Childhood Obesity in the United States


Today, United States, more than any other nation in the world is grappling with a series of weight related problems. Statistics, for example, point to the fact that approximately one fifth of the total number of children living in the United States are overweight. Due to this, many children stand a higher chance of acquiring heart related diseases besides diabetes, cancer and arthritis. Due to persistence of these problems, the US government has experienced financial constraints in an attempt to combat these health problems hence putting a strain on the health care system to the US government (Amis et al., 2012).

Prevalence of Child Obesity at the Moment

Childhood obesity has significantly affected child health gains for the last three decades more than ever. It is even more worrying, that the average young American may not live longer than their parents (Li, Hooke & Neal, 2010).

The prevalence of childhood obesity in the world especially among children in the richest nations is rapidly growing but not as fast as in the US. Studies reveal that about 9 million children living in the US are obese. Furthermore, the most worrying trend is the number of obese children below the age of 5 years. Today, 10% of such children are obese in the US. Nevertheless, there are still hopes that such conditions can be controlled and eliminated if stringiest measures are put in place to mitigate the condition (Stevens, 2010).

However, early detection and intervention are essential for the reduction of the cases of obesity in young children. It is during early stages that schools play important role in influencing the pattern and the spread of overweight. This means that there is correlation between physical education and the childhood overweight. There is also the relationship between the latter and mental health along with academic performance of a child.

Childhood Obesity and Schools

There exists a correlation between the household economic status and the schools children attend. Some of the findings in California reveal that socioeconomic status of individuals does not affect much of their health. Children in public schools, for instance, are likely to be obese in comparison to their counterparts attending private schools. It is therefore surprising according to the findings, that children attending public schools stand greater chances of being overweight. According to the same findings, school type does not have considerable impact on the possibility of being overweight in children from low income households.

Although different myths exist on whether having a foreign born parent would have effect on child obesity in the US, research have shown that having a foreign born parent has no association with the odds of having overweight children. It is therefore true that having a foreign born mother or father is no protection against obesity (Li, Strobino, Ahmed, & Minkovitz, 2011).

Role of Recess in School

While a recess is an important element as far as children’s health is concerned, physical education is more important in school if childhood obesity needs to be eliminated within the school environment. In elementary schools, for example, physical education programme is known to be one of the key options used to eliminate overweight. It only serves right when recess is used in tandem with physical education when overweight scourge needs to be gotten rid of. Study shows that increasing the average time per week for physical education in schools would have greater impact on children suffering from obesity since there is a correlation between the increases in amount of time for physical education in schools and reduced overweight. Increasing PE instruction time not only reduces overweight but is also known to boost performance especially of girls since it increases self-esteem. Childhood obesity is linked to minor and major behavior problems. This could explain why overweight girls and boys develop aggressiveness as they enter kindergarten. Some of them suffer from anxiety, loneliness, shyness and even low self-esteem (Ramstetter, Murray & Garner, 2010).

Most schools not just in the US but also in most parts of the world offer curricula that are academic oriented rather than letting children grow all-round. Since such schools prioritize on academic excellence, children do not find time to engage in physical activities hence contributing to the rampant cases of obesity and other health related diseases.

Factors That Contribute To Obesity in Children

Concentrating on California State alone, there are a number of factors that contribute to obesity among children who attend schools. While people may have different opinion with regard to the causes of obesity in children, it has been discovered that some of the local policies have contributed to widespread obesity in California and other states in the US. The physical environments, for example, frequently affect people’s daily choices in life hence having effect on their health and probably weight. For instance, it is a norm among Californian families to let their children stay indoors due to a number of reasons including insecurity. As a result, most children resort to watching television programs at home after school rather than playing with other children from the neighborhoods; thus, contributing to cases of obesity among school going children (Amis et al, 2012).

The same has affected those children living in neighborhoods specifically excluded for residential purposes. In such zones, most people travel to work and school by vehicles and have less time to walk on foot. These, coupled with the kind of foods consumed by the inhabitants of California have adverse effect on health of individuals. In order to reverse the situation, it is vital for people to be educated on the importance of keeping the environment safe for health purposes. People should be encouraged to eat the right type and quantity of foods and to remain physically active on a regular basis.

Role of Government in Combating Child Obesity

The local government in California State has made major contributions in order to minimize the spread of obesity as an epidemic disease. The government has tried to create local policies and incentives in order to prevent the spread of obesity among the locals. One of the best measures that have lately been developed is the creation of parks, sidewalks, improvement on healthy food retailing, development of bike lanes and even ensuring that most schools have sufficient time to engage children in physical activities thereby ensuring that children as well as adults have a safe and secure environment free from diseases like obesity.

Overweight is a long term health related problem majorly common in the world and the US in particular and if not prevented, its long term effect can result into the two types of diabetes and even lead to cardiovascular in adulthood. It is, therefore, the role of nurses to help both parents and children get rid of it completely. If precautions are taken at an early stage, prevention of secondary complications can be possible. Nurses can help play primary role of advising both parents and children on nutritional issues and the strategies which are useful in the reduction of caloric intake while striving to increase physical exercise.

Schools are potential places to address some of the issues related to health and school nurses can greatly help in reinforcing the best kind of nutrition and even the physical fitness behaviors necessary to reduce overweight. They can also help in promoting research and policy strategies such as encouraging nutritional education and following health guidelines.

According to the White House Task Force on Child Obesity (2011), the US government has made efforts to curb childhood obesity by raising awareness campaigns which aim at ensuring an obesity free society. US First Lady, Michelle Obama, has been on the forefront in creating obesity awareness campaigns through initiatives such as the Let’s Move initiative. The initiative endeavors to put measures to ensure that childhood obesity becomes a thing of the past and that children live to adulthood with desired weight. This initiative kicked off in 2010 with the First Lady assuring everyone that her major campaign goal would be to push for the need for healthy foods, allocation of enough time for physical work and finally ensuring enhanced food labeling in schools.

A report by The Sydney Morning Herald (2010) indicates that the Let’s Move initiative has been highly effective since its inception because it has managed to partner with donors and organizations like the HealthierUS School Challenge which has seen more than 5,000 schools in most states in the US including California benefit from high standard nutrition. At the moment, more than 10,000 organizations and childcare experts have registered in a bid to execute new decisive factors for physical activities and nutrition in schools.

The recent report by the Centers for Disease Control (2012) has also shown improvements in the reduction of childhood obesity among low income earners in 19 states including California translating to about 2% decline of child obesity. This finding took into consideration children between the ages 2-5 years. Although the improvement is a little significant compared to government’s spending on obesity campaign initiatives, it shows the impacts of sensitization of the public by programs such as the Let’s Move initiative (2012).


In conclusion, since physical education is scientifically considered as one of the primary remedies for children with overweight, making school-going children aware of its importance on their health is a sure step towards living in an obesity-free society. In order to increase academic performance of children in schools, teachers need to know that there is an independent association between overweight or obesity status of a child and the test scores. This is true since a child who is obese is likely to suffer from depression and diminished self-esteem.


Amis, M. J, Wright, M. P., Dyson, B., Vardaman. , M. J., & Ferry, H. (2012). Implementing childhood obesity policy in a new educational environment: The cases of Mississippi and Tennessee. American Journal of Public Health, 102(7), 1406-1413.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012).Trends in the prevalence of extreme obesity among us preschool-aged children living in low-income families, 1998-2010. JAMA, 308 (24), 2563-2565.

Li, J., Hooker, H. & Neal. (2010).Childhood obesity & schools: Evidence from the national survey of children’s health. Journal of School health, 80(2), 96-103.

Li, N., Strobino, D., Ahmed, S., & Minkovitz, S, C. (2011). Is there a health foreign born effect for childhood obesity in the United States? Maternal Child Health Journal 15, 310-323.

Ramstetter, L, C., Murray, R., & Garner, S. A. (2010). The crucial role of recess in schools. Journal of School health, 80(11), 517-526.

Stevens, J. C. (2010). Obesity prevention interventions for middle school-Age children of ethnic minority: A review of the literature. Journal for Specialist in Pediatric Nursing, 15(13), 233-243.

The Sydney Morning Herald (2010). Michelle Obama spearheads US push against childhood obesity. Web.

White House Task Force on Child Obesity (2011). One Year Progress Report.

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