“One out of every five children in the U.S. is overweight or obese” (“Obesity in Children”), and as the number rises the significance of the problem grows. Obesity is a widespread epidemic that is taking a toll not only on the US, but also other parts of the world. There are many causes for obesity in young children that stem from genetics, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. Obesity in children not only puts them at many risks for disease during their early ages, but also puts them at risk for problems later in life. These risks for disease can be prevented through the combined efforts of parents, doctors, government, school systems, and the children themselves. People are starting to take action against childhood obesity in numerous ways so that they can shape the lives of children and adults by encouraging healthier lifestyles now and in the future. Childhood obesity’s various causes and effects are increasing at epidemic proportions; however, through different ways of prevention childhood obesity can make a turn for the better in the future.
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Obesity can be defined as an excessively high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass (“Childhood Obesity: The Effects”). Obesity is the result of a “caloric imbalance” which is when too few calories are expended for the amount of calories consumed (“Childhood Obesity Facts”). A child is not obese until his or her weight is at least ten percent higher than what is recommended for his or her height and body type (“Obesity in Children And Teens”). People that become obese at a young age are at a high risk of becoming overweight in their adulthood. If one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent chance that the child will be, and if both parents are obese than the child has an 80 percent chance (“Childhood Obesity: The Effects”).
Obesity generally starts between the ages of 5 and 6, or during adolescence. Studies show that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming obese when he or she enters adulthood (“Obesity in Children And Teens”). One of the most important ways to decide whether someone is obese or not is based on BMI or Body Mass Index. BMI uses a mathematical formula, in which a person’s weight in pounds is divided by the square of the person’s height in inches and this result is then multiplied by 703. Then, the BMI-for-age and gender specific is put on a growth chart and the person’s condition is determined. BMI over the 95th percentile is considered overweight or obese (“Childhood Obesity: The Effects”).
As more and more children join the BMI percentile considered obese, the statistics increase. Thirty percent of adults who are categorized as obese got this way from problems in childhood. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6 to 11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. In the same time period, obese adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have increased from 5 percent to 21 percent (“Childhood Obesity Facts”). In 2005 a study showed that 12.5 million U.S. children and adolescents are considered obese, and with this number the average lifespan of all children could be lowered by up to five years (Manning). Although obesity is one of the easiest medical conditions to detect, it is one of the most difficult conditions to treat as obesity numbers grow to epidemic proportions.
There is no single factor or behavior that causes obesity. Two of the most common factors that can be linked with the cause of obesity are genetic factors and lack of physical activity (“Obesity in Children”). Genetic factors affect obese children when the child’s parents are obese or there is history of obesity in their family. However, genetics are not the only cause of obesity, and other factors must take place (“Causes”). Lack of physical activity is becoming a more common factor as children are spending more time inside, and less time outside, or being active. Since technology is becoming a huge part of modern children’s lives, activities such as watching television, gaming, texting, and playing on the computer, all of which require very little energy, replace the physical activities which the children should be taking part in. Also, when children watch television, they often see commercials for unhealthy high-calorie snacks, and thus crave these foods. Another source for obesity is medical conditions, and although it is rare, it does sometimes occur. Hormone disorders or low thyroid function, and certain medications, can cause a child’s appetite to increase, which in time can increase their risk for obesity (“Causes”). Also, if a child has a medical illness such as neurological problems, they can become obese (“Obesity in Children And Teens”).
Unhealthy eating habits are a prominent cause of obesity in children. When children are at young ages, their parents will tell them to finish everything on their plate, which forces the children to ignore their fullness. When this behavior is repeated over many years, it becomes a habit, and can cause a person to eat whether they are hungry or full, and the habit is often very hard to break. Also, when parents have less time to plan and prepare healthy meals, their child usually ends up eating more processed and fast foods that are less healthy than home-cooked meals. If a child’s parents or siblings are overweight and have poor diet and exercise habits, the child is most likely to adopt these same habits (“Causes”). When stressful life events or changes, such as divorce, moves or deaths occur in a child’s life, they often seek food for comfort (“Obesity in Children And Teens”).
As well as in the home and family, school and community resources also influence a child’s habits regarding diet. Vending machines and convenience stores rarely sell healthy foods, however they make it easy to grab a quick snack that is usually high in calories or fat. Restaurants reinforce the unhealthy habit by advertising high-calorie foods and large portion sizes. Schools have an important role in teaching students about healthy food choices and exercise, however not all schools offer these healthy choices or time for physical activity (“Causes”).
These causes, which lead to obesity, have many immediate and long-term effects. Some of the immediate effects include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, prediabetes, bone and joint problems, and skin conditions such as fungal infections and acne (“Obesity in Children”). Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults, which puts them at greater risk for adult health problems. A few of these long-term effects include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoathritis (“Child Obesity Facts”). However, some diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, which are thought of to be long-term effects, have increased dramatically in overweight children and adolescents (“Childhood Obesity: The Effects”).
Childhood and adolescent obesity also has many mental health effects, and is associated with increased risk of emotional problems. The most immediate consequence of being overweight is social discrimination and low-self-esteem. In 2003 a study asked 106 children between the ages of 5 and 18 to rate their quality of life based on things like their ability to walk more than one block, play sports, sleep well, get along with others, and keep up in school. The study showed that obese children would often rate themselves with scores as low as those of a young cancer patient on chemotherapy. The results showed that teasing at school, difficulties playing sports, fatigue, sleep apnea and other problems severely affected the children’s well-being (“Childhood Obesity: The Effects”). Low-self-esteem leads to many cases of depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder found in obese children (“Obesity in Children And Teens”).
Although obesity greatly affects a person’s well being, there are many ways to prevent obesity from becoming worse and to help obese children get on the right path for adulthood. Children and adolescent’s dietary and physical behaviors are influenced by many parts of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food, beverage, and entertainment industries (“Childhood Obesity Facts”). One of the most successful ways to help an obese child is through his or her family, by providing support and helping to make lifestyle changes. Family members can plan activities such as walking, biking, or swimming, and can reduce the amount of sedentary activities (“Obesity in Children”).
Parents can lower the amount of fatty and sugary foods the child is eating, and can emphasize healthy eating by having fruits, vegetables and low-fat snacks available (“Childhood Obesity: The Effects”). Schools also play a crucial role in establishing a supportive environment, by providing the children with opportunities to learn about and practice a healthy eating and physical lifestyle (“Childhood Obesity Facts”). Children can also attend support groups, which are helpful because the others around them are dealing with the same issue. When a child or adolescent also has emotional problems, a psychiatrist can work with the family’s physician to develop a treatment plan, that would include weight loss goals, dietary and physical activity management, behavior modification, and family involvement. Obesity often becomes a lifelong issue, so by learning at a younger age to eat and enjoy healthy foods in moderate amounts and to exercise regularly can prevent the child from ever becoming obese (“Obesity in Children And Teens”).
As the importance of prevention spreads, more and more communities nationwide are taking steps to fight against childhood obesity. Many foundations have been started, such as the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation, which declared a goal of reversing childhood obesity by 2015 and has put millions of dollars into the effort. The Wood foundation partnered with the YMCA of the USA to bring together activists, government officials, school administrators and parents, the medical community, and other leaders to broadcast a possible attack on the problem. The foundation funded efforts in 6 states and 32 communities. They have created policy changes in communities, such as purchase of healthier food and serving it in schools, the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables at corner stores, and increasing physical activity in school and after school programs and in the community through better transportation systems such as bicycle and walking trails (“Communities”). Foundations are attempting to make the purpose of physical activity and following a healthy diet a use of the opportunities children have to be active and healthy, rather than being a chore (“Obesity in Children”).
Obesity is an ongoing epidemic that is affecting a bounteous number of children every day. There are lots of causes for obesity in youth that can expose them to disease and other problems during their early childhood and adolescence, as well as later in life. However, these immediate and long-term effects are being noticed and are starting to be prevented. People across the nation are becoming involved in foundations that are trying to hinder childhood obesity and take steps toward healthier lifestyles for children. Although childhood obesity has a profuse count of causes and effects, and the statistics show an intimidating growth in numbers, prevention of childhood obesity can make for a healthier society and a decrease in the amount of people who are impacted by this malady.