Childhood Obesity: Prevention and Treatment
23 February 2011
Pizza, Oreos, M&Ms, Mountain Dew, and Kid Cuisine TV dinners are just a few of the many favorites among children today. Many children today have fallen victim of high calorie, non nutritional foods. Simple carbohydrates, whether children realize it or not, is highly part of their vocabulary and is setting them up for a lifetime of problems. These problems not only begin with childhood obesity, but can follow them throughout their lifetime leaving them with a higher chance of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, psychological problems, and a number of other diseases that could drastically limit the life of a person. Childhood obesity is a rising epidemic and there are many steps and actions that can be taken to help prevent and in some cases treat the epidemic. These changes start where the children spend most of their time: school and in the home. Slight changes in the lifestyle of a child can drastically change the growing statistics of childhood obesity. Children need a sturdy base to build from and the knowledge to help better their lives. With the knowledge of how to lead a healthy lifestyle with the correct diet and exercise, children are likely to grow up healthier and pass the information on to future generations.
The change in diet has changed dramatically over the last thirty to forty years, and not for the better. The caloric intake has increased about thirty one percent in this time period. The increase in this caloric value is not the product of eating healthy foods, but mostly those that are high in fats, oils, and sugars. According to the Let’s Move website, “The average American now eats fifteen more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970” (USDA). This change in diet is dramatically affecting the way children think, act, and look. The obesity rates for children have hit an all-time high and child obesity is now being referred to as an epidemic. One reason that has a large effect on this statistic is that foods are made to be convenient in this time period.
Diet, however, is not the only problem that is making children obese. A big factor lies in the topic of exercise. Children these days are overwhelmed with entertaining video games and interesting television shows/series. These electronics are giving children less of a need to go outside and play. Being dormant in their houses, sitting on the couch, eating unhealthy food is contributing to the epidemic. There was a time in the past where children did not have the luxury of all of the electronics presented to children today. Children before were glad to be able to go outside and use their imaginations and play with their friends. Fresh air and exercise does a lot of good for children and changing the amount of time spent on video games, in front of the television, or on the computer would help create a healthier lifestyle. Children of this generation can also use the technology advantage in a constructive way, at the gym that is. The new technology of this age has improved the machines at gyms and some have even made exercising video games. Favorite television shows can be watched while getting a great workout in. There are so many opportunities lying in a gym setting it would be hard to sum them all up. There are rock wall experiences that can be had, open courts that give opportunities to have a pickup game of basketball, and exercise classes with other people that can help motivate and encourage a person who needs that extra drive. People are always on the go and looking for a quick meal or snack to satisfy their needs or cravings. There are many parents who are trying to get their children from point A to point B with the greatest easy possible. Many of these “convenient” foods and drinks that they are likely to choose from are high in fat and sugar and are often simple carbohydrates. These quick snacks are appealing to children mostly because of the advertisements. The children are drawn to high calorie, high sugar foods with their favorite cartoon characters, or toys that come with the meal. Packaged to-go foods are not the only problem in the mix. Fast food is an unbelievable contributor to obesity, especially in the United States. In the past, fast food was a rare occasion that a child was treated to and has lately become a reoccurring habit. The fast food industry has adapted to this growth in popularity and is pleasing their customers with “Super Sized” meals at a reduced rate and has increased portion sizes. In some cases the portion sizes have grown up to five times the size of those about thirty years ago. With all the appetizing, non nutritional food that is available to children, it is hard to encourage and push the healthy foods. There are not many children who would pass up a snickers bar for an apple. For this reason, many children are overweight and the numbers are increasing. Obesity occurs when a person consumes more food than they can burn off or get rid of. To determine whether a child is overweight or not, a BMI (Body Mass Index) Test is done. According to the World Book of Science Year, “BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in meters squared. Children with a BMI at or exceeding the 95th percentile for those of the same age and sex are considered overweight” (Preventing). This test, however, can vary slightly because it does not take into consideration the different builds and muscle a person may have. There is certain blood work that can be done to check levels of hormones and test such things like cholesterol and blood sugar. Obesity is an epidemic and in most cases begins in childhood. When a child is obese in the early stages of life it is building a poor foundation for him/her to grow up on. A child that is obese is a risk for many harmful illnesses and diseases. A disease that is a great concern for children getting is Type 2 diabetes, which is caused from poor eating habits. In the information found from the Mayo Clinic there are other diseases and illnesses such as high cholesterol and blood pressure (which can lead to heart attacks and stroke), asthma, sleeping disorders (sleep apnea), early puberty or menstruation. Metabolic syndrome was also listed as group of conditions that can have harmful effects on a body as the child ages. With the many risks involved, there are even more steps to prevent them. These steps can be anything from slight changes in diet to drastic lifestyle changes. However, changes are changes and anything is a step closer for a child to live a healthy life. During childhood, children can mostly found at one of two places: school or at their homes. These two places should be the foundational places for learning about nutrition and exercise and should begin the start of their healthy journey.
Schools are a place for learning and preparing a child for life, what better place to teach them about setting themselves up for a healthy lifestyle. Children need to be taught the effects that eating poorly can have on them and their performances. In the textbook Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals, they suggest using a famous person or athlete to use as a role model, someone they would look up to. Children should be educated about the My Pyramid and the serving size suggestions. Learning about the benefits that they can get from healthy food can open their eyes to new options that taste good, too. Physical education in schools is extremely important. Not only does it give the kids exercise during the day (which adds to the recommendation of thirty minutes of intense exercise per day), it provides them with a fun way of doing the exercise. By playing games with their friends and competing in games it can encourage exercise in a way a child has never thought of before. Working hard can be beneficial and rewarding for both their psychological needs and their physical needs. In a journal by World Book Science Year it is said that, “fewer than half of school children receive daily physical education. By 1999, financial problems had forced two-thirds of U.S. schools to eliminate their physical education classes” (Preventing). Along with adequate knowledge and physical exercise, diet must come into play. While at school children have two options: school lunch or a lunch packed from home. Children who choose to eat at the school are not always receiving the nutrient packed lunch they should be. Instead they are fed mashed potatoes with heavy gravy, white grains, sugar chocolate milk, ect. A healthier option schools have been going to, and even more should join, is the switch to sweet potato fries, whole grains, and skim milks. There are many schools that are still contributing to child obesity by having brand name foods in their cafeterias such as; McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. There are also many vending machines with sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks available to students all throughout the day. To help combat the obesity epidemic the brand name fast food places should be replaced with a healthy salad bar. The beliefs as posted in Life Science Weekly, “The vending machines make a large amount of money for some schools and they refuse to get rid of them. The beliefs as posted in Life Science Weekly are, “Schools should be encouraged to adopt vending machine policies that promote healthy drinks and food in appropriate portion sizes and discouraged from providing unhealthy food as rewards for positive behavior or academic accomplishment” (Childhood Obesity). Even though school is a large part of children’s lives and their influences, those that come from the home are much stronger. The habits and customs a child gets from the home are more apt to stick with them for the rest of their lives. These habits and customs that the child picks up from come from the parents. When a child is born they instantly begin to look up to their parents. They grow up trying to imitate and copy their parents every action and move. When a parent makes unhealthy lifestyle choices they are not only hurting themselves, but also their watchful child. When children see a parent eating unhealthy or not participating in any sort of exercise they believe that it is alright to do the same. If a child grows up in a home where health is not important and is not set as a priority, then they will continue living their life with their health on the back burner. Parents play a huge role early on in a child’s life and it is important for them to put forth their best effort to make sure that their child has the most fulfilling life possible. When parents themselves are overweight there is great possibility that the child will also be overweight. To prevent such things from happening, a parent must be educated in not only nutrition, but exercise as well. A parent must know that eating healthy does not always have to mean high expenses at the grocery store and also that a person does not need to buy a gym membership to get the ample amount of exercise to stay at a healthy weight. There are some easy tips to follow to help get a family on the right track for a healthier lifestyle. These are small changes that can be effortlessly made to accommodate even picky eaters in the family. One tip is to mix in vegetables into their favorite meals, many kids are not even aware of their presence when they are cut up small enough. Switching to a lean cut meat, whether it is chicken or beef, can go unnoticed and can in some cases enhance the taste of the meat. One last tip that can be made is to have a family dinner (not in front of the TV) and let the children know that it is okay to stop eating when they are full. While preparing for the day, the home can get hectic and there are key factors that can be easily overlooked. A parent needs to make sure that their child is eating a healthy breakfast, whether it’s a low sugar cold cereal or a piece of whole grain toast with peanut butter heading out the door. Another thing to pay attention to is what is going in their child’s lunch box. It is easy, and again “convenient”, to throw a lunch size bag of chips and a Little Debbie cake for sides to their mediocre sandwich. When it comes to healthy lifestyle changes, however, a parent should instead watch the serving sizes and pack some fruit and their favorite veggie, whole grain sandwich, and a thermos of skim milk. A parent should gauge how much they pack for their child based on the activities they have going on during the day. Children need to be encouraged and need to know that they can talk to the parent at anytime. If a child has a question about nutrition or exercise, they must feel comfortable enough to ask. When a child goes outside to play, they should be praised. Children search for affection and usually respond positively when they are positively reinforced. Playing outside should be made into a family ordeal. Time should be set aside for a family outing and time away from the video games and electronics. Fresh air and time with family can not only help reduce child obesity by reinforcing positive habits, but can also be constructive with their psychological needs. The word is slowly being spread about this epidemic, some slight modifications are being made in the society to help prevent and treat childhood diabetes. There are programs being set up to help monitor activity levels of children and are helping children become more aware of the child obesity epidemic that is becoming more and more popular around the country. Let’s Move is a program, set up and started by Michelle Obama in February of 2010, dedicated to helping solve the problem of obesity in this generation. This program is to help both students and parents learn the fundamentals of health and helping families gain access to affordable, nutritious food. The president, Barack Obama fully supports his wife and her efforts by having every program and policy having to do with child health examined. He is creating a nation plan to maximize federal resources for the efforts to reduce childhood obesity. Another useful tool that can be used for children to have fun and learn about nutrition and exercise is at camps. They are given sufficient information and what can help their bodies function at the maximum level and fun ways to incorporate exercise into games and life in general. The camps stress healthy lifestyles with hopes that they can take something that they learned home to their families and continue to practice these healthy choices. These camps are a fun, safe place for kids with others their same age who may be struggling with the same problems as they are. They enforce positive development of children and provide them with the key tools needed to do so. The counselors at these camps are knowledge and all believe in the efforts of creating the best possible life for all children. The kids in the camps tend to look up to them as role models and go to them for someone who understands their needs, because the counselors are usually that of a younger generation. Health plans are having a large effect of this epidemic as well. The amount spend on the all subjects associated with obesity was $117 billion 1987-2001 and half of that money was paid with either Medicare or Medicaid. These health plans are able to have such a large impact because they are in contract with so many providers. They are helping the efforts by setting up different programs to help fit the needs of different families. Self management plans help families through several support systems that take place in the home and decision supports is a medical approach to obesity, planning with professionals. Along with the health plans, insurance providers are providing health care providers with tools and up to date knowledge on the latest ways to prevent and treat obesity in children. They are giving kits to parents to help them better understand the nutrition and exercise needs for their children. As well as the kits, they are making family counseling more convenient and easier to obtain, such as sessions over the phone. The plans that the health care and insurance providers are putting into action for childhood obesity are like those of the approaches to tobacco and alcohol. The world is changing and with it society inevitably changes. However, there is no need for society to fall to the avoidable epidemic of obesity. There are many ways to prevent childhood obesity, and they are small slight changes that are easy to make. Without these changes, children can grow up being at risk for serious and dangerous diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, and asthma. These changes can begin in the schools with learning the nutritious information to lead a healthy lifestyle. To back up this knowledge children should be given the adequate amount of time to exercise and be active. School lunches should be healthy and filled with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. To make sense of all of the knowledge a child would gain in school, action at home in the family should take place as well. Parents need to be informed of the harmful effects of childhood obesity are and the efforts they can make to help change or prevent it from happening. Parents should be the role models for their child and set a positive example with both diet and exercise. Having family dinners and being closer with their children can make them want to open up and not see them as enemies. Parents do not have to be alone in their efforts of fighting the obesity epidemic. There are many programs that are dedicated to helping their child win the battle of obesity and there are many supports provided. Some of the supports are the Let’s Move program that Michelle Obama has started and is very dedicated to and there are also camps that children can attend that provide them with a safe and positive atmosphere where they can learn fun and interesting ways to be healthy. Health plans and insurance providers are also taking action in the epidemic of obesity. They are providing families with kits and plans to make winning the battle even easier. In conclusion, there are many recourses and information available to both students and parents about diet and nutrition and they should be taken advantage of. Childhood obesity is serious and if habits are not changed the children of the generation are headed for a lifestyle that may make them wish they had made the easy changes easily on in life. It is easy to start these changes; get up, get out, and get going.
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