Obesity is a significant problem for today's American children. In fact, the NCCC calculates that more than 23 million children and teenagers are overweight. Since 1980, the obesity rate amongst children has more than doubled and amongst children aged 2-5 years almost tripled, whilst it has more than tripled in adolescents aged 12-19 years (Ogden et al., 2008.).
The problems of childhood obesity in children include the following:
Obese children are at a higher risk for asthma
Obese children are more likely to suffer from psychosocial problems, fatty liver, orthopedic-related problems and sleep apnea
Childhood obesity has also corresponded with a rise in with type 2 diabetes, particularly among adolescent minority populations
Obese children are found to be at greater risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), as well as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and abnormal glucose tolerance
The causes of childhood obesity have been reduced to various factors which include the following:
Overweight adolescents have been found to consume 700 to 1000 more calories than is better for their health and growth.
Children age 8-18 spend a mean of 6 hours a day engaged in sedentary activities such as watching TV, browsing computer, and playing video games
Fewer children are biking or walking. Most are using transportation to get them from place to place
Only 2.1%of high schools, 7.9%of middle schools and 3.8% of elementary schools provide daily exercise and its equivalent.
Costs of childhood obesity to the nation are staggering: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2000, the total cost of obesity for children and adults in the United States was estimated to be $117 billion, whilst children covered by Medicaid are nearly six times more likely to be treated for a diagnosis of obesity than children covered by private insurance. Obese children, too, are significantly more likely to miss school than normal weight children (Geier et al., 2007) hurting their learning and resulting in more expense.
There are a variety of program that is offered by both government and grassroots organizations to encourage healthier eating habits and more physical activity. An example of one such program is the Walk-to-School, Steps to a HealthierUS which is sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and encourages youth and families to increase their physical activity level by walking or biking to and from school. The government too has implemented several school-based programs such as the Healthy Children Healthy Futures (HCHF) which offers a replicable 20-week, after school program for children and their parents.
The media is also working to combat childhood obesity by offering certain programs such as Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) which provides guidelines on advertising to children twelve and under. Nonprofit organizations too sponsor community youth programs, recreational activities and other initiatives aimed at combating the obesity epidemic, whilst finally, corporations are also involved in funding certain programs. ( Building a healthier America ).
The childhood obesity issue in fact has become so prominent that First Lady Obama has adopted childhood obesity as her pet project and has sworn to end it within a generation. Her objectives include "more healthful food in schools, more accurate food labeling, better grocery stores in communities that don't have them, public service announcements and efforts to get children to be more active." She also aims to fight for congressional approval in order to provide tax incentives for businesses that offer healthy food to move to more down-trodden areas where kids are in need of a healthier diet. Obama's Let's Move (letsmove.gov) program aims to fight the same battle that antismoking fought in the 1960s: have the government intervenes in preventing childhood obesity (USA Today. (2/9/2010).
The problem is that government intervention can become dictatorial and step over bounds, and this unravels into a manifestation of conflict theory.
Conflict theory is the theory which states that different social groups (more specifically and frequently) privileged against less privileged battle against each other with the privileged exploiting the less privileged towards their own ends. This results in conflicts between the different classes.
Although generally applied to economic ends, conflict theory need not always be in an economic context. It has also been applied to man vs. woman in a feminist context and divide between one religion and another as well as the police attitude towards criminals.
As applied to this sociological issue of childhood obesity, conflict theory can become manifested by heady government intervention where government takes upon itself the protectorate role and becomes oppressive towards a vulnerable and dependent laypeople. The fact that conflict theory plays itself out in issues of childhood obesity are borne in various incidents where government have abducted children form protective homes and placed them -- against protest of families and children in foster homes on the bases that these children were obese. The parents helplessly protested. The police -- represented by the powerful facade of government -- nonetheless acted. This is an example of powerful sector exploiting and imposing their demand on the helpless.
An example of just such a kind of story happened in 2009 where the 14-year-old son of Jerri Gray of South Carolina was taken away from her because he weighed 555 pounds. This scenario was repeated in New Mexico where a 3-year-old girl was removed from her family's home by the state and placed in foster care because she weighed 90 pounds. The girl, it happened to be, had a rare genetic disorder. Her mother had had this to say about the interference of government in her family's life: "They say it's for the well-being of the child, but it did more damage… that any money or therapy could ever do to fix it." (Arizona law blog).
Not all children are obese due to parental reasons or their own lack of self-control or lack of education. Some may be obese due to biological reasons. Forcibly removing these children from family and homes may not only not cure the problem but also result in further ones. An endocrinologist reported that "at least 50% of obesity is genetic" (Cleveland.com (December 04, 2011). Critics complain that governments who act by selectively placing children in foster homes are overstepping their boundaries and perpetrating monstrosities. It is the food that should be locked up not the children (and relocating them to foster homes is tantamount to locking them up).
Childhood obesity is clearly a problem that is becoming more potent by the years resulting in greater medical expense and in an explosion of childhood disease and mortality. Review studies on the efficacy of interventions (e.g. Boon & Clysedale (2005) indicate that most childhood obesity interventions produce only meager results, creating the need for better well-researched and more effective programs that are catered towards a specific age and ethnic as well as socio-economic class structure.
Another review study published in 2007 on 11 interventions targeted toward adolescents and children ranging from nutrition to physical therapy and cognitive as well as reducing time watching TV as well as restricting drinking of carbonated drinks found that multicomponent interventions are not necessarily more effect than single-component interventions, that most effective interventions were based on behavioral theory, and that the most effective seemed to be those that were premised on social cognitive theory where behavior of peers influenced outcome. TV watching seems to be the most modifiable behavior, followed by physical activity and nutrition behaviors.
Based on this exhaustive review study, my recommendations are that interventions should target both physical activity and nutrition-based behaviors with reducing TV being one of the factors. Nutrition behaviors should focus on increased fruit and vegetable consumption, decreased fat intake, decreased consumption of carbonated drinks, adequate consumption of water and restricting portion sizes. (Sharma, 2006))
The interventions should be premised on behavioral theories with…