Childhood Obesity in the United States
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In the United States, obesity has been identified as one of the most detrimental and life-threatening conditions. People, in an effort to save time, have turned towards the consumption of unhealthy fast foods. In addition, little time is dedicated towards exercises since individuals must meet their daily expenses and monthly bills. This culture has been passed down from the parents to the children. Parents neither educate nor present choices to their children. In addition, unhealthy foods that increase the risks of the child being overweight, and consequently obese, surround our children: from the school cafeteria to their packed lunches. This has not only had a profound effect on their health, but also places them at a significantly high risk of contracting chronic diseases and life-threatening conditions such as heart failure. Our children are the future of this nation. Key strategies must be put in place if this disastrous trend is to be reversed. This essay shall analyze obesity in children and propose ways through which it can be avoided.
A report by the Center for Disease Control states that in the last thirty years, incidences on the occurrence of obesity and related conditions have almost tripled. Approximately 17% of persons aged 2-19 years are obese. This translates to 12.5 million people. It is important to differentiate between obese and overweight persons. An overweight person is one whose body mass index (BMI) ranges between the 85th and 95th percentiles. On the other hand, an obese person has a BMI exceeding the 95th percentile (Touliatos 1). Hence, over time, an overweight person becomes obese. Despite the fact that an overweight person has a lower BMI, they are faced with major health risks, which at times are just as high as those faced by an obese person. Therefore, if obesity is to be successfully tackled, the strategies used must address those who are overweight.
There are several major factors that lead to obesity. First, a child’s dietary habits have been identified as the leading cause of obesity. Sustained excess consumption of calories leads to a rapid gain in weight. Children have shifted away from the consumption of healthy foods and adopted a culture which promotes the consumption of fast foods. Foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables have been shunned and termed as traditional. Instead, children and teenagers have shifted towards sugary drinks, processed snacks, burgers and other foods which have high cholesterol and starch levels. In addition, children have adopted poor dietary patterns, whereby a child eats food during irregular hours such as when watching television.
Secondly, genetic factors and family history may contribute towards obesity. Despite the fact that genetics do not solely contribute towards obesity, a child whose close relatives such as father or brother are obese is at a higher risk of becoming overweight. Genetic susceptibility to overweight conditions and obesity has been attributed to the interaction between genetic, environmental and behavioral factors. However, such cases are rare in the United States.
Thirdly, a child’s social-economic status greatly influences a child’s weight. Dietary and nutrition practices are normally ignored in low-income families. As a result, children born in these families are likely to consume food with high calorie levels. On the other hand, children brought up in middle-income and high-income families are more likely to watch their diets. In addition, they have sufficient resources at their disposal. Hence, they can consult the relevant medical practitioner in order to identify a proper diet. In addition, obesity disproportionately affects children according to race and ethnicity. However, these cases have only been linked to race and ethnicity due to the fact that majority of these families are in middle-income or low-income brackets. Therefore, African American and Hispanic children enjoying the same socio-economic status as white children are not necessarily exposed to higher risks in comparison to their counterparts.
Additionally, when a child is physically inactive, few calories are burnt out. Today’s tech-savvy children and teens spend most of their time playing computer games and watching television. In addition, their parents have busy schedules which demand that they dedicate most of their time trying to make ends meet. Hence, there is little or no time left to engage their kids in regular physical exercise. Whereas some schools have put in place several after-school exercise programs, such as soccer, they have not been made entirely compulsory.
Finally, parental choices and influences greatly affect the diet and nutrition practices of their children. Once a child is born, parents are solely responsible for choosing an appropriate infant feeding scheme. During infancy and later stages of development, parents avail and promote some foods over others. Therefore, parents who prefer foods with a high saturation of fat and cholesterol are likely to influence their children towards consuming a similar diet. However, such influences reduce with age. Teenager’s tastes and preferences differ widely from their parents in comparison to infants, whose diets are prepared by their parents (Zogby 1).
Overweight and obese children are faced by various health risks as well as personal problems. First, they have been observed to have low self-esteem. Hence, they have a poor perception of themselves which leads to depression. In addition, they are likely to be ostracized and discriminated against by their friends since they cannot participate in social activities such as physical childhood games. Secondly, obese children are faced by a host of detrimental health conditions such as high blood pressure, difficulties in breathing and respiratory conditions such as asthma and sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones and kidney ailments (Hassink 10).
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization that is dedicated towards ensuring that the United State’s children are not only healthy but also free from diseases. The organization proposes various strategies through which obesity, and its related conditions, can be eradicated. Strategies involved in ensuring that children lead a healthy lifestyle involve parents, teaching staff at their respective schools, the public, and the children themselves. These are the individuals who form the child’s environment and must partner in order to ensure a successful campaign (Hassink 16).
The fight against obesity takes a three-pronged approach. First, the child must consume a balanced diet. Children, teens in particular, have been lured by the media through advertisements towards the consumption of foods that are highly saturated with fats and sugars such as snacks and burgers. In addition, most of these foods are consumed irregularly. Parents must not only ensure that the child takes a balanced diet, but also ensure that food is taken at regular intervals, usually after every 6 hours during the day. Secondly, the child must take part in regular exercises such as sports, jogging or walking a considerable distance. Today’s parents have a very hectic schedule that does not allow them to allocate much time to their children. However, such responsibilities can be conducted at school. Children must participate in regular exercises in order to burn out extra calories which otherwise lead to the accumulation of weight. Finally, special programs should be put in place in order to address various conditions faced by children who are already overweight. This requires that parents consult a pediatrician or the relevant medical officer on diet and exercises that the child should participate in. For instance, obese children may have problems participating in various after-school sports due to respiratory or heart conditions. They should first be put under a special program. Afterwards, when their weight has reduced sufficiently, they can then be allowed to participate in these sports.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has proposed several techniques for use by parents, teachers and the public. First, the family should work collectively towards maintaining a proper diet and in carrying out regular exercises. This ensures that the children are not singled out. During free evenings and weekends, the family should participate in joint activities such as walking, playing croquet or football. Secondly, parents should be vigilant as to what their children consume and their eating patterns. They should enlist the help of a physician. By analyzing your child’s weight, height and body mass index, the physician is able to make suitable recommendations that safeguard the child’s growth and development cycle. Thirdly, the parents should evaluate their children’s nutritional intakes. By eating meals together, a parent will establish whether the child has consumed sufficient supplements in his/her diet. Thirdly, schools should stock healthy food choices such as low-fat dairy products and fresh fruits in their cafeterias. Similarly, a parent should take time to assess the school’s cafeteria menu and lobby for the introduction of healthy foods where such are absent. Finally, both parents and teachers should regulate the amount spent watching television and on electrical gadgets such as the computer and mobile phone. This encourages the child to develop interests in physical activities such as sports.
In conclusion, obesity is an outstanding problem among children and teenagers. We must all join forces in order to safeguard the future of the young generation. In addition, parents should not be solely charged with the responsibility of monitoring their children’s dietary practices. Rather, teaching staff and the public must join forces with the parents in ensuring that children do not make unhealthy food choices. This will not only protect the children’s future, but also safeguard the future of the United States.
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