Childhood Obesity in the United States

Among the many issues that the United States is facing, there is no doubt that Childhood Obesity is a timely and relevant debatable topic that has brought many consequences and health issues among our nation’s children. Many debates in regard to childhood obesity have formed. Because the prevalence of childhood obesity is on the rise, there have been varying opinions about what leading factors contribute to this issue. Although some health professionals and parents believe that childhood obesity stems from one leading cause, I, however, believe that there are multiple angles that attribute to this national crisis. I believe this to be true due to the familial eating patterns that a child learns when parents are not making the best food choices for their children. Additionally, the excessive usage of modern technology acts as a distraction for children and thus limits the amount of exercise and engagement in outdoor activities. Lastly, childhood obesity may also emerge from genetic and demographic factors that may correlate with high BMI history from particular ethnic backgrounds. In short, it is unjust to address one facet of a problem that is multifaceted. Placing the blame on one cause is not ethical considering the validated proof that studies have shown. The issue of obesity in children has become an important subject that is timely and relevant in the United States. However, it is difficult to start change when our own health professionals and parents are blinded by their stubbornness. The quality of a child’s health and well-being is incredibly imperative, therefore, we can not place the blame on a single etiology.

Here in Houston, the primary initiation to this debate was the announcement that “Houston is among the top-10 Overweight Cities according to the American Obesity Society”

(Hernandez 1). Many citizens including Doctor Deanna Hoelscher with the University of Texas School of Public Health, acknowledges the point in which multifaceted causes have indeed a pivotal role in the crisis of childhood obesity. Others, however, discredit these ideas and base their opinions solely on excessive consumption of unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened soft drinks that has, as a result, been linked to weight gain.

The fact that children are so young places them in a state of vulnerability within society. Children are usually inclined to many vulnerabilities without any control in their intake and inability to care for themselves. Because children are vulnerable, they depend on their parents and have no say in what they consume. Parents at times do not take any consideration in the nutritional value that healthy foods contain and because of this, the familial eating patterns and the environment in which a child grows up in influences the likelihood of childhood obesity because starting a harmful eating habit that mostly consists of fast food consumption may emerge from mimicking one’s parents. Conducted studies support the belief that children’s preference in certain foods correlates to what they are used to seeing in the home. Some of these studies have indicated the extent to which fruits and vegetables “correlates positively with accessibility in the home and the level of consumption by parents” (Savage 22). A second study examined how fruits and vegetables are accessible in the household. They were able to conclude that “homes with greater availability had a stronger set of motivational factors for fruit and vegetable consumption compared to homes with low fruit and vegetable availability” (Savage 22). The increase in unhealthy food consumption is the result of parent’s inability to purchase healthier foods for their families. If a child is raised in a home with a “pantry full of junk food and does not learn how to recognize food’s nutritional value, the child will probably carry this with them into adulthood” (Savage 2). Nevertheless, “If a child grows up in a household with healthy parents and learns the value of making smart food choices, the child will likely continue these habits, as they get older” (Savage 2). Parents need to lead by example and practice healthy eating habits themselves in order to model and encourage these behaviors among their children. The environment in which a child learns the familial eating patterns has an important significance in the rise of obesity among kids.

However, some believe that multi-factorial causes, primarily from those who are unreceptive minded, will only be a roadblock in shaping the well being of children. In an opposing article, Mahshid Dehghan, an investigator for the Nutrition Epidemiology program argues that much of the overweight issue in children is solely due to a “large increase in caloric and fat intake” (Dehghan 3). Her argument rests solely upon what one eats and lacks to mention

the severity that numerous contributing components have on children. Dehghan presents a research study by The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition which showed that sugar-sweetened beverages results in weight gain and an increase in BMI in children. To further reduce the increase in obesity, doctors from the research recommended that patients should “eat a lower calorie diet and increase their intake from vegetables and starchy foods” (Dehgan 3). They suggested that parents and their children “join a counseling or support group” (Dehghan 4) in order to better shape the lifestyle and dietary choices of their families. These doctors give little to none solutions to this issue. Getting children more physically active, practicing healthier eating patterns at home, and decreasing the amount of technology usage in children are all more effective solutions that will show results. To advice parents in joining a counseling group above all other solutions may bring a great concern to parents and may result in questioning the doctors credibility as physicians. Dehghan has no intent in giving accountability to other causes. She suggests that “an increase in physical activity is not likely to counterbalance a poor nutritive diet” (Dehghan 6) and that “it takes between 1–2 hours of extremely vigorous activity to counteract a large-sized children’s meal at a fast food restaurant” (Dehghan 6). Dehghan has provided false information and does not acknowledge the benefits that exercise has on health. To say that “physical activity is not likely to counterbalance a poor nutritive diet” (Dehghan 6) is inadequate because children who don’t exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn as many calories. To say that “it takes between 1–2 hours of extremely vigorous activity […]” (Dehghan 6) is also insufficient because in an article entitled “Childhood Obesity a Growing Problem,” Pat Hernandez states that kids are consuming “6 to 10 hours per day involved in TV and in other media.” (Hernandez 4). This information eliminates her excuse and suggests children to engage in outdoor activities. There’s no doubt that eating high sugar intakes regularly can easily cause children to gain weight. However, the inclination toward one major cause is absurd considering the effects that modern technology has impacted our children.

In addition, a second contributor to the sedentary lifestyle to children results from the advancements in technology. In today’s society, technology has become the primary means of entertainment. Children no longer participate in outdoor activities because they are to busy sitting on a couch with a bag of potato chips watching Television. The lack of exercise in children has increased dramatically due to the modern technological advancements. According to the most recent A.C. Nielsen rating for 2010, children and youth spend approximately “70 hours per week watching television” (Hoelscher 8). It is shocking to think that our children spend 10 hours a day watching television instead of exercising or playing basketball outside, an easy solution to this problem. According to William H. Deitz, a pediatrician and obesity expert at Tufts University School of Medicine, “”The easiest way to reduce inactivity is to turn off the TV set. Almost anything else uses more energy than watching TV”” (Hoelscher 9). Deitz makes an important statement because sitting in front of the television will only be adding to the problem and doing anything but watching TV can help the battle against obesity. In addition to the inactivity of children and adolescents associated with television and modern technology, the elevation of childhood obesity may also stem from the genetics that’s within them.

Childhood obesity can also arise from genetic and demographic factors. To support this, a research study identified nine twin and five adoption studies. They were able to find out that the “correlations were substantially stronger between parents and their biological offspring than the adoptees and their adopted parents” (Silventoinen 2). This further supports the importance of genetic factors that cause childhood obesity. Furthermore, childhood obesity is more common among certain demographics, particularly “African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans” (Hoelscher 12). In another sample, 6,630 children who attend public schools in Texas were evaluated based on their race and ethnic backgrounds. The sample was able to show that obesity was most common among “Hispanic boys (29.5%–32.6%), Hispanic girls (26.7%), and African American girls (30.8% and 23.1%, respectively)” (Hoelscher 13). These conclusions confirm the increasing prevalence of overweight among US children based on particular demographics.

There is no question that the prevalence of childhood obesity is on the rise in the United States. However, not all people agree that obesity stems from multifactorial causes. High sugar consumption is indeed a leading contributor to overweight but to not see both sides of an issue that is multifaceted is wrong and unjust when many studies have proved so. If we do not consciously make an effort in recognizing that environmental and familial eating patterns, excessive use of technology, lack of exercise, as well as genetic and demographic factors play into this crisis, then there will be no change. We must form solutions and take action. Attacking this epidemic from multiple angles is essential in bettering the health, well-being, and development of our children.

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