The prevalence of childhood obesity among African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans exceeds that of other ethnic groups. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reported that in the year 2000, 19 percent of non-Hispanic Black children and 20 percent of Mexican American children were obese compared with 11 percent of non-Hispanic White children.

The increase since 1980 is particularly evident among non-Hispanic Black and Mexican American adolescents. And the relationship between race/ethnicity and childhood obesity may result from a number of underlying causes, including less healthy eating patterns (e.g., eating fewer fruits and vegetables, more saturated fats), engaging in less physical activity, and cultural attitudes about body weight.

There is also an abundance of evidence that supports genetic susceptibility as another important risk factor for obesity. Evidence from twin, adoption and family studies strongly suggests that biological relatives exhibit similarities in maintenance of body weight, and heredity contributes between 5 and 40 percent of the risk for obesity. Other studies indicate that 50-70 percent of a person’s body mass index (BMI) is determined by genetic influences and that there is a 75 percent chance that a child will be overweight if both parents are obese, and a 25-50 percent chance, if just one parent is obese.

Although this relationship is well established, the role of genetics in obesity is complex, and simply having a genetic predisposition to obesity does not guarantee that an individual will be overweight. Increases in the incidence and prevalence rates of obesity in the United States are likely due to behavioral or environmental factors, which have interacted with genes, and not the effects of genetics alone.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of different medical challenges that result from childhood obesity.

* Metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome isn’t a disease itself, but a cluster of conditions that can put a child at risk for developing heart disease, diabetes or other health problems. This cluster of conditions includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and excess abdominal fat.

* Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way a child’s body metabolizes sugar (glucose). Type 2 diabetes is caused in part by a poor diet, and can often be reversed by eating healthier foods and exercising.

* High cholesterol and high blood pressure. A child can develop high blood pressure or high cholesterol if he or she eats a poor diet. These factors can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can cause them to narrow and harden, and thus lead to a heart attack or stroke later in life.

* Asthma and other breathing problems. The extra weight on a child’s body can cause problems with the development and health of the child’s lungs, leading to asthma or other breathing problems.

* Sleep disorders. Sleep apnea, a condition in which a child may snore or have abnormal breathing during sleep, can be a complication of childhood obesity.

* Early puberty or menstruation. Being obese can create hormone imbalances for a child. These imbalances can cause puberty to start earlier than expected in both boys and girls.

* Psoriasis. Children who are obese have a significantly higher prevalence of psoriasis. And teens with psoriasis, regardless of their body weight, have higher cholesterol levels. Study findings suggest that higher heart disease risk for patients with psoriasis starts in childhood in the form of higher cholesterol levels.

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin that often starts early in life and, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, affects more than 7 million Americans.

First lady Michelle Obama has taken on the task of trying to end childhood obesity. In 2010, she spearheaded the nationwide campaign “Let’s Move” to combat the problem by focusing on four key areas: getting parents more informed about nutrition and exercise, improving the quality of food in schools, making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, and focusing more on physical education.

“We want to eliminate this problem of childhood obesity in a generation. We want our kids to face a different and more optimistic future in terms of their life span. We all know the numbers,” Obama said. “I mean, one in three kids are overweight or obese, and we’re spending $150 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. So we know this is a problem, and there’s a lot at stake,” the first lady continued.

For maximum effectiveness, first lady Obama has tried to attack this problem from three major fronts: the federal government, schools, and the home.

President Barack Obama also signed a presidential memorandum to create the first-ever federal task force to address the problem of childhood obesity. The task force is responsible for creating a long-term plan to remedy this major issue.

“We think that this has enormous promise in improving the health of our children, in giving support to parents to make the kinds of healthy choices that oftentimes are very difficult in this kind of environment. And so I just want to say how proud I am of the first lady for her outstanding work,” the president said.

“I have set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight,” the text of the president’s memorandum reads. “The first lady will lead a national public awareness effort to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity. She will encourage involvement by actors from every sector–the public, nonprofits, and private sectors, as well as parents and youth–to help support and amplify the work of the federal government in improving the health of our children.”

President Obama also reauthorized the Child Nutrition Act (federal law signed on Oct. 11, 1966, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created as a result of the success of the National School Lunch Program, to help meet the nutritional needs of children) and proposed a $10 billion budget increase–$1 billion a year for 10 years–to help provide nutritious school lunches to the nation’s schools.

When it comes to schools, the food they provide is a major issue but not the only one, according to the first lady. With budget cuts, many schools are losing recess and choosing to cut physical education classes. In response, the first lady is pushing for physical education to remain mandatory in the schools where it already is, make it mandatory in the schools where it isn’t, and eliminate the “opt-out” option that many schools have made available to their students.

The first lady also understands that the lack of healthy food choices at home is a major variable in childhood obesity. To help parents, she has been working with the Food and Drug Administration and major food manufacturers and retailers to make it easier for parents to identify healthier foods by placing nutrition labeling on the front of the package. Obama has also influenced the American Academy of Pediatricians to partner with the government to educate pediatricians to work more closely with families when it comes to weight.

“I love burgers and fries, you know? And I love ice cream and cake. So do most kids. We’re not talking about a lifestyle that excludes all that. That’s the fun of being a kid. That’s the fun of being a human,” first lady Obama said.

President Obama has joined the first lady’s initiatives by creating his own program geared towards healthier lifestyles for children and adults as well.

The program, called the “President’s Challenge,” is a major initiative of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition administered through a co-sponsorship agreement with the Amateur Athletic Union. The President’s Challenge helps people of all ages and abilities increase their physical activity and improve their fitness through research-based information, easy-to-use tools, and friendly motivation.

The programs include physical fitness tests as well as inspirational and motivational tools such as the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) challenge, which is for people who want to make physical activity part of their everyday lives by logging their activity and setting realistic physical goals for themselves each day. The main point of the program is to get 1 million Americans to become more active in their everyday lives and it has since recognized more than 50 million people for their physical achievements.

To join, and/or for more information on the President’s Challenge, visit the organization’s website www.presidentschallenge.org.