The Childhood Obesity Epidemic

What can we do to prevent obesity in children?

Abstract

Childhood obesity is a very serious problems facing American society today. Over the last forty years the number of obese and overweight children has exploded. There is not a single reason that drives this phenomenon but rather a combination of factors have led to the current state. Are all children equally affected? Studies suggest that lower income families and certain races have been impacted in a greater manner. Can the situation be remedied? Fortunately there are simple steps parents can take to guide their children to healthier, fulfilling lives. Else, the future will be bleak for children ailing from this epidemic.
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INTRODUCTION

All parents love their kids and want their children to have good futures; many parents make sacrifices to achieve this. Yet most parents do not recognize the imminent danger posed by childhood obesity and its potential catastrophic consequences on their children's’ current and future health. Overweight and obese children can have serious health problems that can even cause death. Obesity is becoming more common now than in the past and the number of obese children has drastically increased in the last forty years. What we can do to prevent obesity in children? The hypothesis of this paper is that through proper nutrition and an active lifestyle, childhood obesity can be prevented.

METHODS

For this study internet data sources were used to research the topic. There is a significant amount of information available online The sources were analyzed to ensure a high degree of reliability. This is a list of the sources used:


  • CQR research
  • The New York Times
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The World Health Organization (WHO)
  • State of Obesity.com


Much of the information available online focuses on the health problems obesity creates for the population as a whole - not necessarily children. As such, it was important to read the studies and remove information unrelated to childhood obesity. In addition, there were many articles that seemed to be politically oriented; these articles were not used in this analysis in order to provide an unbiased report.

Findings/Results

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has increased continuously over the past thirty years (Childhood Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2016) Figure 1 shows the results of a survey conducted by the CDC that demonstrate the level of obesity increase in the childhood population. Among other things:

  • In the early 1970’s, childhood obesity was about 5%; by 2012 the rate had increased to roughly 17%.

  • A doubling of the obesity level is observed between the survey periods of 1976-1980 and 1988-1994.

  • Another 5% increased is observed between the survey periods of 1988-1994 and 2001-2002.

  • Subsequent to the survey period of 2003-2004, the Childhood Obesity rate seems to hold steady.


According to the non-profit organization, State of Obesity, there are observed differences in childhood obesity rates. The differences are present across socioeconomic factors:
  • Racial and ethnic inequities persist among children 22.5 percent of Latino children and 20.2 percent of Black children are obese, compared to 14.1 percent of non-Latino White and 6.8 percent of Asian-American children (Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Children. the STATE of OBESITY. September, 2014. Web. 4 Apr. 2016)
  • There are differences between children whose parents have a college degree (9.5%) and children whose parents did not finish high school (30.4%). (Socioeconomics and Obesity. the STATE of OBESITY. September, 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2016) See figure 2.

According to the CDC, childhood obesity increases the likelihood that the child will develop any of the following types of disease (Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June, 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016)

  • Pulmonary in the form of sleep apnea or asthma

  • Cardiovascular in the form of hypertension

  • Endocrine in the form of diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome in girls

  • Psychosocial in the form of low self-esteem or depression

There is a link between obesity and exercise:

  • The 4 states with the highest obesity rates also have the most adults that don't exercise (Fast Facts on the State of Obesity in America. the STATE of OBESITY. 2015. Web. April 5, 2016)


In addition, it was identified that there are many government programs that have been created to stop the growth of childhood obesity:

  • School districts have improved the quality of the food served in lunches

  • President Obama declared September Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

  • First Lady Obama launched the “Let’s Move” campaign

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Tipping the Scales- A Documentary on Childhood Obesity

Discussion

Childhood obesity is an epidemic that increased in the past forty years and affects children of all ages. The problem starts at home because children learn dietary and exercise habits from their parents. In the last forty years, the American family has moved away from breastfeeding and home-cooked meals to baby formula and fast food. In addition, parents are keeping children busy by buying video games, tablets, televisions and other electronic gadgets that keep children entertained in a sedentary manner. Unfortunately, these gadgets prevent children from actively engaging in physical activity (jumping, running, screaming, etc.) Thus the perfect storm of eating junk food and an inactive lifestyle was created.


The challenge is more severe for lower income people and, by consequence, the less educated. The problem is aggravated for the lower income people because they do not have the same level of access to healthier foods. That's because supermarkets — which typically offer a healthier selection of foods at better prices than corner stores — can be far away. According to a study by the US Department of Agriculture, low-income neighborhoods have 25 percent fewer chain supermarkets and 1.3 times as many convenience stores, compared to middle-income neighborhoods. The same study found that predominantly black neighborhoods have about half and predominantly Latino areas only a third as many supermarkets compared to white neighborhoods (Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences. USDA. 2009. Web. 6 Apr. 2016)


Obesity is fought through a combination of exercise and a good diet. Parents need to expose their children to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day and reduce the amount of time their children spend watching TV or playing video games. In addition, parents must set a good example and teach children not to eat fast food all the time.

Fortunately school and government programs have started to address the issue by first raising awareness of the epidemic, for example President Obama's making September Childhood Obesity Awareness month; secondly, by encouraging children and adults to become active, for example First Lady Obama's "Let's Move" campaign; and third, by modifying school lunches by reducing the calorie content in the food.


However, there are many obstacles that must be overcome: food companies promote mega-sized foods, the latest electronic gadgets induce a sedentary lifestyle, parents often choose fast-food to cope with their busy schedules, etc.


Only time will tell if we can reverse the current increasing trend on childhood obesity.

Conclusion/Recommendations

Preventing obesity in children is not difficult and significantly reduces the likelihood that these children will develop health issues early in their lives. Although many government agencies and schools are taking steps to mitigate the current epidemic, parents have the most important role in fighting this disease.


These are the steps that parents can take to give their children healthy lives:

  • Learn about child obesity and its causes (i.e. poor dietary and exercise habits)
  • Drink water instead of soft drinks
  • Cook healthy home meals instead of buying fast food; if cooking at home is not possible all the time, choose food that is not saturated in fat
  • Limit the amount of time children spend watching TV or using electronic devices
  • Get children outdoors to be physically active

These simple steps will give children the greatest chance of living long healthy lives.

Childhood Obesity: Quality Physical Education as a Solution

References

"Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences." USDA. 2009. Web. 6 April 2016.


"Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June, 2015. Web. 6 April 2016.

"Fast Facts on the State of Obesity in America." the STATE of OBESITY. 2015. Web. April 5, 2016.


"Childhood Obesity Facts." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2014. Web. 5 April 2016.


Ed Bruske, “Save school lunch from snack-happy government standards,” Grist.org, Sept. 13, 2010, www.grist.org/article/food-save-school-lunch-from-snack-happy-government-standards.


F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America,” Executive Summary, Trust for America's Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, July 2009, p. 4, http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2009/Obesity2009Summary.pd


Lisa-Charisse Blanco. "Tipping the Scales - A Documentary on Child Obesity." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, January 27, 2012. Web. 5 April 2016


Mantel, Barbara. "Preventing Obesity." CQ Researcher 1 Oct. 2010: 797-820.

Web. 5 Apr. 2016.

Trust for America's Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future - 2011. (accessed July 2012).


"Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Children." the STATE of OBESITY. September, 2014. Web. 4 April 2016.


"Socioeconomics and Obesity." the STATE of OBESITY. September, 2015. Web. 5 April 2016.


Sparksandiego. "Childhood Obesity: Quality Physical Educations as a Solution." Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 11 May 2011. Web. 4 April 2016.


Vital Signs: State-Specific Obesity Prevalence Among Adults — United States, 2009,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 2, 2010, p. 2