Obesity in Americans has been a topic of debate over the last decade. Americans are among the most obese people in the world. Obesity causes a variety of health problems that cost American billions each year. In recent years there has also been an increase in obesity in children. The purpose of this discussion is to investigate obesity in children. The discussion will focus on poor eating habits and lack of exercise as the primary causes of obesity in children. The paper will also focus on ways to prevent childhood obesity.
Obesity in Children
According to an article found in Childhood Education there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in children over the past few decades. The article reports that the increase in obesity has occurred over all ethnic, racial, gender and age groups (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). In addition nearly 10% of children from the ages of 2 to 6 and 15% of children 6 to 19 are overweight (Ogden et al.; Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). Other statistics assert the following
"The number of overweight children in the United States has been on the rise since the early 1960s (table 1). During the 1960s, the National Health Examination Survey (NHES), the precursor to the NHANES series, confirmed that the percentage of children between 6 and 11 years old who were overweight was 4%, while the percentage among adolescents (12-19 years old) was 5%. By 2000, the number of overweight American youths in both age groups had dangerously increased -- to 15.3% and 15.5% respectively (American Obesity Association [AOA], 2002; CDC, 1999). This exponential escalation of overweight children will continue to challenge society's healthcare system because they will most likely become overweight or obese adults with future health difficulties (Salbe & Ravussin, 2000; Irwin et al.)."
The article further explains that obesity in children is a huge concern for the public and the healthcare system in particular. The article asserts
"Overweight children face higher than normal odds of suffering from both immediate and long-term physical, psychosocial, and emotional consequences (Dietz, 1998; Smith, 1999). They are at greatly increased risk for lifelong health problems, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, Type II diabetes mellitus, and orthopedic complications (e.g., increased stress on weight-bearing joints). Furthermore, overweight children are at a greater risk of becoming overweight adults. The relative risk of becoming overweight as an adult increases with the age of an obese child and with the presence of obesity in at least one parent (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe)."
In addition, to the health problems that often accompany obesity; obese children often struggle from social problems. The article reports that children often develop harmful attitudes about overweight peers (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). When these attitudes are not corrected they lead to intentional weight-related teasing (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). According to the authors in many cultures there is often a stigma connected to being overweight (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). Such stigma often asserts that overweight people are lazy and self indulgent (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). Studies have suggested that children as young as 6 have these negative views of overweight people (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). In addition, overweight children are often viewed as being less likeable (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). Such perceptions often impede their social development (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). As a result children that are obese are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe).
"Rejection by a peer at school may be the first indication to an obese individual that his or her excess weight is a hindrance (Puhl & Brownell, 2001). Several studies conducted in various elementary schools, using pictures of ectomorph- (thin), mesomorph- (normal weight), and endomorph- (obese) shaped children, found that the majority of children had negative views about or preferred not to socialize with the endomorphic children (Cramer & Steinwert, 1998; Irwin et al. 2003)."
Indeed, childhood obesity can have both physical and emotional consequences. As a result it remains as one of the most pressing issues confronting today's youth. Now that we understand more about the problem of obesity in children let us discuss the causes of obesity in children
The causes of obesity
There are several reasons why obesity exists in children. These reasons include eating habits, lack of exercise, food centered activities and family history. For the purpose of this discussion we will focus on the two main issues associated with childhood obesity which are bad eating habits and lack of exercise. Over the next few paragraphs we will further explore these issues and how they contribute to childhood obesity. The discussion will also focus on ways to prevent childhood obesity as it relates to these problems.
Eating habits are a major cause of childhood obesity. The article asserts that diets with high fat intakes have been correlated with childhood obesity (Parizkova & Hills,; Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). In addition the article reports that many children eat a great deal of foods that are high in fat. The authors assert that
A recent survey (Troiano, Briefel, Carroll, & Bialostosky, 2000) of children in the United Statesfound that only 1 in 4 children and adolescents met U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations for fat intake. As a result, "inadequate amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, but excessive amounts of fats, are consumed" (Smith, 1999, p. 84). A review of current food consumption practices in school settings suggests that many schools promote unhealthful eating habits. Such detrimental practices include: school meals high in fat, food-centered celebrations and activities, increased availability of a la carte food and beverage options and vending machines, rewarding children with food, and teaching staff modeling unhealthy dietary habits (e.g., drinking soda, eating candy or potato chips) Hoot & Lynn-Garbe)."
Another issue that seems to be at the forefront of poor eating habits for children is school meals. Many children have more meals at school (breakfast and lunch) than at home (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). These meals are provided by the National School Lunch Program. The program is regulated by the federal government and is supposed to provide students with balance meals and nutrition (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). The article asserts that school lunches in 1998-1999 had fewer calories from fat and saturated fat they were still in excess of healthy limits (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). In addition the students that ate school meals consumed higher amounts of fat and saturated fat within a 24-hour period than students that did not eat school meals (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe).
The article also reports that in many schools students have access to vending machines, school store and a la carte sections of the cafeteria which contain junk food (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). These foods are present because of corporate sponsorships from companies like Pepsi and Frito Lay. In addition, these foods do not have to meet the same nutrition guidelines as the meals that are served in schools, as a result most of these food s have high amounts of fat, sugar and sodium (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). Nearly 90% of American schools offer foods or beverages a la carte for lunch (USDA, 2001a; Hoot & Lynn-Garbe). Moreover, 9% of elementary schools have school stores or snack bars, and 15% have vending machines (USDA, 2001a; (Hoot & Lynn-Garbe).
In addition to the poor eating habits that children develop at school, there are also problems associated with what children are eating at homes. Fast food has become a main source of meals for Americans and can have a detrimental impact upon children who begin eating fast food at very young ages.
Indeed access to junk food in public schools has contributed greatly to the increase in childhood obesity. Schools will need to be more conscious about the types of food and beverages that are allowed to enter the schools. In addition, there must be a greater awareness on the part of students concerning the real and detrimental impact of obesity. Students must be taught to make better decisions and to improve eating habits.
Prevention Measures for poor eating habits
According to the American Obesity Association there are several steps that can be taken to reduce poor eating habits and prevent obesity. The association reports that the following steps must be implemented in schools to encourage good eating habits. The association points out that a coalition of five medical association and the USDA have formulated a plan entitled "Prescription for Change: Ten Keys to Promote Healthy Eating in Schools." These ten keys are as follows
1. Parents, students, school food service staff, community leaders and teachers must be vigilant as it relates to evaluating the schools meals. These stakeholders should also work together to develop a shared plan of action (Childhood Obesity).
2. There must be adequate funding provided by local, state and federal governments to make certain that the school environment is conducive to developing healthy eating habits (Childhood Obesity).
3. There must be nutrition education that is behavior focused. This education must be implemented from the pre-K to 12th grade level. In addition the staff responsible for providing this…