The Effects of the Epidemic Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has become a growing epidemic in more than just the U.S. However, over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S. and today, the country has some of the highest obesity rates in the world: One out of six children is obese, and one out of three children is overweight.

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(www.cdc.gov) Chubby children were once thought of as cute, it was there baby fat and they would soon emerge into healthy adults, however this isn’t always the case. We now know that childhood obesity has many areas to blame. However, the consumption of fast food along with living in an environment that promotes inactivity and overeating are huge contributing factors the the obesity epidemic among children in the U.S.

Take a moment to think back to the days when people had to plant their crops, tend to their animals and cook their meals from scratch. There were no boxed mixes or pre-made items. Meals had to be planned ahead every day. People really had to work for their food, they enjoyed doing it and appreciated the healthy options they had, Grab and go meals were unheard of! Coincidentally, the obesity rates were much less years ago. Fast forward to today, you will find a fast food restaurant every time you travel down a popular road in the city; allowing you to choose from greasy burgers, crunchy tacos or a sugary drink. Nowadays It’s not necessary to plan your meals ahead or stress over cooking a well balanced meal because you have a variety of foods right at your fingertips. These quick and easy foods are also cheap, which appeals to so many Americans. You can order dollar cheeseburgers, dollar sodas and supersize items for not much more money. Some even claim it is cheaper to eat at a restaurant than prepare a healthy balanced meal at home. While most Americans are overscheduled and overcommitted they’ll be running from activity to activity and not leaving time to prepare meals making It easy to grab fast food on the way home from work, or treat the kids to a happy meal and milkshake after a busy day at soccer practice. Having fast food everywhere makes these options so easy for parents, or caregivers of children. Most often, these meals are eaten on the go, while in the car or sitting in front a television or tablet. Many families with busy lifestyles are not physically active in there everyday life. Children consuming these high caloric meals, on top of not getting the activity they need to move there muscles and burn the calories is what’s contributing to the long term health risks involved with children with obesity. According to SHAPE America (The Society of Health and Physical Educators) , toddlers should be engaged in at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity and preschoolers 60 minutes of structured physical activity. Both groups should have a minimum of 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity time and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time except when sleeping. These activity times can be divided into smaller blocks of time throughout the day to avoid large periods of time when children are sedentary. (www.sparkpe.org/blog) If Children are frequently active, the chances of it becoming habit forming are higher and this will become part of there everyday routine. Kids learn best by example from role models, it is equally as important for parents, teachers, grandparents or teachers to demonstrate the importance of being physically active as well.

Obese children may experience immediate health consequences which can lead to weight-related health problems in adulthood. Obese children and teens have been found to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and abnormal glucose tolerance. In a sample of 5-to 17-year-olds, almost 60% of overweight children had at least one CVD risk factor and 25% of overweight children had two or more CVD risk factors. In addition, studies have shown that obese children and teens are more likely to become obese as adults.(https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/health-problems-and-childhood-obesity) Children with obesity face four times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to children with a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range, according to a study published in the (Journal of the Endocrine Society). Children with type 2 diabetes often have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol which is bad. Kids with these conditions are at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes as adults, it’s extremely important to avoid these conditions in childhood years to reduce the damage that can affect their adulthood. These are all examples of the long term effects on the body that are linked with obesity that starts as a child. Simple changes and alterations to a child’s nutritional demands can significantly decrease these risks and allow them to have a healthy chance into adulthood.

An overweight or obese child has three times the risk for depression in adulthood as a normal-weight child. Risk rises four times for children who are overweight or obese in both childhood and adulthood, according to a new study(CBS News reports).

Children who experience obesity are forced to deal with so many challenges beyond pressures to lose weight. They face a higher risk of being teased at school, often unmercifully, because of their body weight. Over time, this taunting and continual bullying can and will take an emotional toll, making them feel isolated, embarrassed and sad.

Children eventually dread going to school, they will be far more likely to skip class. Children will also begin to skip physical activities in school like PE or sports or school dances, any place that they could potentially be judged because of their weight. Children can oftentimes become depressed due to their body image, they feel as though they don’t fit in and people are embarrassed by them. When kids have to deal with obesity, the chances of mental and emotional problems are significantly higher than those who are at a normal weight range. Children will shut down, they don’t want to be around others, they become quiet and unwilling to open up about the rooted situation which is almost always due to poor body image from increased weight or obesity. With the rise in adolescent obesity and the increased use of social media influencing the body image of not only children but adults as well, it’s important to understand the associations between obesity and depression. When children are consuming unhealthy nutritional options that are contributing to the excessive weight gain, this will only contribute to the risk of mental and emotional health concerns in children. Parents play a large responsibility in providing well balanced meals to children. When a child solely relies on there parent or caregiver for their nutritional needs, and they in turn are being served these unhealthy options contributing to unnecessary weight gain then the parent or caregiver is putting them at a higher risk to fall into a mental or emotional health crisis.

This rapid obesity increase in American children is not the product of changing biology or genes; it is living in an environment that promotes inactivity and overeating. As a society, they have changed the types and quantities of food that are eaten, reduced physical activity, and engaged in more passive leisure-time activities. Additionally Sodas and other sweetened beverages are readily available in this nation’s schools. Vending machines are placed in almost all of the nation’s schools. Eighty percent of elementary schools and ninety seven percent of high schools contain high sugar beverages and snacks.(The Journal of Adolescent Health) Another contributing factor to higher obesity rates among children in America is the food being served in public schools in America. These are high caloric and high sugar foods, not to mention the serving sizes are that of an adult. Children do not need to consume the same amount of food as a grown man or women. In countries around the globe, healthier options are offered. Smaller serving sizes that better accommodate a child and less sugary beverages. That being said, there is a noticeable decrease in obesity in other countries but still a reasonable amount to cause concern. The number of overweight or obese infants and young children (aged 0 to 5 years) increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. In the WHO African Region alone the number of overweight or obese children increased from 4 to 9 million over the same period.(https://www.who.int/end-childhood-obesity/facts/en/) Assume a well balanced meal is offered along with smaller servings, the expectation is that the obesity rate among children and adolescents will begin to show a decrease in children with obesity. If the rapidly growing trend doesnt start to slow down, the number of overweight and obese children could reach nearly 60 million or 9% by the year 2020, that is an extremely large number of children that are being set up to enter into adulthood as an obese human being with several weight related medical conditions. In order for things to change, even in the slightest amount, everybody needs to be involved. Parents need to take responsibility for what they are serving their children and stop relying on the convenience of fast food. School systems need to reevaluate the food that is being offered to children on a daily basis. Vending machines that are filled with sugary snacks and beverages do not need to be in the schools. Not only do these add unnecessary weight to children, it sets them up for nutritional failure. Children will migrate towards those machines because they are attracted to the contents inside them, not because they’re actually hungry. It doesn’t give children an opportunity to consume the proper nutrition there little bodies need when they are filling up on empty calories that hold little to no nutritional value. The United States has successfully reduced smoking rates, and cardiovascular disease has declined by more than 50% in the last 20 years, “yet virtually no progress has been made in the prevention or treatment of obesity. Physicians can more easily prescribe a drug than influence eating and exercise habits, especially given profound changes in society, such as the availability of inexpensive and unhealthy foods and changes in individual and familial lifestyle.” (Jeff Minerd, Contributing Writer, MedPage Today) If everyone, including children came together to make little daily changes, it’s believed that the rate of children with obesity and obesity related illnesses will begin to decline rather then rapidly inclining as it is currently doing.

Obesity has become socially accepted by the current generation, it’s the new normal that is being seen consistently throughout the U.S. Making changes towards this social norm and implementing healthy lifestyles can have amplified benefits. Children need to be taught the importance of their diets, there physical activity, and proper portion sizes. Many parents, grandparents, or caregivers often use sweet treats as a bribery or rewards tactic. If a child is receiving multiple “rewards” or “bribes” a day, how is that beneficial for there health? Instead there needs to be other tactics implemented to help a child stay on track, listen and focus. Indulging in an unhealthy sweet treat on occasion is most acceptable, however the key word is moderation. When over indulging in sweets and high fat foods such as fast food; It can make children get hyper, sleepy, have a hard time focusing and winding down. While these options are merely available at the fingertips of a busy adult at any giving time, they need to be reserved for a special occasion rather than a first choice option. Making subtle nutritional changes will positively affect the obesity rates in children, committing to change will significantly help the health of all children and their weight. Children need to be moving more, spending less time on the couch watching tv or whatever there electronic of choice is. Opportunities for physical activity used to be a common component of each child’s school day. Unfortunately, these opportunities are declining especially in our nation’s secondary schools. While 87 percent of schools require physical education in grade eight, this declines to 47 percent in grade 10, and only 20 percent in grade 12. A minority of youth participate in intramural sports or activity clubs (<20 percent) or varsity sports (~35 percent). Further, ethnic minority youth and those from poverty backgrounds are significantly less likely to participate in any type of sport or activity club (Johnson, Delva, & O’Malley, 2007). With the decrease in physical activity in schools, and the fact the technology has nearly taken over the current generation, it’s to no surprise the number of obese children is still climbing. There are changes that must be made within the home and school systems when it comes to enforcing physical activity. Not only are Americans spending more time in their cars driving to work or school or to meet their daily shopping needs, but their leisure time activities have become more sedentary. Television sets are found in almost every U.S. household and many children have TVs in their bedrooms. A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010) Children will potentially come home from a long day of school or sports practice and chances are they’ll grab a snack, a juice or soda and head to the couch or there room to engage in something on the television. Again, this is a huge contributor to the epidemic were witnessing. Instead of contributing to accept this a socially accepted normal, things can be done to help halt the growing problem. Out of sight out of mind, it’s easy for children to not consume unhealthy choices in food and beverages when these aren’t made an option at all. What if TVs were not inside the home or bedrooms? Would children be more apt to go outdoors and doing something that is a little more physical? The chances are much higher when the attractive alternatives are removed. When the family and community get involved, the children are more prone to follow in the footsteps of a leader. Preventing childhood obesity should become ingrained as a collective responsibility requiring individual, family, community, corporate, and governmental commitments. The key will be to bring positive changes to tackle this issue from many directions, at multiple levels, and through collaboration within the community and families involved. Making simple changes and being a positive role model for children will encourage them to make healthy choices and move there bodies, if this happens the goal is to see a positive change in the obesity epidemic in US children.

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