Indulging in fast foods choices by children while spending their time in front of the television or by playing video games has lead to obesity. According to researchers, the root cause of obesity in adults can be traced back to their childhood; an implication that obesity has both short and long term impacts, affecting both their physical and psychosocial health. A lot of children are now being diagnosed with adult conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol levels etc, and there is a high likelihood that they will carry the obesity burden into adulthood, if the right measures won`t be taken early enough to avert the problem. Research shows that overweight children, who develop into obese adolescents and adults, have high chances of developing health complications. Abnormalities of cardiovascular consequences in adulthood are examples of problems that begin in childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is directly related to increased energy consumption of diet, sedentary lifestyle, and decrease in physical activity levels (Summerbell, et al., 2005). In many countries such as Australia with estimated 20%, and The United States with 60% of obese children, obesity is increased significantly by spending long hours in front of television (Lennan, 2004). Also, the impact of vast number of environmental and cultural factors such as increase in family breakdown may contribute to the increase in obesity among children (Summerbell, et al., 2005).
There are recommendations by The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to help families of obese children, by following the weight management guideline for young people that focuses on outcomes such as, healthy eating and physical activity in controlling levels of obesity and overweight in children (Lennan, 2004). Parents may manage their children’s weight, by encouraging the eating of low calories foods, and more casual activities such as walking or riding a bike to school. Parents are in a better position to understand how obesity in their children affects them, ranging from the high cost of medical bills in treating obesity-related health problems as a result of health complications. Therefore, families should take the responsibility to ensure that children follow these guidelines, in order to maintain a healthier lifestyle. The result will be lower risks of having health issues such as obesity in children and a better management of overall next generation’s health (Lennan, 2004). This paper discusses the contributing factors of obesity in children, the health implications, and how it can be prevented.
The following factors have increased the prevalence of obesity among children;
Obesity occurs, when one consumes more calories than can burn. In the United States, the changing environment has broadened food options and eating habits of people. Supermarkets shelves are stocked with a wide selection of foods, such as fast foods, pre-packaged foods. Numerous fast food restaurants have also thrived in the US, such as McDonalds’, selling people high calorie-foods, in the name of convenience, thus contributing to the excess caloric intake, causing the weight gain (Dietz, 2004). Food portion servings have also been increased in restaurants and homes. Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Lifestyles
Research indicates that a decrease in the amount of energy one spends daily, without an associated decrease in the overall energy consumption, is a major contributor to increased childhood obesity. Children spend most of their leisure time in front of the television, or computer, playing video games, or watching cartoon programs. Children in the US, for example, spend about of 25% of their waking time in front of the television (Freedman, Khan & Dietz, 2001). This, when coupled with the associated intake of high calorie snacks during that time, increases obesity in children. Research has also reported that schools have reduced the amount of time that children engage in physical activity, while in school. The insufficient or total lack of physical activity, in addition to taking too many calories, puts children at risk of being obese.
Researchers have classified the physical environment, among the risk factors contributing to the rapid increase of obesity not only among children, but adults as well. For instance, the developed environments, in the urban areas have been a hindrance for children to engage in physical activity due to the limited space outdoors for children to play, insecurity in the neighborhoods, unattended dogs, as well as traffic jam that can prevent children from walking or biking to school, as a way of exercising.
Studies have proved that genetic susceptibility is a risk factor that causes obesity; that people who are biologically related exhibit resemblance in maintenance of their body weights. About 5-40% of obesity cases in children are hereditary. In addition, a child whose both parents are obese, have 75% probability of being obese, while a child, with only one obese parent, has 25-50% of being obese (Freedman, Khan & Dietz, 2001).
Advertising and Marketing
Advertising have adverse effects on children, in terms of their food consumption, preferences and behavior. One study revealed a significant correlation between the weekly viewing of the television among three-year old children, and their food requests, as well as the parental purchases of the particular foods that were advertised on the television (Ogden, Carroll, & Curtin, 2010). While some foods are advertised as fat-free, low-fat, or healthy, they actually contain additional calories than the foods they are supposed to replace. Such misguided, notions, have lured children, to put pressure on their parents to buy for them the foods they have seen on TV. Parents, on the other hand, have yielded to the demands of their children, despite the fact that they know that such foods contain high calories.
Effects of Childhood Obesity
Obesity in children has been associated with health conditions such as diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, hypertension, cancer, asthma, as well as sleep apnea (disrupted breathing during sleeping). Other than increasing the risk of health problems among the children, the effect of obesity is also being felt in terms of the amount various countries spend on healthcare cost. For instance, the United States used an estimated $102.2 billion on healthcare in 1999; in 2008, the amount increased to $117 billion. In addition, about 300,000 deaths from obesity-related health problems are being reported yearly in the US (Ogden, Carroll, & Curtin, 2010).
There is no treatment for obesity; therefore, emphasis should be placed on prevention. The weight management guidelines provided by The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to families to help young people with obesity include, healthy eating through the reduction of dietary fat, taking foods with low calories, and reducing food portions, as well as, increasing physical activity. This involves lowering sedentary behaviors in children, such as watching the television for long hours. Parents should also encourage children to eat healthy snacks and fruits instead of the high-calorie snacks, as well as totally changing food menus to healthier foods (Ogden, Carroll, & Curtin, 2010). If everyone in the family is eating healthy foods, children with obesity will also be encouraged to eat healthy. In addition, parents should encourage their children to engage in more physical activity, such as walking or cycling when going to school, as opposed to taking a bus, make it a routine for children to engage in housework chores, to enable them burn some calories. Parents should understand that weight loss is a gradual process, and therefore, they should not put pressure on the children to lose weight fast; instead, they should support and motivate them. Obesity in children can be reduced only through a proper diet or exercise. Since children cannot take individual responsibility to take control of what they eat or do, it is up to the parents to encourage them to engage in more physical activity, while providing them with healthier meals.
Obesity is a condition that causes serious health problem among children. The condition cut across all ages, races, and sex. The alarming rate, at which the problem has increased among children, is worrying. The main risk factors that have been associated with childhood obesity include sedentary, inactive lifestyles, physical environment, genetics, behavioral factors, and television advertising. There is, however, no cure for children`s obesity, but a change of lifestyle, has been found to be effective in controlling the incidence of obesity among children. This involves more involvement in physical activity, and eating proper diet, with healthier foods. Since children are too young to know what is right or wrong, parents have to be responsible for encouraging eating and a healthy life style.
However, the efforts of parents alone cannot fully control the problem. Teachers should also allocate an adequate time for children to exercise in school, as well as providing them with health education. Since prevention is the only way to control children`s obesity sustainably, prevention programs are, therefore, very important. Such programs should be very comprehensive encompassing behavioral, educational, and environmental components, and this requires the efforts of all stakeholders, especially children, parents, public health agencies, the media, education professionals and health care providers. In conclusion, we should all unite to help prevent childhood obesity.