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Childhood Obesity

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Childhood Obesity: The Epidemic

Our nation is in a crisis when it comes to our children and the future of our children. Nearly one-third of our nation's children are obese. Obese children are at risk for health and psychological problems and may even be at risk of living shorter lives. There are many factors that contribute to the epidemic of childhood obesity some of these factors can be controlled and others cannot. Our nation needs to develop a significant plan or a series of plans to help fight and cure the epidemic of obese children. The reversal and cure of the obesity epidemic in children is crucial for the future of our country.

Statistics

The overweight statistics for children in the United States has grown tremendously in the last three decades. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (2006), four separate studies show that from 1974 to 2004, in children age two through five the overweight prevalence has increased from 5 percent to 13.9 percent. Children age six through eleven the overweight prevalence has increased from 4 percent to 18.8 percent. Adolescents age twelve through nineteen the overweight prevalence has increased from 6.1 percent to 17.4 percent.

Figure 1. Prevalence of Overweight Among U.S. Children and Adolescents. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006, August 26). Childhood overweight. Retrieved April 29, 2007, from http://www.cdc.gov

Psychological Consequences

There are psychological consequences to children who are overweight. "Overweight children and adolescents are targets of early and systematic social discrimination. The psychological stress of social stigmatization can cause low self-esteem which, in turn, can hinder academic and social functioning, and persist into adulthood" (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). Family, friends, peers, and even strangers ridicule and even bully obese children, causing or leading to their anxiety and depression. Overweight children are prone to display unhealthy behaviors such as extreme dieting, skipping meals, and prolonged TV watching. In addition, overweight children may do poorly in their school performance. Being stigmatized by their peers can affect obese children allowing themselves to be isolated, lack of participation in sports, and to be victimized by aggressive tendencies of their peers.

Health Risks

Obese children may even have a shorter life expectancy because of the health risks involved. The Web page for Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2006) shows that obese children and teenagers are susceptible to cardiovascular disease along with hypertension, high cholesterol, abnormal glucose tolerance, and osteoarthritis. Other health problems associated with obese children are type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleeping disorders, gallstones, liver problems, stroke, cancer, and menstrual problems. These health problems cause many issues within the health care system such as an increase in the number of visits to a health care professional. In addition, health insurance companies are paying out more money for the increase in health visits plus the complications of obese children.

Contributing Factors

The contributing factors of childhood obesity are complicated to say the least. A variety of factors contribute to obesity; one factor alone would not make a major impact on this epidemic, which makes this epidemic hard to solve. Unwholesome eating patterns coupled with less physical activity are a common cause of children to become overweight. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.) states, "Genetics and social factors - socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, media and marketing, and the physical environment - also influence energy consumption and expenditure." Race and ethnicity are nearly impossible to prove to be a factor in childhood obesity, as it has become an epidemic with all races and ethnic groups.

Eating Habits

Eating habits play a huge role in childhood obesity. According to Rose Giordano (2006), "Some people claim that parents are at fault for not instilling proper eating habits." Parents may not have the time to fix nutritious meals, so they reach for the quick, easy, and cheap in our nation of fast food, junk food, and easy to prepare food, which contain much more fat and calories than a child needs because of the lack of physical activities. Children of working mothers or single parents are eating and snacking away from home more often, which allow them to reach for the quick and easy selections as well. In addition, the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has a large role in child obesity. Children who drink one 12-ounce sugar-sweetened soft drink each day increase their calorie consumption by 10 percent more than children who do not drink sugar-sweetened soft drinks (Beauchamp, 2004). When calorie consumption is greater than the calories burned, meaning either overeating or not doing enough physical activity to burn excess calories or both; the risk of gaining weight increases. Children are consuming larger portions than they have in the past, this may be in part because of the availability of prepackaged meals and snacks offered by the food industry. The school systems play a role in children's eating habits as well. Giordano (2006) states, "Others suggest that the school systems are to blame for not teaching healthy food choices in the cafeteria." Schools tend to offer poor choices for breakfasts and lunches. The cause of the school systems poor choices of nutritious and low calorie food is more than likely because of funding issues that many schools face these days.

Physical Activity

Physical education in the school systems has decreased drastically over the last few decades, which cuts down the time children are physically active. "Researchers have found that children who were not engaged in a PE [physical education] program at school gained 1 inch more around the waist and 2 pounds more overall than those who were involved in a PE curriculum" (Brown, Sutterby, & Thornton, 2001). The amount of television consumption has increased causing a more sedentary lifestyle in children. Children snack more while watching television and are enticed by the fun food advertisements. Our modern technology is to blame as well. The use of computer and video games devour much of our children's time causing more behaviors that are sedentary.

The communities are lacking in areas of recreation to promote physical activities. The development in urban and suburban areas has created obstacles, causing

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