Childhood and Adolescents Obesity Prevention
How it works
Obesity in children and adolescents is a serious and growing problem in America. Overweight children are becoming overweight adults and that is causing life-threatening, chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. There are multiple reasons for childhood obesity. The most common reasons are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of all three factors (“Obesity in Children,” 2018). Today, there are many children that spend a lot of time being inactive and eating junk food, which many times they learn from their parents or other household members.
Obesity is determined by Body Mass Index (BMI). Body mass index is calculated by the child’s height and weight. This is usually plotted on a growth chart to calculate BMI and see where children are in relation to other children in their age category. Children who are obese are above the normal weight for their age and height. It is important for parents to regularly check in with their family doctor, especially if there are concerns on their child’s weight. Calculating a BMI does not take into consideration the child’s muscle mass or body structure, so the physician will consider the child’s history of growth and development as a factor as well. This can help determine if the child’s weight is in an unhealthy range (“Childhood Obesity,” 2018).
Risk factors that contribute to childhood obesity are diet, lack of exercise, family factors, and socioeconomic status. Regularly eating high-calorie and sugary foods can cause weight gain. Fast foods are also typically unhealthy, yet regularly consumed because of convenience and price. Children are becoming more sedentary, due to video games, television, computers, etc. Children that are sedentary are not burning as many calories, and therefore are gaining weight. Children that come from overweight families are more likely to be obese. This is especially true in environments that have high-calorie meals regularly and don’t promote physical activity. People in communities with limited access to grocery stores may buy more convenience foods so they don’t spoil as quickly, instead of fresh fruits and vegetables. Individuals in low income communities may not feel safe going outside to play, which infringes on their exercise and physical activity (“Childhood Obesity,” 2018).
I am currently a school nurse in a rural school district. Over 50% of the children in the elementary school are considered obese based on their BMI. I have partnered up with KU Medical Research team to implement a program called iAmHealthy into our school district. This is an 8-month program that is a school-based and helps students and families learn about healthy lifestyles. To begin, I got the height and weight of all the students in our school. Their BMI’s were calculated and sent to the KU research team. Students with a BMI greater than 85% are eligible for the program. The parents of these students were contacted and asked if they were interested in participating.
This program requires the student and parent’s height and weight to be monitored monthly. In addition to the monthly weigh ins, the families are sent a newsletter that contains information on healthy recipes, ways to stay active, health tips, etc. Students are also required to wear an activity tracker for 7 consecutive days at the beginning of the program and at the end of the program. The last requirement is a food diary for 3 days. Students and parents must track and take pictures of all they eat. This program can be time consuming, which is why KU research offers families up to $400 of compensation for their time and commitment.
Not only does this program encourage a healthy lifestyle, but it encourages families to do it together. As the school nurse, I am here for any support that the students or parents need. I read over the educational materials that families receive so I can implement it to all families, even those that are not participating in the program. A large issue in our school is lack of education regarding a healthy lifestyle. In a rural town, the education materials are as readily available and people tend to raise their children the same way they were raised. I have found people are willing and excited to learn and make lifestyle changes, they just need the resources and guidance.
This program’s success is measured by monthly weigh ins and group chats over information learned. Although this program is not focused on losing weight, we still obtain weights monthly just as a check in. iAmHealthy is more focused on healthy living habits and becoming active. In our small groups, we review the newsletter and work on how that can be implemented into daily life and the small changes that can be made. It has been extremely helpful doing this in a group setting because parents are offering support to one another and students are creating friendships. This program has bonded families together and given them a common ground to grow as individuals and as a family.
Childhood obesity is not an issue that will be solved overnight. It is a continuing problem that currently does not have an end in sight. As nurses and nurse educators, it is our responsibility and duty to provide the education children, adults, and families need to make healthy lifestyle choices. There are many small changes parents can make to impact their child’s future. Limiting sugary drinks, increasing fruits and vegetables, getting active, and limiting screen time are just a few ways to set a child up for a successful future. Healthy and educated children today sets the foundation for healthy and educated adults in the future.
- Childhood Obesity. (2018). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20354827
- Obesity in Children. (2018). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/children/guide/obesity-children#1