Currently, over 30% of the children are overweight or suffer from obesity. Research indicates that overweight children have a high probability of growing into obese or overweight adults. Differentiating between overweight and obese is important. A child is said to be obese if he/she is excessively overweight. The body mass index of an obese child falls in the 95th percentile. Conversely, a child is said to be overweight if he/she exceeds the average weight. The body mass index of an overweight child falls above the 85th percentile (Hippel & Nahhas, 2013).
Childhood obesity results from the accumulation of body fat and has adverse impacts on the well-being of the child. Currently, the doctors do not have mechanisms for measuring body fat. It underlines why they are mostly unable to identify kids that are overweight in advance. The doctors use the body mass index to determine children who are overweight. In the United States, the rate of childhood obesity is on the rise. The same problem is experienced in many other countries across the globe. Childhood obesity has both short-term and long-term health impacts. According to Hippel and Nahhas (2013), a child who suffers from obesity is vulnerable to type 2 diabetes. The diabetes was previously associated with adults. However, today, many kids who are obese exhibit signs of type 2 diabetes. Other health conditions include heart problems and asthma. Indeed, the doctors have cited childhood obesity as a grave public health concern. Changing dietary habits can help to curb the rise in cases of childhood obesity.
Obesity is a major health issue in many countries. According to Flegal, Graubard, Williamson and Gail (2009), obesity accounts for over 112,000 deaths annually. Nowadays, the disease affects both the children and adults in equal measures. Children who are overweight are vulnerable to becoming obese. Besides, children who are obese are likely to suffer from the same disease in their adult life. In the past two decades, the rate of childhood obesity has increased tremendously, particularly in the United States. Doctors associate this rise with changes in lifestyle behaviors and the environment.
Childhood obesity does not discriminate against gender or ethnic background. The disease affects both sexes and all races. In the United States, over 18% of the teenagers are obese. Besides, 20% of the children aged between six and eleven years suffer from obesity. Surprisingly, 10% of the kids aged between two and five years also suffer from the same health condition. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has been analyzing the problem of childhood obesity and overweight for over five decades. The data from the survey shows a shocking trend. Flegal et al. (2009) claim, “Between 1963 and 2008, rates of obesity among children between the ages of two and nineteen years went up significantly” (p. 1864). In 1988, over 11.3% of the kids aged between six and eleven years were obese. Similarly, over 10.5% of the teenagers aged between twelve and nineteen years suffered from obesity.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity can result from a combination of numerous factors. The doctors use the phrase “Obesogenic environment” to refer to the combination of the factors that favor childhood obesity. A child can inherit obesity from the parents. Indeed, “the highest risk factor for childhood obesity is the obesity of both parents” (Hippel & Nahhas, 2013, p. 2154). The family’s genetics may result in a child suffering from obesity. A child may also suffer from obesity due to body type and emotional factors. A study conducted in 2010 stated, “Childhood obesity likely is the result of the interaction of natural selection favoring those with more parsimonious energy metabolism and today’s consumerist society with easy access to energy-dense, cheap foods and fewer energy requirements in daily life” (Daniels, 2007, p. 605).
The excessive use of technology among children and consumption of junk food contribute to the development of childhood obesity. The research discovered that children who use electronic gadgets for over three hours per day have high chances of contracting childhood obesity. Daniels (2007) claims that childhood obesity is prevalent among the minority groups like Hispanic and African American societies. Additionally, the disease is common among the low-income families. The children who hail from low-income and minority families do not engage in physical exercise. Instead, they spend a lot of the time in the house either playing video games or watching television. Besides eating junk food and not engaging in physical exercise, environment, genes, behavior and metabolism also lead to childhood obesity.
Doctors claim that encouraging behavioral and environmental change can go a long way towards curbing childhood obesity. Children can be encouraged to engage in physical activities and avoid a sedentary life. Daniels (2007) alleges that changes in family life play a significant role in the increase in the rate of childhood obesity. Many mothers stop breastfeeding their children when they are very young. They introduce the children to infant formulae that lead to them becoming overweight. Eventually, the problem degenerates to obesity. Many families do not allow the children to engage in physical exercise. Rather than letting the children walk to school or bus stop, the parents volunteer to drive the kids to school. In schools, they do not engage in physical exercise because the teachers fail to emphasize on its significance.
Social policies also contribute to the rise in the cases of childhood obesity. Diverse societies and countries have come up with various social policies and practices that either improve or damage the physical health of their kids. One of the social factors is the nature of meals that children eat at schools (Anderson & Butcher, 2006). For many years, most schools have been feeding their kids with foods rich in energy. Today, the schools are gradually changing the feeding habits to guarantee the health of the children.
A part from the feeding habits of schools, many children have access to junk food hotels and vending machines. In the United States, it is not hard to find a junk food outlet or a vending machine in most neighborhoods. Consequently, the parents cannot regulate the feeding habits of the children. Many residential areas do not have parks where children can visit and play. Moreover, most communities do not set aside space for sidewalks or bike paths. Some governments have introduced subsidies for sugar and corn oil. Therefore, most families can afford to purchase corn oil and sugar, which lead to children consuming calories and subsequently suffering from obesity. According to Anderson and Butcher (2006), promotion of candy and fast-food hotels also contributes to children suffering from childhood obesity. It becomes hard for the child to identify healthy foods.
Anderson and Butcher (2006) maintain, “Childhood obesity is often the result of the interplay between many genetic and environmental factors” (p. 23). Variations in genes that regulate metabolism and appetite dispose children to childhood obesity. The children can hardly metabolize excess calories. At least 200 genes control body weight by influencing food penchants, metabolism, and activity level. Childhood obesity comes as a result of numerous atypical genetic conditions that arise during infancy. The conditions include MOMO syndrome, Bardet-Biedl syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. Other genetic conditions include leptin and melanocortin receptor mutations. The study shows that 80% of children who are born of obese parents suffer from obesity.
Impacts of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is associated with numerous social, psychological and physiological effects. A majority of these results surface during childhood. The primary concern is that an obese child is likely to suffer from the same problem in adulthood. Besides, obesity lowers the life expectancy of the children and youths. Children with obesity are likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes (Laura, 2014). If not treated, the children may even die. Children suffering from obesity experience breathing problems. Doctors claim that excess weight results in swelling of the respiratory tract. Eventually, a child develops asthma. Research shows that most children who suffer from childhood obesity are asthmatic. Being obese overworks the heart. Childhood obesity leads to children developing heart complications. Other health conditions associated with childhood obesity include hypertension, orthopedic and glucose intolerance problems.
Childhood obesity is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease among children. Research in Netherlands showed that over 62% of the children who are obese suffer from various cardiovascular diseases. A study in the United States revealed that childhood obesity contributes to adulthood hypertension. According to Reeves, Postolache and Snitker (2008), childhood obesity not only predisposes adults to cardiovascular diseases but also leads to children suffering from cardiovascular damage. Children who are obese suffer from orthopedic complications like tibia vara. Doctors claim that childhood obesity results in children suffering from diverse musculoskeletal complications (Paulis, Silva, Koes & van Middelkoop, 2013). Many children who are obese complain of musculoskeletal pain.
Psychological impacts of childhood obesity include depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem (Xavier & Mandal, 2005). Children and particularly girls who suffer from obesity are not comfortable with their body structure. Besides, they face stigma from their colleagues. Failure to accept their health conditions results in the girls suffering from depression and anxiety. Additionally, the children have low self-esteem and are unable to interact with others. Xavier and Mandal (2005) claim that children who are obese engage in anarchic eating. The children engage in unhealthy eating as a way to counter depression. Eventually, they are unable to regulate the bodyweight.
Fig 1: The impacts and causes of childhood obesity
Source: (Xavier & Mandal, 2005)
Figure 1: A campaign against childhood obesity showing the potential cause and the consequences of childhood obesity.
As shown in Figure 1, childhood obesity may be hereditary. A child may acquire obesity from one or both parents. Hence, it is imperative to screen a child as early as possible, particularly if the parents are obese. Additionally, Figure 1 shows that poor eating habits can lead to childhood obesity. Children are advised to eat healthily. From Figure 1, it is evident that childhood obesity affects the life expectancy of the present generation. Most children who are obese are unlikely to live longer than their parents. The figure also warns against the possibility of an obese child growing into an overweight grown-up.
The society can use diverse ways to resolve the problem of childhood obesity. The most efficient method of dealing with childhood obesity is changing the nutritional habit of children. Feeding habits contribute significantly to childhood obesity. Unfortunately, it is hard to pinpoint the impacts of diet in childhood obesity. At times, children who enroll in physical exercise programs take long to reduce weight. Others do not reduce weight at all. One may attribute this observation to failure by the children to avoid eating food that is rich in calories. The schools may get rid of meals that are rich in calories. However, if the same does not happen at home, it would be hard for a society to resolve the dilemma of childhood obesity. Many people are likely to embrace dietary change because it would help to prevent long-term diseases. Additionally, they might adopt the approach because it would minimize expenses in the families. Besides, the strategy is likely to receive massive support since it would help to restore body shape.
Other mechanisms that contribute to curbing childhood obesity include banning the advertisement of junk foods and implementing policies that discourage children and parents from eating junk food (Yamaki, Rimmer, Lowry & Vogel, 2011). Even though the two mechanisms may help to curb childhood obesity, they are hard to implement. It would be hard to regulate what the hotels sell. Besides, it would be difficult to regulate what the children or parents purchase. However, educating the public on the importance of dietary change would encourage them to take the initiative of living and eating healthy. The reason changing a dietary habit is unique compared to other solutions is because it helps the parents and children to take the initiative of managing their health. Only the local or state government can implement the other methods.
The fight against childhood obesity must be a concerted effort among schools, the government, and society as a whole. It would be hard for a family or school to regulate the feeding habit of the children in the presence of junk food outlets. In the United States, availability of junk food in schools and residential areas contributes to over one-fifth of childhood obesity cases. Educating the children about the dangers of eating junk food and drinking sugar-laden drinks can go a long way towards guaranteeing healthy eating. Parents should be at the forefront in the fight against the sale of junk food. They should stop frequenting fast-food restaurants as this encourages children to buy the food. Besides, the parents should ensure that they do not stock products that are rich in calories such as corn oil.
Encouraging changes in nutritional habit would not only help to curb an increase in the cases of childhood obesity but also minimize other diseases associated with poor diet. The number of children who are overweight would go down tremendously, therefore saving families and the government the cost of treating obesity-related illnesses.
On of the advantages of encouraging households to embrace dietary change is that it would help to minimize expenses. Families spend a lot of money buying junk food and later treating children due to illnesses related to poor feeding habits. Thus, encouraging families to embrace healthy eating would facilitate the elimination of such costs. Poor feeding pattern is common in low-income households. The figure below shows the level of childhood obesity in low-income families. The figure indicates that childhood obesity is high among the minority groups since they engage in poor nutritional habits.
Figure 2: Prevalence of obesity among children from low-income families
Source: (Yamaki et al., 2011)
Educating the low-income families on how to ensure healthy eating would go a long way towards reducing the rate of childhood obesity. The families would not be forced to spend money to treat their children due to obesity. The public can be educated about the importance of healthy eating through forums. Besides, one may print brochures and pin them on public notice boards. Schools can also facilitate by introducing lessons on the benefits of healthy eating.
Ensuring proper feeding habit can go a long way towards reducing cases of childhood obesity. The mothers may prevent childhood obesity by making sure that they breastfeed their children. Besides, they should ensure that children do not consume foods that are rich in calories. Encouraging children to eat vegetables and fruits can help to prevent cases of childhood obesity. Additionally, consumption of fruits and vegetables can assist in weight loss among the kids who are overweight. The government, in collaboration with schools should take the initiative of encouraging parents and children to indulge in healthy eating.
For more information on how to embrace healthy eating, one can contact me through email@example.com. The public should also take the initiative of buying healthy food. People should discourage their children from buying junk food. Numerous nutritionists have written articles about how to live a healthy life. The public has the responsibility of reading these articles to gain insight in healthy eating.
Anderson, P., & Butcher, K. (2006). Childhood obesity: Trends and potential causes. The Future of Children, 16(1), 19-45.
Daniels, S. (2007). Causes of childhood obesity. The Journal of Pediatrics, 150(6), 603-618.
Flegal, K., Graubard, B., Williamson, D., & Gail, M. (2009). Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. Journal of American Medical Association, 293(15), 1861-1867.
Hippel, P., & Nahhas, R. (2013). Extending the history of child obesity in the United States: The Fels Longitudinal Study, birth years 1930 to 1993. Obesity, 21(10), 2153-2156.
Laura, D. (2014). Childhood obesity in America: Biography of an epidemic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Paulis, W., Silva, S., Koes, B., & van Middelkoop, M. (2013). Overweight and obesity are associated with musculoskeletal complaints as early as childhood: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews: An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 14(10), 120-167.
Reeves, G., Postolache, T., & Snitker, S. (2008). Childhood obesity and depression: Connection between these growing problems in growing children. International Journal of Child Health and Human Development, 1(2), 103-114.
Xavier, S., & Mandal, S. (2005). The psychosocial impacts of obesity in children and young people: A future health perspective. Public Health Medicine, 6(1), 23-27.
Yamaki K., Rimmer, J., Lowry, B., & Vogel, L. (2011). Prevalence of obesity-related chronic health conditions in overweight adolescents with disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(1), 280-288.