Childhood obesity is a serious health issue that all Americans need to address. It is dangerous not only in childhood, rather, can it lead to serious health problems in adulthood. Excessive weight is a great tax on the human body. Undoubtedly, it one of the nation's most common killers which is responsible for a variety of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, high blood pressure, infertility, gallbladder disease, depression, several forms of cancer, stroke, sleep apnea (Davidson and Alic 84). It is defined by healthcare professionals by means of a mathematical calculation of weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared which is called the Body Mass Index (BMI) (National Center for Health Statistics 524; Berk 198). Thus, if a child has a BMI at or above the sex- and age-specific 95th percentile BMI cut points defined by CDC Growth Charts than he or she is considered to be overweight or obese (National Center for Health Statistics 524). Today, 32 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight and about 17 percent suffer from obesity, a greater than 20 percent increase to the normal weight defined by the BMI (Berk 198). Such a high percentage proves that childhood obesity a burning issue in America.
Although childhood obesity is an increasing problem throughout most of the developed world, the obesity rates are soaring most rapidly in the United States. In fact, the number of obese children in the country has doubled, and the number of obese adolescents has tripled over the past two decades (Davidson and Alic 972). According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2003-2006, 31.9% of children and teens were overweight and 16.3% were obese (National Center for Health Statistics 32). Currently, more than 17% of American children are overweight or obese, and the number is going to grow further. For instance, a 2008 study by the Johns Hopkins Institute predicted more than 50 percent of the US population to be obese by 2030 (Davidson 974). Unfortunately, it appears that unless some practical steps to conquer childhood obesity are taken the rate of childhood obesity in America will continue to soar.
Childhood Obesity can be Caused by Several Factors
- To begin with, it has been found that the body weight of children is linked to that of their parents. Thus, children of obese parents are 13 times more likely to be obese than those who were born by parents with the normal BWI (Childhood Obesity). Moreover, recent animal research suggests the existence of a fat gene and the inherited tendency toward a body type with an unusually high number of fat cells termed endomorphic (Wexler 116).
- In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in certain circumstances obesity can be caused by genetic or hormonal conditions. One example is a Praer-Willi syndrome which causes chronic hunger and growth problems and can ultimately lead to childhood obesity (The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology 461).
- Other purely physiological cause of obesity is a glandular malfunction or a disorder of the hypothalamus, when a low production of the hormone thyroxin and slow food metabolism results in excessive calories stored as body fat (The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology 461). However, heredity accounts for a mere tendency to gain weight, while most commonly the obesity risk emerges under inappropriate dietary conditions and inadequate physical activity.
Overeating is often associated with stress management rather than with fulfilling the feeling of hunger. Hence, many people overeat when they feel sad, angry and ashamed in order to comfort these feelings. As Amy Teeter, a blogger on weight loss, writes, When I eat badly, it's normally because I'm stressed with my exams, or just got into a fight with my best friend. Food is the first thing I run to, and my favorite thing to eat is French fries (Hammer 287- 289). Such friendship with food might pose a risk of obesity while people usually do not count how much they eat when in stress. Stress and overeating contribute to each other setting a chain effect in childhood obesity.
Poor eating habits like skipping breakfast and later snacking on high fat or sugary food, eating out rather than at home are the top factors leading to obesity (Davidson 201- 206; Berk 199). In addition, the food intake has increased as a result of larger portions served at fast-food restaurants. Thus, according to American Heart Association, people are consuming about 300 more calories per day than they did in the 1970s due to increased portion size which adds up to 31 pounds to the body weight per a year (3). Moreover, physical inactivity contributes to the excessive weight gain. For instance, research shows that people tend to eat in front of TV which contributes to more body fat added (Berk 199). Thus, every hour of television watching is associated with additional 167 calories (American Heart Association 7). Furthermore, TV ads encourage children to eat fattening unhealthy snacks, and take time which could otherwise be spent on physical exercise (Berk 199). To put it short, there is no simple cause of obesity, yet in most cases it results from taking in more calories than burning.
Obesity not only results in extreme body weight but puts children at risk for lifelong problems. Excessive body weight develops many serious complications. It is a powerful predictor of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, sleep and eating disorders, some forms of cancer, gall bladder disease, sleep and digestive disorders, and early-onset puberty (Berk 198). Moreover, obesity was reported by the Surgeon General 2001 to be the second highest cause of premature death in the USA which is linked to some 300,000 deaths and $117 billion in health care costs a year (Stern). In general, excessive weight is extremely damaging to the body while it negatively affects every organ system of human body.
Apart from negative effects on the physical health, an excess body weight can hurt a young person's emotional and social well-being. The vast majority of magazines are overwhelmed with photos of perfect size zero models, which creates a distorted image of beauty and fosters children to have unrealistic views of themselves and the environment. Such bias about thinness as physical attractiveness is a predictor of social isolation for those children who go beyond the modern standard of beauty. In school, obese children suffer constant teasing and bullying, which can lead to depression, low self-esteem, mood swings, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal attempts (Berk 200). What is more, obesity puts children at high risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, makes them vulnerable to the dangers of over-exercising, crash diets and smoking (Eating Disorders; Davidson and Alic). The paradox is that a desire to be thin can set a pattern of disturbed eating which increases the risk for obesity. In such a way, obesity has a great negative influence on children's quality of life, impacting their physical, social and psychological well-being.
Obesity as a Problem of Governmental Level
Obesity is a complex disorder which should be treated proactively at all levels of responsibility. Primarily, the problem should be targeted from the governmental level. Strict laws prohibiting advertisement of fast food, high-calorie soft drinks, and other nutritionally deficient foods must be adopted. Channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network that specifically target children should not have happy meal ads during their commercials. By contrast, they should campaign ads that teach children the importance of healthy eating (Davidson 203). In addition, fast food facilities should be obliged to put nutritional information and even health warnings similar to the ones now required on cigarettes on their menu boards (Stern). This might raise consumer awareness, and, accordingly, stop children from putting fat into their bodies and encourage healthy eating habits. Finally, such laws will set the standard of what is acceptable in the society and make children grow up eating healthy food (Davidson 206). However, obesity-reduction legislation accounts for the broadest prevention strategy to conquer the excessive weight problem.
Local governments stand for the next level of responsibility. Thus, a report Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity, released by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies on September 1, 2009 recommends ten practical steps local communities can take to treat obesity (Childhood Obesity). These include keeping restaurants away from schools and city parks, increasing police presence around public parks to allow children to play outside safely, limiting the time children spend in front of electronic media at public after-school programs, and adding taxes to junk food purchases (Davidson and Alic 468). Apparently, local authorities can do a lot to fix the standards adopted on governmental level and to fight the obesity problem effectively.
Children spend the majority of the day at school and consume one-third of their food intake at school (Berk 200). As a rule schools cannot afford to serve fresh, hormone free, organic meals. Therefore they opt for highly processed foods which are generally less expensive and have a longer shelf life than their fresh counterparts. If schools took minor steps like serving an apple instead of chips, or low instead of whole fat milk, it would make a world of difference. Additionally, the number of vending machines at schools should also be limited so as to limit access to unhealthy food (Wexler 99- 113). The school can also be blamed for nourishing sedentary lifestyles and not providing the recommended amount of physical exercise for children. Part of the reason may be a renewed focus on academics at the expense of time spent at recess or in physical education classes. Thus, only 3.8% of elementary schools, 7.9% of middle schools and 2.1% of high schools provide daily physical education or its equivalent while 22% of schools do not require students to take any physical education at all (American Heart Association 7). However, if schools gave a mandatory one hour of exercise per day, many children would become healthier. Consequently, school can reduce obesity considerably by revising the menu provided in the cafeteria and increasing physical education lessons.
Finally, it should be admitted that obesity is a family disorder. It cannot be treated effectively if parents do not recognize that their children have weight problems and do not support them in the calorie fights. By contrast, family based interventions focused on changing behaviors in the family prove to be the most effective in fighting the obesity problem (Berk 200). For example, the families who revise their eating habits, exercise regularly, and praise each other for progress can yield substantial, long-lasting weight loss. Nonetheless, parents play a critical role in the lifestyle habits of their children both through the habits they model and through support and awareness they offer.
Obesityis a growing problem in the USA. While some people have a genetic predisposition to excessive body weight, it is overabundance of food, inappropriate eating habits and a severe lack of physical activity which result in the soaring rates of overweight children. The American nation is getting fatter, and even though the predictions of the Johns Hopkins Institute study seem overly exaggerated, obesity is likely to turn into the epidemic of 21st century unless government, local communities, schools, parents, and children themselves take decisive efforts to treat the problem.