Obesity refers to a clinical condition characterized by excessive quantities of fat in the body. The body mass index (BMI) matrix measures obesity; however, in order to measure obesity in children; the matrix is modified for age. Doctors consider pediatric obesity as one in which a child’s body weight is approximately 20% greater than the healthy weight range prescribed for children of that height. While it was rare in the past, obesity is current one of the most widespread health problems affecting children in the US and most developed nations. Today, almost one in every five children, in American, is obese or overweight. The American Obesity Association asserted that, in the US, at least 15% of children aged between 12 and 19 years (adolescents) and young children between 6 and 11 years are obese (Chaloupka & Johnston, 2007). The association acknowledged that these figures continue to increase since the early 1990s. This paper will examine obesity in children, providing an argument about the causes, detriments and prevention of obesity in children. Obesity in children represents epitomizes one of the greatest health challenges facing the developed world.
Causes of Obesity in Children
Any person, including children who regularly take in more calories than the body requires will ultimately gain weight. If such a trend is not reversed, the individual will become obese in no time. When a child consumes as low as 100 kilocalories or 7ounces of soft drink over the daily required intake, the child will gain at least 10 pounds of weight in a year. Different factors precipitate the imbalance between calorie intake and consumption (Dietz & Gortmaker, 1985). Genetic factors contribute immensely to obesity in children. Since obesity tends to run in certain families, children with obese parents or siblings have a high likelihood of obesity. While some medical conditions such as hormone and chemical imbalances, as well as inherited metabolism disorders, can cause obesity in children, these are quite rare. Most children exhibit normal linear growth and are not susceptible to these disorders. However, it is paramount to realize that genetics do not single-handedly cause obesity. Obesity occurs when a child takes in additional calories than his or her body uses. Dietary patterns in children have moved away from healthy foods like vegetables, whole grains and fruits to intense reliance on processed foods, fast food and sugary foods. Such foods have a high propensity of fat and calories and quite low in essential nutrients. Various eating patterns are associated with obesity in children. These include eating when not hungry, eating while doing homework or watching TV, and drinking sugary drinks like sodas in sedentary activities such as at the movies.
Research indicates that socioeconomic status also bolsters obesity in children. It has been noted that families with low incomes or nonworking parents are likely to consume excessive calories compared to their activity levels. Physical inactivity is the chief precipitating factor of obesity. The increased popularity of computers, video games and TV has led to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for most children in nations such as the US. In the US, for instance, children and young teenagers spend more than three hours watching TV on a daily basis (McCready, 2012). Not only does this variety of recreation dispense little energy in calories, it also promotes sipping and snacking. Less than half of the children population in the US has a guardian or parent who participates in habitual physical exercise. This means that the other half do not have a viable model to emulate or push them to join in the activities. Only a third of children in American schools have daily physical education (PE). This puts the rest at a precarious position, especially considering most schools do not strictly emphasize nutritional meals in school. Furthermore, parents have busy schedules or fears regarding public safety, therefore, deter children from participating in dance, sports or other physical activities after school. In addition, various schools close their campuses after tuition hours to prevent liability risks from injury during physical activities.
Detriments of Obesity in Children
Obesity has immense, detrimental effects on a child’s life as it increases the child’s risk of contracting various health complications, and it can further result in social and emotional problems. Obese children have a greater likelihood of being obese as adults, which creates lifelong risks of serious health problems like stroke and heart diseases. Steps can be taken to prevent an overweight child from becoming obese. The effects of obesity primarily entail health problems like those of bones and joints such as bow legs and slipped femoral epiphysis. In addition, obese children suffer from benign intracranial hypertension, which causes recurrent headaches and ultimately affects vision. Obesity in children also enhances hyperventilation, which leads to drowsiness throughout the day and snoring. Diseases of the gall bladder, high blood pressure and fat levels are also quite common amongst obese children. Furthermore, obese children have a high likelihood of suffering from diseases associated with adults and old persons such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. A study conducted in 2008 affirmed that obese children have carotid arteries that are prematurely aged by nearly 30 years.
In the UK, nearly 27% of the entire children population is overweight, and research shows the key problem is the recurrent reduction in the amount of physical exercise and activities children take. Obese children are also likely to suffer from skin problems like acne, heat rash and fungal infections. Furthermore, the consequences of obesity in children also entail psychological effects such as low levels of self-esteem. Obese children are often teased by their peers while others are discriminated against or harassed by their families. There exist many stereotypes against overweight or obese persons and children are also subject to such stereotyping, which often results in depression and low self esteem. Furthermore, such low self esteem causes distorted relationships between obese children and their peers.
Preventing Obesity in Children
The rising incident of obesity in children led to substantive policy responses from governments and nations across the globe. Various evidence reviews call for the establishment of numerous recommendations, which are dependent on the scope of review. Preventing obesity among children is of supreme importance, particularly considering the aforementioned detriments of obesity. Preventative, as well as awareness initiatives, needs to target children as early as preschool, particularly with regard to parent involvement. These approaches entail changing the situation children live in, for instance, by banning the sale of pop and other excessively sugary foods at school based vending machines. As it stands, calorie-loaded snacks are available in most locations frequented by children. However, following the increased prevalence of obesity in children, the law requires a reduction in the number of snack vending machines in schools and other locations frequented by children (McCready, 2012).
In addition to the schools’ and government involvement, parents, especially have a substantial function to play in lowering the incident of obesity in their children. Obesity in mothers predisposes their children to obesity through epigenetic and prenatal effects. Therefore, mothers should first ensure they maintain an appropriate weight to ensure their children’s health. Mothers should also establish numerous strategies to deter obesity in their children. For instance, during infancy, continued breastfeeding and putting off introduction to solid foods can deter obesity. In early childhood, on the other hand, parents should give their children low-fat snacks and encourage moderate to vigorous daily physical activities. Parents must always lead by example because when children see their parents physically active and enjoying themselves, the children are likely to take up physical activities for the remainder of their lives (Dietz & Gortmaker, 1985). The entire family can also participate in the prevention of obesity in children by planning and performing family activities that provide sufficient exercises to everyone like swimming, walking, or biking.
Furthermore, television viewing should be minimized to a maximum of seven hours per week. This duration should include video games and surfing the internet. Conversely, parents can teach older children to choose nutritious foods and establish viable exercise routines. The avoidance of harmful behavior such as snacking or eating meals while watching TV and avoiding the consumption of sugary foods may help in reducing body weight in children, especially those who are already overweight. As governments become increasingly aware of the serious detriments of obesity in children, schools in the UK are plan to begin weighing all children between the age of 4 and 5 years when they begin primary school and all again when the children are 10-11 years when the children are about to start secondary school. While this measure is currently being conducted in the US, the question of its efficacy is still abound (Macnair, 2012). This is because there are still numerous arguments that hold that obese children will continue being stigmatized, which will subsequently increase the incident of bullying. In addition, such arguments hold that this measure will lead to a high incident of children suffering from eating disorders in the future. In addition, parents must have the ability to tell their children are overweight; therefore, the money can then be put to healthier use like helping to change the situation.
Parents with overweight children should always show them support since research indicates that children’s perceptions of themselves are often based on their parents’ perceptions of them. Dealing with an overweight or obese child is quite difficult. Nonetheless, parents of such children should always show acceptance and understanding despite the weight issue. However, it is critical that parents talk to their children about their weight, providing an appropriate environment for the children to share their concerns. It is highly immoral for parents to set their children apart due to their weight; rather parents must always focus on gradually shifting their family’s physical activities and eating tendencies (Webster, 2012). Everyone should be taught healthy habits by involving the entire family in the aforementioned activities to ensure obese children do not feel singled out. Regardless of whatever preventative approach parents choose to adopt regarding an obese child, the purpose should never be to make physical activity and healthy eating habits a chore, rather take complete advantage of the prospects provided by the preventative approach.
Obesity is presently one of the largely serious pandemics facing children all over the world. In order to counter the problems posed by obesity in children in an effective manner, evaluations should be done on the impact of educational interventions with regard to dietary habits versus control of shifts in children’s BMI, weight gain rates, and prevalence of childhood obesity in all persons below the age of 18 years. In addition, it is necessary to conduct evaluations of the impact of interventions of physical activity versus control of BMI changes and evaluations of the impact dietary educational interventions versus physical activity interventions on BMI changes in children. Furthermore, there is an immense need to conduct evaluations of the combined effects of physical activity and dietary educational interventions versus overall control of additional outcomes in children.
This paper has examined various elements such as the causes, effects and prevention measures against obesity in children, providing an argument whose bottom line is that obesity in children is not only preventable, but also eradicable. However, preventing and eradicating the obesity in children is dependable on joint efforts from parents, schools and governments. This calls for all stakeholders to participate fully in creating awareness against obesity in children, especially by enlightening children about the importance of maintaining high levels of physical activities throughout their lives (Chaloupka & Johnston, 2007). It is quite clear that avoiding obesity in children is better that treating the problem since it causes serious repercussions ranging from physical to psychological repercussions.
Chaloupka, F. J., & Johnston, L. D. (2007). Bridging the gap: research informing practice and policy for healthy youth behavior. American Journal of Preventative Medicine 33(4): 147–161.
Dietz, W. H., & Gortmaker, S. L. (1985). Do we fatten our children at the television set? Obesity and television viewing in children and adolescents. Pediatrics 75: 807-12.
Macnair, T. (2012). Childhood obesity. BBC Health. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/obesity2.shtml
McCready, B. (2012). Feds to require students to buy fruit, vegetables with school cafeteria lunches. McClatchy - Tribune Business News. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=2623422651&Fmt=3&clientId=74379&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Webster, R. A. (2012). Experts: Busy lifestyles, lax parenting often compound child obesity. Orleans City Business. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=2628297531&Fmt=3&clientId=74379&RQT=309&VName=PQD