The United States is dealing with an increasing epidemic of childhood obesity in our society. In the past years, Americans have changed their eating and exercise habits drastically for the worse. Children become the victims of obesity because of the lack of a nutritional diet, and exercise. Some claim that the media is to blame for the epidemic while others feel it is the parent’s responsibility. This eating disorder should be taken as a serious matter especially when children’s health is at risk. The evidence suggests that childhood obesity has been linked to future medical and psychosocial disorders. The American people need to start taking preventive measures to help decrease the rate of obesity in our youth.
According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, Obesity is the condition of being obese; increased body weight caused by excessive fat (Pg. 940). Being overweight is a large build-up of adipose tissue, which is stored cellular fat. Obesity was never a big issue until recently when studies have shown increasing rates in adults and children. “The number of children who are overweight has doubled in the last two to three decades; currently one child in five is overweight” (NIH Pg 1). These statistics are mind-boggling considering a large increase in such a short time period. These numbers are prevalent in predicting future statistics on obese children in the United States. One child in five translates into 15 percent of Americans aged 6 to 19 that are overweight (Greaser Pg 1349). These statistics will only increase in years to come if nothing is done about it now.
Genetics do play a role in a person involving weight gain, but there is not much we can do to change our gene makeup. “Now there are two potential explanations for this. Either 50 percent of the population has the genes that make them susceptible to obesity, and the environmental factors are acting on this 50 percent, or 50 percent of the population is exposed to specific factors that are driving obesity that is not shared by the rest of the population” (Symp) Proc. Pg.16). Regardless of genetic makeup, we need to start changing the poor eating habits and lack of physical activities encountered in every household. Children look up to parents as role models. The environmental issue is also a huge concern for childhood obesity. Unsafe streets, parks, and neighborhoods keep kids from playing outside and detrimental to a child’s ability to lose excess pounds. With this information, any child is susceptible to becoming overweight and threatens an unhealthy lifestyle.
One major concern is the increase in American’s becoming a fast food society. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell to name a few have become an easy source of a quick food fix for the whole family. “Today take-out food accounts for over 30 percent of a family’s food expenditures on a daily, weekly, or annual basis; across all spectrums of socioeconomic class” (Symp. Proc. Pg 18). This percentage is forever increasing every year with more variety of fast food restaurants to choose from. Whatever happened to preparing a nutritious homemade meal? It seems as though families do not have enough time anymore to make homemade meals. These fast food joints entice children by creating kid’s meals that come with toys. This is how they target the child to eat their meals. Some may call it smart target marketing and to others promoting poor eating habits. It should be up to the parent to put their foot down and create better diet choices for their children.
Some critics feel that the environmental factor is also involved in child obesity. Not all children experience growing up in an unsafe neighborhood, but a good percentage of them does. Mostly inner-city children have limited resources to release their extra energy after school or during the summer. It is unfortunate for children to have to live in fear of playing outside, but is the reality for many. For children that live in better areas do have opportunities to play outside whether it is in a park or a yard. “According to the National Recreation and Park Association, 75 percent of Americans live within a two-mile walking distance of a public park” (NIH Pg2). Every year more children would rather stay inside instead of playing outside. “Park and recreation departments and other community-based organizations receive assistance from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute on providing activities for kids and adults that encourage healthy lifestyle choices” (NIH Pg2). This program would provide a prevention method to help control childhood obesity. These programs help kids to become more physically active and a good way for children to stay healthy.
Others are quick to blame the media for contributing to childhood obesity. They use special marketing techniques to target a specific audience. Almost all children shows have commercials for junk foods and fast food restaurants. These advertisements use vibrant colors and extra incentives such as free toys, to make the child believe they need the product. “Excessive advertising of junk foods – especially to children – is exacerbating the obesity problem in the United States and requires further regulation, according to a new report by a group of health advocates” (Higgins Pg11). These food companies do not care about the well-being of kids. All they have in mind is to sell their products to children. This type of propaganda needs to be regulated to a minimum so that children can have a brighter future with fewer health risks to be concerned about.
Schools are also a deciding factor of children’s eating behaviors. Schools are always speculated on because it is supposed to provide structure for children. Most schools offer junk food and soda through vending machines to children. “An increasing number of schools are also encouraging healthy lifestyle behaviors. More nutritious choices in cafeterias and vending machines, such as salad bars and baked food rather than fried, encourage kids to try items other than sodas, candy bars, and French fries” (NIH Pg3). The cafeteria food that provides children with meals follows a strict a dietary guideline. For the most part, these meals are nutritious and from the main food groups. Consuming nutritious healthy food has been reported to helping a child learn more throughout the school day. Since schools see children every day, they realize the major problem in overweight children and how it has become a serious public health issue. Most schools have stopped the sale of junk food and other items that are high in calories and fat.
It is a parent’s responsibility to set a good example and be a good role model for their children. “While children can play ball at the local park and choose healthier foods in school, at the end of the day family support is what really counts. You are a role model for your kids. Children form habits from parents, and usually, maintain them into adulthood” (NIH Pg3). Children learn mostly from their parent’s and need a platform for them to eat right and include daily activities in their normal routines. As a child grows they depend on a parent to nurture them and obtain a normal healthy lifestyle.
The risks obese children face can be detrimental to their health. Overweight children can develop type 2 diabetes mellitus, which is when the pancreas can’t secrete enough insulin to break down the high level of sugars. “The combination of increased insulin and insulin resistance is the mechanism responsible for non-insulin-dependent or type 2 diabetes mellitus, a disease whose increase in frequency may parallel the increased prevalence of obesity” (Gidding Pg2). This type of diabetes has been diagnosed for obese children and is believed to be a link to obesity. Type 2 diabetes mellitus is compared to be the same as diabetes found in adults. Overweight kids face the risk of heart disease from having high cholesterol levels and blood pressure (NIH Pg1). The body’s vital organs work a lot harder in an obese child rather than a healthy child. Any excess fat a body carries brings tremendous stress to an individual’s physical health.
Overweight children also experience sleeping problems. “One of the most severe problems for obese children is sleep apnea (interrupted breathing while sleeping). In some cases, this can lead to problems with learning and memory” (NIH Pg1). Sleep apnea is believed to have an effect on memory loss and learning disabilities in children. Maybe this accounts for increasing numbers of obese children in need of special education, but no studies have been reported on it. “Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults” (NIH Pg1). Of course, the percentage is approximate, but it reveals that obesity has become a problem in our country. Overweight children are also threatened with developing asthma, orthopedic problems, among other diseases they can easily contract with this type of eating disorder. “These children risk having diabetic complications, including heart disease, stroke, blindness, limb amputation, and kidney failure, before they reach the age of thirty” (Brownell Pg 47). These health risks will follow them into adulthood. They are more prone to these and other diseases as they grow older. The chances of living a long life decrease rapidly with these health risks.
“But perhaps more devastating to an overweight child than the health problems is social discrimination. Children who are teased a lot can develop low self-esteem and depression” (NIH Pg1). Not only does it affect their health problems, but obesity also affects a child’s psychological and social behaviors too. Children can be very mean to other kids that are different. Needless to say, these bullies only hurt the child more by their bullish actions with name calling, becoming physical, and countless other ways. A bully’s behavior is the need to be the center of attention and feel accepted by their peers. An obese kid that is made fun of all the time already knows they have a weight problem and can develop many behavioral problems. Most overweight children develop low self-esteem about themselves. They become depressed from being teased about their weight. All kids want to feel accepted by their peers and be socially interactive amongst others. Many overweight children deal with feelings of isolation, unwanted, and hatred towards their peers. When overweight kids feel depressed and alone their comfort is food, which makes it harder for them to lose the weight. It is difficult for younger kids growing up with this eating disorder. Some children may even act out or behave badly because it helps release their aggression. Being teased about a weight problem in childhood greatly impacts the child’s mentality and will cause psychological problems later on in life. Children that feel out of place and unaccepted, often think about hurting themselves or others. “Social exclusion, teasing, and anti-fat media messages are common, and their discrimination in education. As a result, poor self-esteem and other problems are very real issues for these children” (Brownell Pg 47). These children do not always want to talk about their feelings and emotions to anyone. They will need family support and love to let them know how much you care for them. Hopefully, obese children do not develop a mental complex from all of the cruelty they witness.
Doctor’s are able to calculate if a child is obese by using the formula for body mass index. This formula helps determine the excess body fat on a person. In the early years of life, doctors use an age growth chart to plot a child’s physical progression. They are not too concerned about overweight babies, but with under-weights. As a child grows older, the body mass index (BMI) indicates the percentage amount of excess fat and will determine if the child is obese or overweight for their age.
This country needs to start taking preventive measures on controlling obesity in our children. Two main reasons that children become overweight are poor eating habits, and decreased physical activity. This intervention needs to start with the parents of overweight kids. “The initial focus of our preventive efforts should be on the obese parents of the young child, regardless of the weight status of the child. But, increasingly, in order to effectively prevent adult disease, we are going to need to focus on the child and adolescent who is overweight, regardless of the weight status of their parents” (Symp. Proc. Pg 17). The reality is that good nutrition needs to start in the home. These children need to have a good role model to look up to. A young child will imitate a parent’s actions, so it’s a good time to teach them how to eat healthily and stay active. A good way to get your child involved is to plan family activities that involve exercise.
Instead of watching TV, go hiking or biking, wash the car, or walk around a mall. Offer the children choices and let them decide (NIH Pg 3). If the parent implements these strategies early enough, the child will less likely become overweight. If a child is involved in decision making on the types of activities and meal planning, it helps them learn about living a healthy lifestyle. Limit them watching the television and prohibit them from eating in front of the TV. This will create quality family time that all young children need in their lives for good structure. Spending time with your children and listening to them will give a parent great insight about their child. Both child and parent will learn from each other. Parents should refrain from buying un-nutritious junk food. A helpful guide for dietary intake would be to follow the food pyramid. The food pyramid is a guide, which lists what food the body needs and serving portions for intake. Parents and children should follow a dietary program that helps control their weight.
We need to increase the physical awareness to our young children beginning in the classroom. Teaching a child the importance of exercise on a daily routine is essential in the efforts of staying healthy. Teachers need to encourage kids about living a good healthy lifestyle and making the right choices. Schools all around the country have been cutting back the time for the lunch period and recess. Some schools do not have recess anymore, which is a shame. Recess should be a very important part of a child’s learning process. It is time, after lunch, to run around a playground and burn off the excess calories and fat. It is time the schools educate the children about nutrition. Health classes should give information on the importance of staying active and eating right. Most of these classes are curtailed because they feel it takes away from other subjects. These classes are just as important if not more. Physical Education classes are also being overlooked as taking time away from other classes. Gym classes are needed to teach children different sports and staying fit. “The components of effective nutrition education include making nutrition fun and engaging; integrating nutrition across the curriculum, home, and community; and emphasizing behavior change” (Symp. Proc. Pg 93). Nutrition education should play an important part in a young child’s upbringing in schools and at home. Schools need to implement changes in their curriculum making nutrition and health classes’ top priority. Without these classes, children are more likely to succumb of poor dietary habits and uninterested in physical exertion. Children need to stay healthy to be able to learn other material at school. Numerous studies have shown that a well-balanced diet and physical activities play a big part in a child maintaining good grades. “Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and spurs cell growth, leading some to compare the brain to muscle, which performs best when exercised” (Brownell Pg 83). This study should encourage schools to promote gym and health classes because it can affect the child’s learning ability. To help control obesity, schools need to set regulations and standards regarding children’s health.
All levels of government and community organizations must get involved in encouraging children to acknowledge the importance of good health. Many of the community programs and organizations rely on federal funding to help them educate the children. Local park and recreation departments help provide children with activities throughout the year. Their hopes are to create a mindset in children that doing physical activities are not only fun but vital for staying healthy. Many programs have been introduced in schools and communities. More recently, there have been two programs that proved to be essential of the awareness on this health issue.
“CATCH and SPARK programs have been implemented to incorporate activity into the school routine, to increase movement in PE classes and in school in general, and to encourage children to be active outside of school. The results have shown improvements in children’s physical activity, diet, and medical outlook, and in some cases have shown enduring effects that last for some years beyond the end of the programs” (Brownell Pg 83).
These programs are designed for intervention and prevention methods for child obesity. The government is well aware of how this issue has become a serious public health problem. They need to implement a plan of action to help curb and control this disorder before it gets out of hand. The government does fund programs and organizations involving obesity in children. These funds are usually not enough or cutback, so it becomes difficult to run the programs. The government is also hoping to regulate TV advertisements during children shows to limit commercials selling unhealthy foods. Public policy needs to be set into place and explore every aspect of preventing childhood obesity. The federal government does have a couple of good programs and need to continue on fighting this crisis because it will only get worse as the years’ progress.
Everyone is quick to blame someone else with the discussion of obesity in children. The first change needs to begin in the home environment and if everyone does their part, we can take control of the situation at hand. “Current research leaves the hope that the trend toward increased obesity can be reversed through a public health policy that encourages regular physical activity and a prudent diet” (Gidding Pg 7). The public needs to accept the fact that today’s youth are increasingly becoming overweight. Today, researchers have enough insight on all facets of obesity in children to render a decision on intervention and prevention methods needed to help reverse this public health crisis. Inevitably, obesity in children will drastically increase if nothing is done about it.
Works Cited List
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