Another issue is the fact that our nation's schools are failing to provide students with healthy foods in our in-school lunch programs. The school programs are making little effort to structure their menus so that the daily nutritional requirements as proscribed by the United States Department of Agriculture are being addressed. Again, funding is cited as the problem but a strong argument can be made that convenience is more properly the issue. Additionally, the placement of vending machines containing snack foods high in carbohydrates and soft drinks high in sugar and fructose is also contributing to the overall problem. The placement of these vending machines is the result of corporate sponsorships by some of the nation's leading food manufacturers and the schools benefit financially from these placements but at what price?
If obesity could have developed as a problem in less than a generation it can be solved in less than a generation as well. Whether it can done in time to save the health of today's generation of children is unknown but failing to take action virtually ensures that they will live shorter and less healthy lives. These statistics and trends explain why obesity in children needs to be addressed and needs to be address immediately. It is not a problem that we can delay addressing. A solution must be found now.
II. Risk Factors
Predicting what may cause a child to become obese is not an exact science but through careful study and analysis a clear set of risk factors have emerged (Butcher, 2006). These factors, usually working in combination, increase a child's chance of becoming obese. The simple explanation for childhood obesity is that children are consuming more calories from food than they are burning during the day but there are other factors that must be considered as well.
The first such risk is the child's diet. This may seem like an obvious factor but it must still be considered and examined. Children who regularly eat high-calorie foods such as those that one finds at fast-food restaurants and in vending machines can be expected to cause a child to gain weight. The drinking of soft drinks, candy, baked cooks and other desert items are also high on the list of food items that fall into this category. All these items are high in sugar content and fat and their caloric content is much higher than their residual nutritional value. This factor is likely the most common cause of obesity in children but it is not the only one.
Changes in society such as video games and television have also made their contribution to the obesity problem. Quite simply, children in today's society do not spend enough of their time exercising. The activities that occupy most of their time are not of the type that result in the burning of calories. Too many children today spend their days watching television or playing video games and, too often, drinking numerous soft drinks and snack foods at the same time. These are inactive activities that burn very few calories. Plus, there is the fact that American families due to their life-styles are eating out more often, consuming larger meals, eating high-fat foods, and too often putting taste and convenience ahead of nutrition considerations.
Studies have also demonstrated that the chances of a child becoming obese increase in the situation where one or more parent is overweight. Whether it is genetics, the household diet, or a lack of an emphasis on physical activity the fact is that such environment contributes to childhood obesity. As to the genetics aspect, this factor alone is not likely to contribute significantly to the obesity problem. During the last generation the rate of overweight American children has increased from 4% to 19%; a figure that cannot be explained through genetics alone.
An overlooked factor, but one that is found in a significant number of situations, is where children use food as a way of dealing with their emotions. These children whether because of stress, boredom, or depression utilize food as a method of providing them some form of relieve from these conditions. Often these forms of coping are learned from one's parents or peers but regardless of the cause the results can be devastating.
In the last few years another risk factor has emerged that is receiving considerable attention. Some experts are pointing to the fact that childhood obesity is a particular problem in low-income families. The reasons for this prevalence is still being studied but some of the reasons being proposed are the frequent reliance on fast-food restaurants by low-income families and corresponding high cost of eating healthy foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits (Roach, 2009).
III. Approaches to Treatment
There a wide variety of approaches to the treatment of obesity. These approaches differ based upon the intensity of the treatment, the cost, the nature of how the treatment is administered, and whether it is self-regulated or directed by health care professionals. The options are so varied and numerous that they can become confusing for those seeking treatment.
In beginning any assessment of the approaches to treating or finding a solution to obesity is necessary to recognize that even small changes in weight have consequential health benefits. Study after study indicate that a 5-10% loss in body weight can result in meaningful health improvements in the areas of cholesterol levels, hypertension and glucose metabolism (Wadden, 2003). Studies have also demonstrated that a loss in body weight can lower the risk of developing Type II diabetes. This parallel between obesity and Type II diabetes has been made consistently by experts in the area of nutrition and health and the approaches that these experts have recommended follow a consistent pattern of lifestyle modification, dietary intervention, behavioral therapy and increased physical activity.
A. Lifestyle modification
Changing the way that children lead their lives is essential to any long-term solution to the obesity problem (Weiss, 2009). Frequently, children and their parents may become engaged to suddenly address the problem and begin to diet and exercise in an effort to lose weight. Such an approach works well in the short-term but without an accompanying change in lifestyle that involves the entire family the results will be short-lived. The entire environment of the obese child must be changed. Healthy eating habits must be adopted. Regular exercise must be continued and the reason for undertaking these changes must be on the health benefits garnered and not on the cosmetic changes that might result. Although the physical changes may be the more obvious of the advantages it is the internal physical improvements that will last longer.
The entire family of the obese child must dedicate itself to providing a healthy environment. This means a curtailing of eating out particularly at fast-food restaurants. Preparing and eating healthy meals at home which include moderate portions of fresh vegetables and fruits is essential. The availability of cookies, cakes, pastries, and snack foods should be extremely limited. These types of foods have limited dietary value and add nothing but calories and fat to one's diet.
B. Dietary Intervention
There are an unlimited number of available diet options on the market today. Adults are free to try as many of these options as they please but when addressing the diet options available for obese children a much different approach must be considered. Maintaining a dietary content nutritionally balanced for the health of the child is essential. What is being attempted is not only a loss in weight but also a change in eating habits and the health of the child cannot be compromised for the sake of convenience. In adult dieting unusual approaches can be attempted but dieting in children is far more complex. The evidence suggests that everyone, but especially children, benefit most from diets containing low and moderate-fat, low calorie food items (Chaffin, 2001). Any attempt at adopting any of the trend diets should be heavily discouraged when managing the diets of children. Quick weight loss is not the goal. The purpose is to develop healthy eating habits along the way and allow a gradual weight loss of a pound or two a week. The process is slower but the results longer lasting.
C. Behavioral Therapy
The value of behavioral therapy in the process of controlling childhood obesity may be criticized by many but there is considerable evidence that incorporating such techniques has a positive effect on the outcome. By developing an understanding of why one chooses to eat unhealthily the obese individual is able to develop insights that can aid in the long-term battle against obesity. A good behavioral program can help the obese child to set realistic goals, understand why physical activity is important, learn how to control the impulses to eat, and to rebuild one's confidence and self-esteem. The behavioral therapy setting allows the obese child the venue for expressing how being overweight has affected him or her…