Childhood Obesity: America's Epidemic
Over the course of time society and medicine have become more advanced and the life expectancy of generations continually increased, until now. According to recentstudies, “our youngest generation is on track of being less healthy and having a shorter lifespan than their parents.” Childhood obesity is a national health emergency. Our youngest generation is gaining weight at an alarming rate. Since 1980 the number of obese children and adolescence has almost tripled. In the United States, obesity in children has been ranked one of the most critical problems facing our youth today. Various reasons exist as to why our youngest generation is putting on so many pounds. The effects, both long-term and short-term are alarming, but prevention and treatment is possible with joined action of individuals, families, and the government, we just must begin with recognizing the issue at hand.
The causes of childhood obesity in America are diverse and numerous. From family and genetics to entertainment and electronics, these reasons are to blame for this critical problem in society. The increasing pressures and burdens of modern life are taking a toll on families in the U.S. According to a blog on childhood obesity, these pressures and burdens lead to families having less time to prepare healthy meals and, “quick and easy is the reality for many of today’s families.” Other factors may be genetics, increasing number of electronics, school systems cutting down physical activity, explosion of entertainment options indoors instead of outdoors, and cultural changes. Consequently these causes are threatening the wellbeing of our youth and the recorded numbers continue to be on an upward climb.
Body mass index, or BMI, is a measurement of weight in relation to height that health professionals use to indicate whether someone is obese or overweight. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that children and adolescents in the top 15 percent of the BMI are overweight, and the top 5 percent are obese. According to Stephen Pont, a medical director for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity, the biggest factor of childhood obesity is that young Americans are growing up in a society where, in general, we are taking in too many calories and too few calories are being taken off. In other words, children are eating unhealthy more often and in larger portions, and leading more sedentary lifestyles.
Figure 1 illustrates the increase in weight of adolescence from generation to generation while appealing to pathos. Pathos is present because seeing such a large percentile of our youngest generation facing obesity is terrifying and nobody wants that child facing this epidemic to be their own. As the numbers increase and more proposed causes are identified the number of consequential effects of is also climbing.
Obesity affects every organ system in the body. Health complications such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea used to be viewed as adult complications, but not anymore. These risks in kids are becoming more common and more severe. Children that remain obese into adulthood also face problems such as joint disease, heart disease, sleep apnea, and certain cancers. And if the physical effects of childhood obesity weren’t enough, psychological effects exist as well. Most children that are obese have a poor self-esteem and are more likely to be bullied. With the effects being rather sever and even life threatening, prevention is easier than treatment.Figure 2
Prevention of childhood obesity can be facilitated by the government, community, and most importantly the family. Initiative from the government has helped to raise awareness of ways to live a healthier lifestyle. Programs such as Lets Move encourage children to eat healthy, and engage in physical activities while providing parents with the information they need to play a role in prevention. Lets Move’s website states their purpose as being, “a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.” The program aims to help put America’s children on a path, a path to a healthy future starting at a young age. The video, Figure 2, portrays a great use of ethos on behalf of Michele Obama, the first lady, as she gives personal testimony on the effects weight gain had on her children and why she started the nationwide initiative, Lets Move. Lets Move is based off of the four principles stated and described in the video. Jennifer Harrison, a clinical program manager, also believes and explains how government involvement is necessary and helpful to battle the obesity epidemic, but first changes need to happen within the family and community.
A women’s blog, Womenmisbehavin, gives a list of actions parents can take to aim to prevent obesity in their children. Some suggestions on the list include; eating dinner together, leading by example, providing healthy food choices, encouraging and supporting physical activity, and limiting television and computer time to less than two hours a day. By engaging with their children and leading by example, parents can take part in the prevention of childhood obesity (Lang, Kellie). Parents also need to be able to recognize when their children is overweight to try and alleviate the problem before it is too late and their child becomes part of the thirty-three percent. As Michele Obama states, “The good news is that by makings just a few lifestyle changes, we can help our children lead healthier lives – and we already have the tools we need to do it. We just need the will.”
Prevention is more effective and easier than treatment because there are not many promising medical treatments known today. Since there is no virus or a single source causing this epidemic, treatment has disturbingly low success rates. Treatments for childhood obesity include dietary and physical activity changes, behavioral changes, and family based changes. Frankie Phillips, a practice nurse, describes obesity as elusive because of, “the low disturbingly low success rate in treating it, but also because it requires changing the patterns woven deeply into our social fabric of food and beverage commerce, personal eating habits, and sedentary lifestyles” (Phillips, Frankie).
The United States has recognized the epidemic at hand, but most people do not realize how severe and brutal the statistics really are. According to theanalysis of government data, individuals that are experience obesity in their childhood or adolescence are eighty percent more likely to become obese adults and if obesity rates continue on their current trajectories, by 2030 all 50 states could have obesity rates over forty-four percent. We are also now eating about 31 percent more calories than we were just forty years ago. The numbers are even higher in children of Hispanic and African American communities where nearly 40 percent are overweight or obese. It is statistics like this that support the statement, “obesity may be the most difficult and elusive public health problem this country has even encountered” (Callahan, Daniel). If we do not solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives and many others will face chronic healthproblems related to obesity. This problem needs to be solved and I personally believe it can be!
With all the different factors accounting for the cause of the increasing number of obese children in America, one thing remains constant: weight loss and gain is about energy balance. The children this epidemic is affecting are younger than ever with ten percent of preschoolers being obese. Although it is easier said than done, individuals need to eat healthier and exercise more before it’s too late and children like the boy in Figure 3 put on even more weight.
Think back to thirty years ago, the lives that people lived kept them at a healthy weight. Whether it was a 20 minute walk to school or more required participation in gym class, kids were staying rather fit. Meals were home-cooked in reasonable portions and a balance of the food groups was maintained. Snacks were limited and fast food was a rare treat. Today, the lifestyles that our children are leading are far different than thirty years ago. Short walks replaced by car rides, fewer home cooked meals leading to more fast food, and an increase in electronic use over exercise, the effects are being seen all over America as over 33 percent of our children are bigger than they should be. The longer this epidemic exists, the more severe the effects are going to become and the more people it is going to effect. Although it is believed that this is occurring because of the burdens and pressures of modern day life, prevention is the number one way to counteract weight gain of our youngest generations. Without realizing the problem at hand and working to prevent it, generations will continue to gain weight and work towards and even shorter lifespan, something never seen in history before.
Callahan, Daniel. "Obesity: Chasing An Elusive Epidemic." Hastings Center Report 43.1 (2013): 34-40. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
Chen, Zhuo (Adam), Kakoli Roy, and Carol A. Gotway Crawford. "Obesity Prevention: The Impact Of Local Health Departments." Health Services Research 48.2pt1 (2013): 603-627. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
Lang, Kellie R. "Parents Of Obese Children And Charges Of Child Abuse: What Is Our Response?." Pediatric Nursing 38.6 (2012): 337-340. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
Phillips, Frankie. "Facing Up To Childhood Obesity." Practice Nurse 42.11 (2012): 14-17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.