Obesity is a health hazard – one that can lead to serious physical problems such as hypertension, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes mellitus (Magee 4). Its effects are insidious, origins are complex and poorly understood and its treatment often discouraging. Pediatricians, parents, and policymakers alike are concerned about high and rising rates of obesity among U.S. children and there is a widely felt need for action. In fact, statistics show that over the past three decades, the share of children who are overweight or obese has doubled, from 15 percent in the 1970s to nearly 30 percent today, while the share of children who are obese has tripled to from 5 to 15 percent (Princeton-Brookings 1). Childhood obesity is a serious health threat and obese children are increasingly falling victim to diseases which used to affect only adults in earlier days. Moreover, the economic costs of treating obese children are also steadily increasing (Anderson et al 1). Though there has been a lot of public spotlight on the issue of childhood obesity, it is still uncertain how exactly the issue can be countered. Thesis: Child obesity is an epidemic that is widely spreading across the nation and due to its dangerous nature it needs to be checked in its growth through prevention strategies, based on the factors causing it.
The Scope and Impact of childhood Obesity
In the US, a child is said to be in danger of becoming obese if its BMI is greater than 85th centile and at 95th centile, the child is classified as obese (Bryant 1). Recent studies show that 40% of children are now either obese or in danger of becoming obese in the United States (Cameron et al 21). The costs of this epidemic to the nation are staggering even without including the human cost of obesity. Obese children are high risk candidates for Types 1 and 2 diabetes as well as debilitating circulatory, respiratory and skeletal problems. Moreover, it has been found that they also suffer from psychosocial problems, low self esteem and low self image. These problems are pervasive in the families of obese children and increase as the child gets older. The Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys reveal that prevalence of obesity among children is increasing. According to data from William Dietz, obesity prevalence has increased 54% among 6-11 year olds and 39% among teenagers (12-17 year olds) during the past two decades. Other studies indicate that obesity tracks from age four and the risk for adult obesity increases with age thereafter (Bryant 1). A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that obese children have dismally low quality of life scores (Schwimmer et al., 1813).
Childhood obesity has far reaching consequences both physically and psychologically. In fact obese children have been found to be more susceptible to acquire Type 1 and 2 Diabetes (Magee 4). These obese children also have been found to exhibit cardiovascular risk factors such as centralized fat, hypertension, increased triglycerides, high fibrinogen and insulin levels, increased left ventricular mass, rapid weight changes and clustering of risk factors. Due to obesity, during puberty, children are suffering from various respiratory, orthopedic and gastrointestinal problems (Bryant 1). Many authorities believe that social discrimination associated with obesity presents the most devastating consequences for children. Children who are teased a lot can develop low self-esteem and depression, which often has implications for long-term happiness and success in life (Blassi 321). Psycho social problems are common among obese adolescent girls who are assessed as unattractive (Cameron et al 22).
Causes of childhood obesity
Obese parents tend to have obese offspring through either genotypic or phenotypic susceptibility. While genetics play a role, genes alone cannot account for the huge increase in obesity rates over the past few decades. It has been due to wrong type of lifestyle changes leading to too much eating and too little physical work. Most experts agree that watching excessive amounts of television is a significant risk factor associated with obesity; almost half of children ages 8-16 years watch three to five hours of television daily (Andersen at al 938). Children who are the most overweight watch the most television and eat too many snacks with a high fat content (Axmaker, 1). Television viewing, video games, and surfing the Internet often take the place of physical activity for many children. The trance-like state associated with these activities can slow children’s metabolism so much that they resemble children at complete rest. Soft drinks are the leading source of added sugar in the daily diet of American children and recent studies show that for each additional daily serving of a sugar-sweetened soft drink, the incidence of obesity in children was significantly increased. Researchers also discovered that the odds of becoming obese increased 1.6 times for each additional glass of sugar-sweetened soft drink consumed above the daily average (Cameron et al 24).
Thus it is widely felt that children’s exposure to fast food and TV ads influence children to consume high-caloric food products such as sodas, some cereals, candy and processed foods may contribute to the high child obesity rate. Additionally, it has been said that too many children are satisfied with sedentary lifestyles, which include too much TV and video games, and not enough physical activity (Magee 4). Obesity, in general is the direct result of ingesting too much energy in the form of food and spending too little energy in the form of physical activity. The current increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity can be tracked to the way in which children are eating and exercising. There has been a very marked shift in eating habits of children recently. They are now consuming more high energy, high fat, low fiber diets than tradition high fiber low fat diets. They are also increasingly leading sedentary lives. The sedentary living cannot be blamed totally on television viewing and use of computer games but a lifestyle has emerged in which children are less involved in physical activity. They even use motorized transport to go to school rather than walk or bicycle. Childhood obesity is greatest among the socio economically disadvantages because high energy high fat foods are the ones that are extensively marketed, easily available and inexpensive.
Though most experts agree that high energy intake and low energy expenditure are the causes of obesity, there is no exact scientific evidence as to what intakes and expenditures are harmful. This is because there are no precise tools to measure dietary intake or energy expenditure. Some studies have shown that perinatal factors may contribute towards risk of obesity. A child born of low or lower birth weight who then grows rapidly during infancy is more likely to have increased weight, higher total body fat and greater centralization of fat (Cameron et al 24). These are risk factors for obesity.
Prevention and treatment of childhood obesity
Prevention is better than cure and ways to prevent childhood obesity should be studied and implemented. From this perspective, reduced sedentary behaviors and sugar sweetened drink consumption and increased breast feeding should be targeted (Smith 81). Changing childhood diets is an important part of the strategy to deal with obesity. According to the Mayo Clinic, parents have a huge role to play in this regard. They must exert their influence over what the children eat (Smith 82). The Mayo Clinic offers the following suggestions: when buying groceries parents must choose fruits and vegetables over convenience foods high in sugar and fat; healthy snacks should always be kept available for children; intake of sweetened beverages should be limited; low fat recipes should be used at home; mealtimes should not be in front of television; finally, eating healthy foods and exercising with kids is the best way to help prevent them from becoming overweight (Ebony 67).
Blassi (321) says that parents should consult a doctor in case of child obesity. Moreover they should be role models to the children through their eating and exercising habits. Parents can also enroll their children in organized sports with the hope of keeping them physically fit. But according to Dr. Dan Cooper of the medical center at the University of California, Irvine, there is too much emphasis on winning and hence many children lose interest in physical fitness. Cooper insists that the value of exercise for everyone should supersede winning; exercise helps build strong bones and healthy hearts and lungs, while instilling good lifestyle habits that prevent disease. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (1998) young children are advised to exercise for at least 60 minutes a day. The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these tips: children should not be forced to finish every drink or food on their plates; pre-prepared and sugared foods should be limited; low fat, high fiber food should be given; skimmed milk can replace whole milk at 2 years of age; food should not be used as reward; television viewing should be limited and children should be encouraged to have an active lifestyle involving games, walks and other outdoor activities (Blassi 323).
Childhood obesity is a widely prevalent social evil that can be overcome with some sensitive collective planning and measures. Obesity should first of all be recognized as a social problem. Then it should be studied analytically with focus on the causes of the problem. Parents and schools need to contribute in a big way in order to reverse the epidemic, by promoting physical activity and healthy eating. Through exemplary leadership, effective preventive strategies to overcome child obesity can be implemented and thousands of young lives saved.
Andersen, R. E., C. J. Crespo, S. J. Bartlett, L. J. Cheskin, and M. Pratt (1998). Relationship of physical activity and television watching with body weight and level of fatness among children: Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of the American Medical Association. No. 279, pp. 938–942.
Anderson, M. Patrica; Butcher, F. Kristin; Levine B. Phillip (2003). Economic Perspectives on Childhood Obesity. Web.
Blasi, Mary Jane (2003). A Burger and Fries: The Increasing Dilemma of Childhood Obesity. Childhood Education. Volume: 79. Issue: 5. 2003. Page Number: 321+.
Bryant, DE (1999). Fact Sheet: Childhood Obesity. NIRC Publication. December 1999. Web.
Cameron, Noel; Norgan, G. Nicholas; Ellison, T. H. George (2005). Childhood Obesity: Contemporary Issues. CRC Press. 2005
Ebony (2006). Childhood Obesity. Ebony. Volume: 61. Issue: 6. April 2006. Page Number: 67. Johnson Publishing Co.
Magee, Mike (2003). Exercise and Childhood Obesity. 2003.
Princeton-Brookings (2006). Childhood Obesity. The Future of Children. Vol. 16. No. 1. 2006. Web.
Schwimmer, Jeffrey B., Tasha M. Burwinkle, and James W. Varnie (2003). Health-related quality of life of severely obese children and adolescents. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 289, No. 14, pp. 1813–1819.