Indeed, obesity among children and adolescents is even associated with an increase in economic costs. It is estimated that the hospital costs for obesity-related disease among children and adolescents increased from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-1999, which represents more than three times the costs of 20 years ago (Wang & Dietz, 2002).
Numerous obesity-related health complications such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type II diabetes mellitus, coronary plaque formation, and serious psychosocial implications, are also affecting children and adolescents (Freedman & Stern, 2004; Pinhas-Hamiel, Dolan, Daniels, Standiford, Khoury & Zeitler, 1996; Ludwig & Ebbeling, 2001; Dietz, 1998; American Academy of Pediatrics, 2002). Since the increase in such health problems has generally paralleled that of the obesity epidemic, Anderson and Butcher (2006) remarked that there should be an association between these health problems and childhood obesity.
Guo, Wu, Chumlea & Roche (2002) indicated that overweight children often become overweight adolescents and adults. This notion only adds to the seriousness of childhood obesity. Indeed, the National Institute of Health (1998) identified that obesity is a serious health risk among children and adolescents of all age groups.
If particular causes of obesity could be known, then health experts, policymakers and others could design programs to reduce overweight and obesity among younger age groups. Therefore, it would be very helpful if a research based understanding regarding what social aspects encourages childhood obesity could be developed. This thesis intends to generate a knowledge base that could contribute to such an overall understanding.
Bearing this intention, this research paper aims to find out whether there are relationships between the likelihood of being overweight or obese among children and adolescents and the social factors. The literature suggests that the prevalence of overweight or obesity differs based on different social factors. For example, the literature suggests an inverse relationship between physical activities and the prevalence of overweight or obesity. The relationships, however, change when the prevalence of overweight or obesity is associated with other social factors like television watching, listening to music and playing computer games. In particular, this paper focuses on the in equal government policy towards allowing physical activity in boys and girls schools in Saudi Arabia. Further the research paper will explore main factors which are associated with overweight or obesity among children and adolescents: socio demographic factors, preference for certain activities, and health conditions.
Definition of Obesity
Typically, obesity and overweight in adults are defined in terms of body mass index (BMI), which in turn is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2000). Guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health (1998) consider an adult underweight if his or her BMI is less than 18.5, overweight if BMI is 25 or more, and obese if BMI is 30 or more. These guidelines also indicate that the standard BMI for a healthy body is between 18.5 -- 25 kg/m..
BMI is also used to identify children who are overweight or at a risk of becoming overweight. The cutoff criteria, however, are mostly based on the age-and-sex-specific BMI growth charts for the United States produced by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2000 (Bouchard & Rankinen, 2005). CDC experts recommend that children with BMI values at the 85th percentile and at or above the 95th percentile of the age-and-sex-specific BMI growth charts be categorized as overweight and obese, respectively (National Center for Health Statistics, 2005).
Logically, the increase in childhood obesity is associated with the increase in adult obesity. That is, children who are overweight and obese during their childhood are more likely than normal weight children to remain and become overweight and obese during adolescence and adulthood (Anderson & Butcher,...
Whitaker and his colleagues (1997) found that 52% of children who were obese when they were at the ages of three to six remained obese at the age of twenty-five, compared to only 12% of children who were normal and underweight when they were at the ages of three to six becoming obese at the age of twenty-five.
The Causes and the Correlates of Obesity
The medical and sociological literatures suggest various factors associated with the obesity epidemic. Different researchers, however, have different views regarding the causes of obesity. Some researchers focus on the physical structures of communities. Suburban sprawl, absence of sidewalks, reliance on automobile are, thus, seen to be major causes of obesity (Bouchard & Rankinen, 2005; Corless & Ohland, 2005; Russonello & Stewart Research and Communications, 2003; Fertig, Glomm & Tchernis, 2005). Other investigators view the changes in the food market, the increase in advertising targeted toward children and adolescents, and the adaptation of fast foods by children and adolescents as major factors behind the causes of obesity (Paxson, Donahue, Oreleans & Grisso, 2006; Anderson & Butcher, 2006; American Academy of Pediatrics, 2004; Jeffery & Utter, 2003).
The literature also supports the idea that there have been many changes in the school environment today, particularly in the availability of fast foods and beverages in schools and the decline in physical education. Generally, most children and adolescents rely on vending machines for food during school time, which allow for the purchase of high-calorie foods like sodas, chips and candy (Anderson & Butcher, 2006; Anderson, Butcher & Levine, 2003). Logically, a greater consumption of high-calorie foods causes children and adolescents to be overweight and obese. Therefore, the greater reliance on vending machines food by children and adolescents is thought to be associated with increasing obesity or overweight rates. The lack of opportunities for exercise has also been associated with this trend of overweight or obesity among children and adolescents. Koplan, Liverman and Kraak (2005) remarked that many American schools have reduced their commitment to provide students with regular and adequate physical activities. This reduction has been attributed to budget cuts and the pressure to increase academic course offerings in order for schools to maintain standards and remain competitive with other schools.
Gender & Obesity
Research indicates that there are gender differences in the likelihood of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents. Ogden and his colleagues (2006) reported that there is a significant relationship between the trend of overweight or obesity among male and female children and adolescents. They indicated that the prevalence of obesity in female children and adolescents increased from 13.8% in 1999-2000 to 16.0% in 2003-2004, whereas the prevalence of obesity in male children and adolescents increased from 14.0% to 18.2% over the same time period. Other studies have indicated that female children and adolescents are more likely to be overweight or .obese than male children and adolescents (Wang, 2002; Hill & Lissau, 2002; Gordon-Larsen et al., 2004; Stanton & Hills, 2004; Hills, 2006). It should be, however, noted that several investigations indicate that the likelihood of overweight and obesity between male and female children and adolescents vary according to their racial background (Freedman & Stern, 2004; Taylor et al., 2005; American Heart Association, 2004).
Research also pointed out that the differences in the prevalence of obesity among boys and girls might be due to the differences in the levels of physical activity. Boys are more likely to engage in outdoor games than girls, which might be due to the influence of a stereotypical notion that boys are strong and girls are delicate (Stanton & Hills, 2004). Often, due to this stereotypical perception, boys are more likely to be encouraged by parents, teachers and others to do vigorous activities, whereas girls are discouraged from engaging in such activities (Adkins, Sherwood, Story & Davis, 2004). However, other research indicates that girls who belong to families with higher education level and higher socioeconomic status are more likely to engage in various physical activities (Kimm & Glynn, 2006). Research also indicates that parental perception and parental support for physical activities plays a more important role in girls' participation in physical activities than for boys' participation in physical activities (Adkins, Sherwood, Story & Davis, 2004). However, Rushovich, Voorhees, Davis, Neumark-Sztainer, Pfeiffer, Elder, Going & Marino (2006) found that girls who are not supervised by their parents are more likely to be active than those girls who get continuous parental supervision for physical activities. Probably, those girls who are supervised for the physical activities might have certain guidelines for other activities as well, such as, doing homework, time spent on watching television and other food behaviors. Such guidelines by the parents might have resulted in the decreasing activity level of the girls who were supervised.
This research paper focused the issue of obesity in Saudi children particularly in girls and its link to health inequality policy by government towards girls sports. The paper discussed in detail the background of obesity, health risks related to obesity and reasons of high prevalence of obesity in children.
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