Obesity in children is a common issue in the United States today. According to recent data, 18 percent of children aged 6 to 9 years are obese. Since the 1980s, this number has risen dramatically. This paper examines the problem’s cause-and-effect relationship and the solutions that have been devised to address it. Obesity in children is linked to a lack of physical activity and poor dietary choices, according to a literature review. Obesity in children increases the risk of developing diabetes, respiratory problems, and heart diseases. Childhood obesity’s negative consequences have prompted efforts to reduce it. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, BMI screenings, school meal policies, and other initiatives are just a few of the interventions. The study concludes that the effectiveness of the strategies can only be achieved through proper monitoring and evaluation in the process of implementation.
Key words: childhood obesity, BMI screenings, Let’s Move campaign, dietary choices, United States.
Incidences of childhood obesity among children between 6 and 19 years in the United States have increased in the last three decades. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), twenty percent of children have obesity, representing a significant increase since the 1980s. The phenomenon of childhood obesity in the United States has attracted considerable focus and attention towards contemporary family lifestyles especially the dietary behavior of children. In 2010, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, initiated “Let’s Move” campaign which sought to raise the awareness of the public towards the problems associated with childhood obesity (Johnson). The campaign stressed the need for physical fitness among children and appealed to the American public to make dietary choices that can keep them fit and healthy. The move by the presidential administration was unprecedented and it helped in reinforcing the urgency of prevention and mitigation of childhood obesity among children and teenagers. An examination of the causes and effects of childhood obesity, against this backdrop, identifies previous and/or existing policies or actions that can contain the phenomenon.
A significant number of children in the United States are obese. A study conducted by the CDC revealed that 18% of children in the country are obese. The number of obese children has tripled since the 1980s. The study found out that inadequate physical exercises and other physical programs in schools, as well as the consumption of carbonated drinks (sweetened beverages), explain the high prevalence of childhood obesity in the country. According to CDC, body mass index (BMI) is used to determine obesity. The BMI measures an individual’s weight relative to the height. In this regard, a child whose BMI is 25 or exceeds the figure is said to obese. Although it fails to measure the amount of fat directly, BMI provides a reasonable indicator for the proportion of fat in children.
Poor dietary practices among children and lack of physical exercises have been associated with rising incidences of childhood obesity. According to CDC, dietary behaviors involve the consumption of sweetened food which increases an individual’s BMI significantly (CDC). Large quantities of junk food lead to the accumulation of fats in the body and pose negative impact of the health and wellness of an individual. The choice of food that children consume has a relationship with the dietary patterns of parents. Children are likely to consume food choices that their parents prefer (CDC). In this regard, children who prefer junk food may have been influenced by parents who prefer similar food. It is against this background that interventions towards the reduction of childhood obesity should place emphasis on the role of parents in influencing dietary behavior. Such interventions should promote healthy lifestyles and encourage the choice of categories of food that encourage good health and wellness.
Many studies have enumerated the significance of adequate physical exercises in reducing the body mass index. The lack of physical exercise predisposes children to the risk of obesity. According to CDC, the time children take in the house to consume media products has an effect on their involvement in physical activities (CDC). Children who spend less time in the media are likely to devote some time towards physical activities. On the other hand, children who spend a lot of time watching televisions or playing video games are likely to evade physical activities. The lack of enough physical exercises precipitates the accumulation of fats and lead to an increase in the body mass index.
In 2010, the federal government underscored its commitment to the prevention and treatment of obesity in a bid to improve the health of the American people. The initiatives were part of long-term strategies focused on addressing the problem (Arvantes). A review of causes of obesity was undertaken to inform consumers, communities, and physicians of the dangers of obesity. In March of the same year, the Congress of the United States passed a comprehensive health care reform which was signed into law by the president. The law encompasses initiatives that can reduce the rate of obesity in the country (Arvantes). The author revealed that the solution to obesity in the country must take a long-term approach because it requires cultural change. Such changes are associated with parenting styles, lifestyles, and dietary behaviors among people. The Congress and the White House created an environment that sought to review the phenomenon of obesity as it grew in the United States in 2010. The enactment of the health care reform will help in reducing obesity.
Childhood obesity poses significant physical, emotional, and social impact on children. Children with obesity are prone to other chronic conditions and diseases which include asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems (CDC). Other diseases include type 2 diabetes, diseases of the heart, and respiratory conditions. The increased susceptibility of obese children to such diseases poses considerable challenges to their physical well-being. CDC revealed that obesity can extend to childhood and precipitate the development of diseases like cancer and metabolic syndrome (Wechsler). Brody’s work mirrored on the findings of CDC on the long-term effects of obesity. While illuminating the need for a faster response to the problem of childhood obesity, Brody observed that the condition predisposes children to life-threatening diseases such as stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart diseases (Brody). Brody further noted that the increase in BMI puts children at the risk of developing colorectal cancer. In addition, such students are likely to suffer from a stroke when they grow into adults.
The social effects of children with obesity include bullying and harassment by peers in school. Obesity is characterized by increased BMI. In this regard, obese children may register difficulties in coping with school routines making them subjects of ridicule by their peers. Consequently, they are likely to experience social exclusion and develop behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (CDC). The emotional/psychological effects of obesity include depression and reduced self-esteem in children. Children with obesity cope with new identities and stereotypes that peers develop around them (CDC). When they are unable to cope with such labels, children suffering from obesity develop psychological disorders and harbor feelings of abandonment. The studies have shown that childhood obesity poses a significant risk to the American society. The need to implement interventions and strategies towards prevention and treatment cannot be gainsaid. Such interventions should involve all stakeholders such as the states, communities, schools, parents, and children towards the prevention of childhood obesity.
Policies or Proposed Actions
Various interventions have been advanced to reduce the problem of childhood obesity. CDC reported a decline in obesity rates among preschoolers in the United States. Across various states, childhood obesity has been on a tremendous decline owing to actions that state governments have taken to combat the problem (CDC). States such as Pennsylvania have reduced childhood obesity. Even though various states have reported a decline in childhood obesity, the rates of childhood obesity are still high and underscore the need for interventions. Some of the interventions are illuminated in the subsequent subsections.
i. School meals
The findings of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity identified the need to improve the quality of food in schools. Such efforts included updating the meals under the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs (Johnson). The report was released in the backdrop of Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. School districts across the nation have adopted healthy school meals to reduce the problem of childhood obesity. Children in Pennsylvania have reduced consumption of sugary foods and beverages (CDC). States, communities, schools, and parents are working together to promote school nutrition programs that offer students food. This strategy involves keeping beverages out of the meal program. In this regard, the meal programs facilitate free drinking water to reduce the temptation of learners to consume sweetened beverages.
In one preschool in Virginia, children who carry packed lunch should have a doctor’s note recommending the carrying of food. The note permits learners to “bring lunches from home if there is a medical condition meriting a specific diet, along with a physician’s note to that regard” (Dodrill). This note is an evidence of an existing policy directive that the school is attempting to implement in order to mitigate the prevalence of childhood obesity in the school. Dodrill further observed that the policy of banning packed food exists across the country. For example, a school in Hawaii prohibited outside foods as a way of discouraging childhood obesity. Critics of these policies believe that the school meal policies deny parents the right to provide their children with the diets of their choices.
ii. Let’s Move Campaign
Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign led to the enactment of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The act allows the Department of Agriculture to “set nutritional standards for all food sold in schools” (Johnson). It places emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and grains while it has lowered the quantities of sodium and sugar. Mrs. Obama’s campaign collaborated with the food and beverage industry on reducing the amount of sodium in soft drinks. As expected, the campaign received considerable opposition among traditional food producers who stated that it would be impossible to comply with the proposed requirements. Critics of Let’s Move campaign have argued that the foods served in schools are not healthy too because they contain preservatives and processed ingredients that are usually derived from genetically-modified organisms. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether this campaign will achieve the anticipated long-term benefits. The First Lady’s commitment towards this course symbolizes the goodwill of the political class on the need to have healthy children in American schools.
iii. Physical Education
Inadequate physical education has been touted as a contributing factor to childhood obesity. In response to this problem, communities and schools are developing programs that encompass physical education, recess, physical activity breaks, and enhancing opportunities that can increase physical activities for students throughout the school process (CDC). There is a broad recognition that physical activities should extend beyond the school into the community. In this regard, enhancement of physical activities for children encompasses maintenance of safe neighborhoods for play and establishing recreational parks and playgrounds.
iv. BMI Screenings
Many states undertake periodical BMI screenings of children to determine if their parents will take actions towards childhood obesity. The screenings were meant to inform parents regarding the BMI status of their children and trigger them into adopting family lifestyles that could mitigate the phenomenon (Wallace). However, most parents fail to take action since the BMI status of their children has remained unchanged (Wallace). In this regard, the use of BMI screenings is an intervention that can be useful if parents play a proactive role in monitoring the dietary behavior of children. Wallace reveals that the health assessment of children no longer relies on labels such as “overweight” and “obese” to inform parents on the need for action. Instead, schools use “healthy fitness zone” and “needs improvement” for learners with acceptable BMI scores and learners whose BMI score require attention respectively. The success of these assessments has varied across states and has also attracted criticisms from activists. A few studies have focused on the effect of the measurements on the attitudes and behaviors of children.
A review of the literature presented reveals the magnitude of childhood obesity in the United States. The study has shown that childhood obesity is a serious healthcare problem in the United States due to a large number of children with obesity. The major factors that predispose children to the risk of childhood obesity include unhealthy dietary choices, lack of physical exercises, and increased media time. These factors increase the body mass index. The study has revealed that childhood obesity can lead to other diseases such as diabetes 2, heart diseases, asthma, and respiratory problems. Many interventions have been implemented at various levels to combat the problem. Notable actions include Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, school policies banning packed lunch, physical education, and BMI screenings. These interventions can only be effective when they are monitored and evaluated at various stages of implementation.
Arvantes, James. “Federal Government Takes Bigger Role in Combating Obesity.” American Academy of Family Physicians. 2017. http://www.aafp.org/news/obesity/20100517fed-initiatives.html Accessed on 20 April 2017
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Childhood Obesity Facts.” Cdc.gov, 25 Jan. 2017. www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm. Accessed 20 April 2017.
Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Combating Childhood Obesity.” Cdc.gov. 2015. https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventchildhoodobesity/ Accessed 20 April 2017
Brody, Jane E. “The Fight Against Obesity Begins Early.” New York Times, 05 Jul 2016, pp. D. 5. Sirs Issues Researcher, https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/07/05/the-urgency-in-fighting-childhood-obesity/
Dodrill, Tara. “School Tells Parents Sack Lunches Not Allowed, Kids Must Eat What’s Served.” Off the Grid News, www.offthegridnews.com/food/school-tells-parents-sack-lunches-not-allowed-kids-must-eat-whats-served. Accessed 20 April. 2017.
Johnson, Steven Ross. “Gauging the Public Health Value of @ Michelle Obama’s @ Let’s Move Campaign.” Modern Healthcare, Crain Communications, Inc., 23 Aug 2016. www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20160823/NEWS/160829986. Accessed 20 April 2017.
Wallace, Kelly. “Do Schools’ BMI Screenings of Students Even Work?” CNN Wire Service, 16 Mar 2016, Sirs Issues Researcher, http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/17/health/bmi-screenings-schools-students/
Wechsler, Howell, et al. “Childhood Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Jan. 2017, www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm. Accessed 20 April. 2017.
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