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Obesity is a health condition characterized by the accumulation of excess body fats in the body to the extent that it has adverse medical effects to an individual. Obesity is a major social and medical concern in the United States among other developed countries owing to the contemporary changes in lifestyle that increase susceptibility to the condition. Determination of obesity in adults relies on the use of Body Mass Index (BMI) which measure that compares a person’s weight to a square of their height. Obese people have an IBM higher than 30 kg/m2 while those with an IBM of between 25 and 30 kg/m2 are overweight (Dawes, 2014).
Childhood obesity in the United States is a worrying medical and social trend that threatens the future of the country. National surveys on childhood obesity began in 1963. The studies explained that the Body Mass Indices of American children were stable between the 1960s and the 1980s when the statistics began to rise until the 2000s. Frugier (2004) posits that the United States did not have any particular height and weight measurements of children before 1960.
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Between the 1980s and the 2000s, childhood obesity has risen from under 5% to over 10%. Today, about one in every five children aged between six and nineteen years of age has obesity. Studies show that between 2011 and 2014, obesity among children and adolescents remained stable at an average of 17%. By 2014, obesity affected about 12.7 million children and adolescents. The prevalence of obesity is higher among Hispanics at 21.9% than non-Hispanic whites which recorded 14.7% percent. The statistics are equally high among non-Hispanic blacks at 19.5%. Studies on the health issue further indicated that the prevalence of obesity is progressive among age groups. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 recorded 8.9%, those aged between 6 and 11 recorded 17.5% while those aged between 12 and 19 recorded 20.5% (Dawes, 2014).
Targets of obesity
Childhood obesity patterns show that certain populations are more susceptible to suffer from the medical condition than others are. A gendered analysis of childhood obesity reveals that the susceptibility of obesity in children has leveled off. The findings imply children below eleven years of age have an equal probability of becoming obese. However, the findings change among adolescents. Woods, (2016) explains that teenage boys are more likely to get obese since, at the age, girls begin taking care of their weight. They start becoming selective and are conscious about public opinion about their sizes. On the contrary, boys may live in a carefree manner with some showing preference to physical activities a feature that increases their susceptibility to obesity. Other factors such as culture further influence the prevalence of obesity among children and often enhance the vulnarability of boys to obesity.
Ethnicity is yet another factor that influences childhood obesity in the United States. Studies reveal that Hispanics and blacks have a higher prevalence of obesity than non-Hispanic whites do. The observation arises from the social and economic status of the various ethnicities in the country. Most of the American whites are the typical middle class with adequate resources such as health care and recreational facilities. Most Hispanics and blacks, on the contrary, are poor and live in squalor. Furthermore, educational levels vary with the whites constituting the most literate group. The whites thus observe their lifestyles and strive to adopt healthy lifestyles, unlike their black and Hispanic counterparts who are more likely to rely on fast foods with the children living in dysfunctional families in which the parents do not show immense interests in the welfare of their children.
Causes of obesity
Numerous factors contribute to overweight and obesity problems in children. The factors include behavior choices, unhealthy eating patterns, and genetic factors or a combination of two or more of the factors. Dawes (2014) asserts that eating patterns is one of the main causes of obesity. Children with poor eating patterns such as binge eating of fast foods are more likely to become obese. Addiction to foods rich in starch and sugar such as fries, cake, and chocolate are the leading sources of obesity in children. Behavioral patterns have equally significant influence on the prevalence of childhood obesity (Moreno, Pigeot & Ahrens, 2011). Obesity is also a genetic thus hereditary. Some families have the recurrent problem of obesity thus increasing the probability of the children from such families becoming obese. In some rare cases, obesity arises from medical conditions such as imbalance in hormones.
Obesity is a lifestyle disease. As such, the lifestyle of a child is a significant predisposing factor that can influence their susceptibility to becoming overweight and even obese. Lifestyle encompasses a child’s diet, behavior and daily routines among others. Children should have an active lifestyle (Smith, 1999). Their daily engagements should encourage them to undertake physical activities such as walking, jogging or even cycling. Children who rely on cars and rarely take part in physical activities are likely to gain weight thus become obese. Recreational activities are equally significant in maintaining body weight. Most American children show preference to computer and video games. Extensive reliance on such games encourages great mental activity while discouraging physical activities thus increasing the chances of a child to gain weight and become obese.
Diet and exercise
Food is the basic building block of a human body. However, consumption of specific foods in large quantities increases the chance of obesity not only among children but also among adults. Fast foods are major causes of obesity. Reliance on deep fried foods like chicken and fries deposits an immense amount of fats in the body. The same is the case with such as snacks as chocolates, cakes, cookies and sweets among others are favorable among most children. Unfortunately, the foods increase their chances of becoming obese.
Food serves the primary purpose of sustaining the activities of a body and facilitating growth. In most cases, people eat more than is necessary for the two functions. The body converts the excess food into fat and stores it under the skin for use during scarcity. Exposing children to large amounts of food requires a corresponding amount of physical activity to enable their bodies to burn the fat by converting it into the energy the body needs for the activities. Basic exercises like walking, jogging, and cycling can help children. Similarly, engaging athletics during breaks in school expose children to adequate physical exercise to facilitate the conversion of the fats into energy. Poor lifestyles discourage such physical activities while encouraging the children to continue consuming large amounts of food, a pattern that accelerates the rates of obesity among children in the country.
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The American government has acknowledged childhood obesity as a major social and health problem. The government has since formulated and implemented policies designed to curb the condition thus develop a healthy generation. Some of the policies include:
Healthy People 2020
Healthy People 2020 is a federal government initiative that seeks to improve the health of Americans by encouraging healthy lifestyles and developing a health conscious generation. The policy follows a ten-year objective for improving the health of Americans. It encourages collaborations among communities. The initiative also empowers people to make informed health decisions and measures the impacts of preventative initiatives. The policy recognizes various health problems including childhood obesity. It thus has strategic elements, which include the elimination of disparities to ensure that every American can access health information and healthcare services. It further focuses on preventing diseases. The policy thus encourages healthy lifestyles to help prevent such lifestyle diseases as obesity.
Affordable Care Act
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a federal statute that revolutionized healthcare in the country. The law transformed the operations of primary physicians and hospitals by revamping technological, financial and clinical operations of the facilities to lower the costs, improve outcomes of healthcare. It further improves the accessibility of healthcare and method of distribution. The policy encourages the development of healthy families and makes it easy for families to seek medical services. The law creates avenues for parents with obese children to seek medical services for their children. Obesity is a curable and manageable disease. By increasing the accessibility of high-quality health care, the policy provides reliable ways of managing and even treating obesity.
“Let’s Move Act”
The 2010 “Let’s Move Act” was a campaign by First Lady Michelle Obama. The campaign seeks to create awareness on the detrimental effects of obesity thus encouraging Americans to change their lifestyles as a key strategy for combating the condition that is reaching catastrophic levels. The campaigned has created adequate awareness on child obesity with a significant amount of Americans adopting healthy lifestyles such as embracing walking, jogging, and cycling. Awareness is an essential step in combating childhood obesity since it challenges families to adopt positive lifestyles and curb the condition.
Education in schools: Prevention programs
Mandatory physical education class
Physical education in schools is essential in encouraging children to engage in physical exercise. Schools should adopt a policy that compels every student to participate in physical activities. Making the classes mandatory is a sure way of ensuring that every school-going child in the country takes part in physical exercise. Furthermore, classes are essential in instilling values in children and challenging them to embrace physical activities in their free time at home. American children must adopt healthy lifestyles, which require commensurate physical exercise (Woods, 2016). Developing physical education classes introduces a regulated and effectively plan way of using physical activities to combat childhood obesity.
Nutrition and health classes
Nutrition in schools is yet another practical way of combating child obesity. Children have lunch among other meals in school. Boarding schools have overall control over the meals of the students in the schools. The management of schools, therefore, has a fundamental responsibility of providing the children with a balanced diet that encourages the body to gain adequate weight. Schools must balance and ration the meals by organizing effective meal plans for the children. Health classes will enable the children to embrace healthy eating by understanding the importance of meals and the nutritional content of every food. This way, the children uphold values of a balanced diet and control their intake of such harmful foods as cakes, cookies, chocolates and ice cream among others.
Sports team and recreation clubs
Incorporation of sports and recreational clubs in school activities is a sure way of encouraging children to take part in sports. Sports have immense benefits besides the obvious prevention of obesity. First, sports and recreational clubs help children identify and nature their talents (Frugier, 2004). The clubs will encourage the pupils to engage in sports and various leisure activities. Participation in the clubs improves physical activities thus providing natural ways through which children can burn excess fat and control their body weights. Teachers should regulate participation in the clubs to prevent cases of injuries that may have equally numerous adverse health effects on the children.
Parent education is yet another major program that can help curb obesity among children. Schools have a three-tier approach to learning by involving teachers, parents, and students. As such, parents are vital stakeholders in the arrangement and their input influences the success of the schools. Schools should introduce programs to educate parents on the best ways of developing appropriate lifestyles for their children. Parent education should cover such topics as the adverse effects of obesity in children, healthy diets, and the importance of physical activities. The education of parents will help the parents to develop an enabling environment and equally healthy lifestyles to prevent and even combat obesity among children.
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In retrospect, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The government has acknowledged the social and health problem and has since strived to develop policies, campaigns, and initiatives to combat the problem. Efforts like the Healthy people 2020 and the Let’s Move Act have had tremendous effects on developing a healthy and health conscious population. They contribute to the efforts designed to eliminate childhood obesity. However, the efforts should continue to schools. Schools have significant roles to play in the development of healthy children. American school should adopt mandatory physical education, introduce healthy classes and educate parents on healthy lifestyles.
- Dawes, L. (2014). Childhood obesity in America: Biography of an epidemic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Frugier, M. K. (2004). Childhood obesity in the United States. New York: Novinka Books.
- Institute of Medicine (É.-U.)., Koplan, J., Liverman, C. T., Kraak, V. I., Institute of Medicine (É.-U.)., & Institute of Medicine (É.-U.). (2005). Preventing childhood obesity: Health in the balance. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press.
- Moreno, A. L., Pigeot, I., & Ahrens, W. (2011). Epidemiology of obesity in children and adolescents: Prevalence and etiology. New York: Springer.
- Smith, J. C. (1999). Understanding childhood obesity. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
- Woods, R. (2016). Social issues in sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.