The significant dietary problem of being overweight and obese has been growing at an alarming rate in the United States today. There have been a number of studies conducted upon this area of concern, a topic that has been widely talked and written about. But what is more alarming (and which requires even more serious consideration and immediate action) is the fact that the number of cases affecting the younger population, children from ages 6 to 11 and teenagers of up to 19 years of age, has doubled and tripled respectively, in just over 20 years. One of every five children had been categorized as overweight (Kendal, Wilken & Serrano, 2008). Despite the many attention and warnings it has gained, the percentage of overweight young Americans has been increasing steadily through the years. If for example, about 5 percent of children were overweight in the ‘70s, it has now risen to 15 percent. As such, the problem of obesity has already been categorized as an epidemic (Lin, Guthrie & Frazao, 1994-96).
Children coming from different groups exhibited varying percentage of obesity problems. More Mexican American children were found to be overweight than the rest of their peers. This is followed by African American children and then, by non Hispanic Whites (National Center for Health Statistics, 2005).
Although some measures had already been taken to address the issue, no major effect has yet been seen. Up until today physicians, other health workers and most especially government officials are at a quandary in finding the best solution to the problem. This could be partly due to the fact that although the problem has already been pointed out in earlier studies, pinning down the major contributing factor to the problem has not been resolved by researchers. It is not therefore surprising why policy makers are hard in discovering the right decision in curbing the growing number of child obesity.
A. Effects of Overweight Problems in Children
Medical health experts had used a person’s body mass index or BMI and the waist’s circumference to calculate an average. Using the same procedure, this also helps determine a person’s level of being overweight (Enns, Mickle & Goldman). However, for purpose of clarity, being too fat and being overweight are not necessarily the same. But while the notion of an “average” weight may be perceived with some suspicion, the fact that many young and adult Americans are both gaining weight, pose serious health and economic problems of national scale.
It has been established that people who are obese have a higher rate of developing other diseases and a shorter life expectancy than those of average weight. In the mid 1990’s alone, about 300,000 deaths a year had been traced or caused by obesity. Obese people are also poorer surgical risks than the non-obese, and it is often more difficult to diagnose and therefore to treat their illness correctly. Those who continue to shift from losing and regaining their weight as a repeated pattern, is more than hazardous in terms of health than consistent obesity (Wagman). The reason why an overweight problem amongst children (ages 6-19) in the U.S. is of grave concern is because most of them will continue to become overweight as adults, even potentially gaining more weight as they age. They also have greater difficulty losing excess fat, and if they do lose it, tend to regain it more easily compared to overweight adults who were thin as children.
Consequently, children who are overweight run a higher risk of health hazard than adults who gained extra weight later in life. Obese and overweight children increase the likelihood of suffering food related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and from diseases of the digestive, respiratory, bone, and circulatory systems, especially on the heart. Requiring more attention are the children who have been found to have developed Type 2 diabetes, which could lead to other health complications. Obesity can complicate the social and psychological relation of those who are overweight.
Obese people need health care services more repeatedly than people of lesser weight. Incredibly, in a 1997-1999 survey of medical costs linked to childhood obesity, approximate expenses had reached $127 million. As of 2000, the budgetary constraint that childhood obesity had incurred from the national budget has approached to $117 billion (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
Probing and identifying the root cause/s of childhood obesity will enable lawmakers to center its efforts and funding to the right course of action in battling this health crisis. However, contributing factors for children gaining extra weight are diverse. It will be erroneous to address one factor to answer the obesity problem.
B. Contributing Factors
Basically, weight gain occurs when there is an imbalance between caloric intake of food and caloric expenditures as energy, either in maintaining the basic metabolic processes necessary to sustain life or in performing physical activity. Calories not used up on either of these ways become converted to fat, depositing in different parts of the body as fats (adipose tissue). Every calorie describes the potential amount of energy available in a given food. This also equally informs the amount of energy the body must burn up in order to execute a given function. In the case of weight gain epidemic among children, these two underlying basis on a person’s weight: caloric intake and caloric expenditures had greatly altered. Reasons for this imbalance are complex, affected by the changing lifestyle through the course of time.
o Changing Eating Habits and Improper Nutrition
Young children and teenagers spend more time on their own away from home. They are more susceptible to numerous options in the market which sadly offers less nutritious content but high sugar, caloric content food and drinks. Children are more inclined to purchase the ‘wrong’ food and at greater amounts (Lin, Guthrie & Frazao, 1994-96). The rate highly increased among teens compared to children of 6 to 11 years of age (Enns, Mickle & Goldman). Such changes, children’s choice of snack foods containing greater amounts of calories, were marked by an increase of 121 kilocalories from 1977 to 1996 (Jahns, Siega & Popkin).
o Sedentary Lifestyle
Data shows that over 30 percent of children today are not receiving the required amount of physical activity and about 10 percent are totally leading sedentary lifestyles (IOM). As television programs are getting more of the child’s attention, as well as computer and video games, physical activities have become less of a choice as a pastime. One fourth of the child’s waking hours are spent on television. Some research has shown a strong relation between high incidences of TV viewing with obesity (Robinson). Inactivity upon watching television is not the only reason for increase in weight but as well as the habit of snacking along with it.
o Physical Environment
One related factor causing sedentary lifestyles among children are the changing scenery that has quite become highly urbanized. As residential areas are becoming more cramped for outdoor space, this hampers physical recreation activities. Residents are becoming more isolated from each other, and crimes have left no option for most parents in preventing their children from venturing outdoor games along the neighborhood. Street lightings create a safer environment and could encourage children to walk outdoors. Study on the correlation of physical environment and its effects on weight are somewhat limited.
o Parental Influences
Children who are raised with healthy eating habits are more likely to continue these habits in their adult life. Parents contribute largely in shaping their children’s eating habits by deciding what feeding approach will be taken, the kind of food bought and made available at home, the amount of supervision that they give on their children’s food intake, and the social context by which meals are taken.
Breastfeeding has been found to prevent obesity. It has been theorized that breast fed infants develop greater acceptance of different food flavors and nutrients since food taken by the mother is transmitted to the milk. In contrast, formula fed children are only exposed to one kind of flavor (Bonuck et. Al, 2004).
o Hereditary Factors
Although there are exceptions, almost all obese people consume more calories than they expend. But there is also strong evidence that hereditary factors predispose a person’s weight. If the weight of both parents is normal, there is only 10 percent likelihood that the children will be obese. If one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent probability that the children will be too, and if both are, the probability of obese offspring is 75 percent (Wagman)
There is no clear evidence for this occurrence. It is most likely the interplay of dietary habits acquired in youth, conditioning during early years to react to emotional stress by eating, the absence of appropriate exercise patterns, and genetic inheritance.
While these reasons might cause hesitation in holding genetic factors as a culprit for obesity, studies on multiple births and child adoptions had given strong evidence that this could influence obesity up to 40 percent. Some obese people seem to have impairment in the regulatory mechanism of the area of the central nervous system that governs food intake. It makes it hard for them to know when to stop eating. (Bouchard et al.).
o Media Exposure Through Advertising
While high percentage of TV viewing has found a relation on overweight issues, other underlying factors associated with exposure to television has also been taken into consideration. This includes the amount of commercials of food and beverages that are seen by the children. The number of commercials viewed today has doubled from the 70’s, which are about 40,000 commercials annually (Kunkel). About 50 percent of TV commercials targeting the child sector endorse food and beverages high in sugar and calorie content (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2008). In 2002 alone, more than $27 billion of such food and beverages had been sold to children (US Market for Kids Foods and Beverages).
III. Conclusion and Interventions
The treatment of obesity is a complicated problem. One obstacle comes from the results from various studies which have not drawn any conclusive singular factor that could be pointed as the basis for the increase of obesity and overweight problems today. Part of the survey has shown a sharp change of the degree of physical activities engaged by American children and the altering of food preferences that are low in nutritive value in the past 40 years. Data made available in research show that obesity are caused rather by an interrelation of the different factors mentioned. There is much to be known on the study on the causes of obesity, and further exploration of the subject is very much needed. The wide scope of the different factors involved are causing many limitations and thereby making it more complex to find the best approach in fighting child obesity.
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