Childhood obesity is one of the most discussed health problems in the United States, and is a growing health issue in many places worldwide. The reason that childhood obesity is a worry for healthcare officials will be discussed in this paper, along with statistics that show the current trends. Also, potential solutions to this crisis will also be presented.
How is Obesity defined?
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) defines obesity using the "body mass index" (BMI) as a guide post. Obesity is defined as BMI "…at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex" (JAMA). In other words, a boy who is 3 years of age of "average height" who weighs "more than 37 pounds would be considered obese" (JAMA). As to "extreme obesity" -- that is calculated as a BMI "…at or above 120% of the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex" (JAMA). To wit, a boy that is 3 years of age with average height who weighs "…more than 44 pounds would be classified as extremely obese" (JAMA).
The Mayo Clinic explains that not every child that is carrying "extra pounds" is necessarily obese or even overweight; in fact, there are children with "…larger than average body frames." And also, it is normal for some children to carry body fat while they are very young and still developing into adolescents, so just looking at a child is not an accurate way to assess if he or she is overweight, the Mayo Clinic explains on its web site.
How serious is the Childhood Obesity Crisis?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17% of American children between the ages of 2 -- 19 are obese. That means over 12 million young people are obese, a tripling of the number of obese children since 1980. As to very young children, one out of every 7 preschool children from low income families is obese (CDC). There are disparities based on race and ethnicity, the CDC explains; Hispanic boys between the ages of 2-19 are "significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white boys." And, African-American girls (who are not Hispanic) were "…significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls" (CDC).
There is some good news regarding childhood obesity in the U.S., and that is that obesity and "extreme obesity" among lower income children in preschool "…went down for the first time in recent years" (CDC). The decrease was small, but it was encouraging according to CDC; the prevalence of obesity went down from 15.21% to 14.94% between the years 2003 to 2010. As to "extreme obesity" it also declined among low income children; it went from 2.22% to 2.07% (CDC). All racial and ethnic groups were included in the slight decline except American Indians and Alaskan Natives, the CDC points out.
What are the Risk Factors that are linked to Obesity and Overweight?
The Mayo Clinic points to several risk factors that parents should be looking out for if they are concerned about their children being overweight. One of the most critical risk factors is diet -- what the child is eating. The regular consumption of "high-calorie foods" like snacks from vending machines, fast food from McDonald's, Burger King or Taco Bell, can "…easily cause your child to gain weight" (Mayo Clinic). Other foods that are unhealthy include: a) soft drinks containing sugar; b) candy; and c) desserts like cookies, cakes, ice cream and other foods that are high in sugar, fat, and calories (Mayo Clinic).
A lack of exercise for children also leads to the possibility of obesity; children who sit in front of the television set for hours rather than playing outside or being involved in organized recreational activities are at risk for obesity. Also, children that are more interested in playing video games than engaging in sports and recreational activities are at risk for obesity, the Mayo Clinic explains. Other risk factors include: a) family history (a family of overweight people where high-calorie food is a staple at the dinner table); b) psychological factors (when a child has emotional problems, or experiences stress because of conflict in the family, he or she may eat as a response to stress); c) family factors (if the family does not healthy groceries -- like fresh fruits and vegetables -- weight gain is likely); d) socioeconomic factors (low income families tend to buy less expensive foods and those items are not as healthy as fresher, more expensive foods).
According to a peer-reviewed article in PLOS ONE (Keane, et al., 2012), a "predominant risk factor for childhood obesity" is parents who themselves are obese. Socio-economic factors also play a role in a child's weight (as mentioned earlier in this paper), but when it comes to environmental factors and a child's obesity, having obese parents is a major risk for a child (Keane, p. 1). In a study in Ireland, researchers looked into the family weight issues of 8,568-nine-year-olds; the parents were weighed and the children were weighed in this research. What was found was that "…overall, 19.3% of children were overweight and 6.6% were obese" (Keane, 1). Fourteen percent of those children whose parents' weight was normal were overweight or obese, but 46.2% of children whose parents were obese were overweight or obese (Keane, 1).
What Health Complications can result from Obesity?
One of the unfortunate results that obesity leads to in many cases is Type 2 diabetes. The Mayo Clinic explains that Type 2 diabetes is caused "in part by a poor diet," and it is a "…chronic condition that affects the way [a] child's body metabolizes sugar (glucose)." Another negative impact from obesity is called "metabolic syndrome," which means the child is at risk for heart disease, for high blood pressure and high cholesterol (Mayo Clinic). Asthma is another potential danger for a child that is obese; also, sleep disorders are considered a possible consequence for a child that is obese, and an obese child may start puberty earlier than normal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In addition, a child may become depressed because of low self-esteem and by being teased by peers and siblings. If a child loses hope that his life will improve, depression is likely to follow and that brings with it: a) a loss of interest in normal childhood activities; b) a tendency to want to sleep in order to avoid the negative realities while awake; and c) a lot of crying and along with crying is a desire to hide sadness -- which leads to emotional crises (Mayo Clinic).
Bullying is often a reality for Obese Children
One of the problems (besides health issues) for children that are obese is that they may expect to be teased and even bullied in school. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a website called healthychildren.org, and in that site the editors explain that obese children can expect to be "…teased at school, often unmercifully." The taunting and teasing can take "an emotional toll" on any children, particularly because obese children can expect to lose friends and they lose a sense of self-esteem (healthychildren.org). Children that are bullied tend to skip class, drop out of school, and without a high school education the possibilities of a positive future are reduced significantly.
Why are C-Sections and Breastfeeding linked to Childhood Obesity?
According to an article in Medline Plus (a publication of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health), more babies that were born using the C-section procedure "…grow up to be heavy kids and teens than those delivered vaginally." This fact was made available following a survey of upwards of 10,000 babies in the United Kingdom. Eleven-year-olds born through C-section procedures were "…83% more likely to be overweight or obese" than peers that were born vaginally, Medline Plus reports (Pittman, 2013).
Doctors and scientists are not sure why babies born through C-section (cesarean section) turn out to be heavier, but one possible answer might be that C-section babies miss out "…on important exposures to friendly bacteria during the trip through the birth canal" (Pittman). However, that is just speculation, and what doctors are telling pregnant women is that if she is considering a C-section, she should be aware of the risks (Pittman).
A peer-reviewed article in the journal Health Research and Educational Trust (Jiang, et al., 2013) points out that although there is no empirical research to document how breastfeeding might reduce childhood obesity some doctors have promoted breastfeeding in this context. The World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted research into the possibility that breastfeeding does indeed reduce the chances that a child will become obese. However, reviews of the WHO data show "…no strong, clear, and consistent body of evidence" supports the WHO findings (Jiang, p. 628). The White House under President Obama created the "Task Force on Childhood Obesity" which published 70 recommendations for reducing childhood obesity. The findings from the White House Task Force show…