to keep gaining weight, which is why America is in the throes of an epidemic of childhood obesity.

"It's critical that we look at obesity as a disease," says Dr. Robert Suskind, Finch University of Health Sciences/Chicago Medical School.

Why? Because doctors now see teens with clogged arteries, high blood pressure. Type 2 Diabetes, once called adult-onset diabetes, hits children too today and leads to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease.

"They die earlier," says Suskind.

In fact, this could be the first generation in a century with a shorter lifespan than its parents. With all the super-sized fast food, caloric intake is up while physical activity is down. Kids spend more hours in front of TVs and computers and at the same time schools are cutting gym to save money and have more time for academics.

"It's extremely shortsighted,'' says California-based physical education teacher Chad Fenwick.

Fenwick says gym classes today teach life-long fitness and nutrition, but it's reaching fewer kids.

"They're in terrible shape and we need to do something about it right now or we're going to have severe problems later on."

Some doctors say the problem is so dire now it requires drastic measures, even drugs. The University of Pennsylvania is testing the diet drug Meridia on kids, even though it is not recommended for children under 16.

Despite the risks, Suskind prescribes a near-starvation diet of 800 calories a day or less.

"But you have to have intervention so that children will lose weight and that's why we developed this fully integrated program of diet, exercise and behavior modification."

Remember Jessica, the typical American child? Well, in one important way she's atypical. She's doing something about her weight. She and her mother attend Kidshape, a Los Angeles program to help kids get control of their weight and food.

"And I'm asking my mom for apples and grapes in my lunch, so I don't have a lot of fattening foods."

Doctors say act early, like Jessica. Because it's clear, what we used to laugh off as baby fat is no laughing matter.



Eye On America
Part 1: Why Are We So Fat?
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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