Technology Contributions to Childhood Obesity, Essay Example
Childhood obesity refers to a condition whereby a child’s weight is above the normal or healthy weight for the child’s age and height (CDC) or having excess body fat (Bowdoin; Krebs et al.; Barlow and Expert; Wang and Wang). Other researchers prefer the term, “overweight” although its usage is infrequent due the negative connotation (Wu, Li and Zong; Schiel, Kaps and Bieber; Gance-Cleveland et al.). Childhood obesity results from consumption of more calories than is expended thus creating an imbalance in the body. This may be due to genetic, behavioral or environmental factors (Daniels et al.). Childhood obesity affects the health and wellbeing of the children both in the short- and long term. Examples of the short term health effects include increased risk for cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure (Freedman et al.), pre-diabetes (Li et al.), breathing problems (Sutherland et al.), and low self-esteem (Dietz). Long-term effects may include increased risk of metabolic syndrome and cancer (Biro and Wien), osteoarthritis (Antony et al.; Wills et al.), risk of being severely obese (Biro and Wien) in adulthood.
Research show that childhood obesity is an epidemic both in developing and developed worlds (Gurnani, Birken and Hamilton; Sahoo et al.; Covic, Roufeil and Dziurawiec). In the united States, between 1980 and 2012, the percentage of overweight children (aged 6-11 years) increased from 7% to almost 18% and that of adolescents (12-19 year olds) increased from 5% to 21% (Ogden et al.; NCHS). This implies that obesity among children (6-11 years old) and adolescents (12-19 years old) has doubled and quadrupled, respectively in these two age groups. According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, three states (Utah, 6%; Montana, 9%; New Jersey, 9%) had lowest percentage of high school students who were obese (0-9%) whereas 8 states had the highest percentages of high school students who were obese (Alabama, 17%; Arkansas, 18%; Kentucky, 18%; Mississippi, 15%; Missouri, 15%; Tennessee, 17%; Texas, 16%, West Virginia, 16%) (CDC).
Given the short-term and long-term consequences of childhood obesity, several interventions have been implemented in attempt to address this epidemic. Most of the interventions include health educational sessions aimed at increasing physical activities; increased consumption of fresh fruit, vegetables, and water; nutrition education; parent outreach, advocacy plays, decrease sedentary behavior; discourage consumption of “fizzy” drinks, dental health care(Chen et al.; Coleman et al.; Foster et al.; Jamelske et al.; Joosse et al.; Jordan et al.; Taylor et al.). Findings from a recent systematic review suggest that school-based program characterized by family involvement and use multidisciplinary team is likely to be most effective in approach to manage childhood obesity (Kelishadi and Azizi-Soleiman).
In contemporary world, children are exposed to different technologies. It is not uncommon to find a child sitting in a couch listening to music in iPod, chatting with a friend using a smartphone, playing video games on a computer, or watching a favorite television program. As pointed out earlier, such sedentary behaviors may be associated with increased risk of developing childhood obesity. However, suppose a child decides to listen to music while running on a treadmill or listen to music while walking at the park, such a non-sedentary behavior may be associated with reduced risk of childhood obesity. Given the increasing use of technologies such as smartphones, televisions, computers, and so on, one wonders to what extent is technology contributing to childhood obesity or can it be used to address the problem?
The purpose of this paper is to synthesize existing literature on the impact of technology on childhood obesity. The next sections of this paper are organized as follows. First, in the methods section, steps followed to identify literature on this topic as well as approach used to synthesize the findings are described. Next, in the results section, both positive and negative impacts of technology on children’s health are presented. Lastly, a summary of findings is presented including in the conclusion section.
This study utilized secondary sources to identify relevant literature sources without any language restriction or time limits. Specifically, electronic databases including PsychINFO, Web of Science, PubMed, and Google Scholar search engines were used. The searches were based the key words “obesity,” “childhood obesity,” “technology,” “intervention,” “e-health,” and “program.” The inclusion criteria for literature selected were a study specifically addressing technology-based intervention to address childhood obesity. Besides peer-reviewed journal articles, other sources including electronic articles published by international organizations (e.g., World Health Organization [WHO] and the United Nations Children’s Fund [UNICEF]); electronic newspapers; conference presentations; and unpublished literature also were included. References of identified articles were also manually scanned to identify additional literature sources. EndNote X4, reference management software package, was used to manage all literature sources. Titles and abstracts of all retrieved references were scanned to determine their eligibility for inclusion in this study. For articles whose eligibility could not be determined based on titles and abstracts, full text were obtained and reviewed.
In the initial search, 123 articles were identified as being potentially relevant citations excluding 19 duplicates. Interestingly, most studies retrieved did not explicitly compare positive versus negative impacts of technology on children’s health, particularly in relation to obesity. After examining the titles, abstracts, and in most cases, the entire article, 15 sources were found relevant for the review. The rest of the paper focuses on information obtained from these sources.
Positive and Negative Impacts of Technology on Childhood Obesity
Television. According to an international study examining the correlation between childhood obesity and sedentary time and screen time in 9-11 year-old children (5,844 children participated), it was found that having a television or computer in the bedroom correlated significantly with childhood obesity (LeBlanc et al.). As noted by these authors, removing the television from the bedroom in conjunction with behavioral intervention such as increasing physical activity may be used to alleviate the problem. In a systematic review focusing on the correlates of screen time use in children aged 0 to 36 months, it was found that child BMI, mother’s distress, length of time mother spent viewing television and cognitive stimulation in the home environment were also associated with screen time use (Duch et al.). A study examining early childhood screen time and parental attitudes toward child television viewing found that the amount of time spent viewing television and household media environment as being strongly associated with child screen time (Asplund et al.). This implies that to address childhood obesity, there is need to first ensure that parents, especially mothers, reduce their television viewing habits.
Videogames. In one systematic review (34 studies) examining potential use of videogames to combat childhood obesity, it was found that because videogames are associated with increased physical activity and nutritional knowledge, it may potentially help combat childhood obesity provided parents move beyond the stigma associated with gaming (Guy, Ratzki-Leewing and Gwadry-Sridhar). However, in a related systematic review of active video games to promote physical activity in children and youth, it was found that whereas active video games was associated with light to moderate physical activity, there was not enough evidence to conclude that the physical activity promotion will be sustained in the long-run (Biddiss and Irwin).
Smartphone. According to one systematic review (2 studies), despite the popularity of smartphone technology in different weight management trials, the effectiveness of this technology in pediatric programs is still debated (Chaplais et al.). In sum, technology may have positive and negative impact on childhood obesity.
Text messages. In a qualitative study exploring the opinions of obese adolescents and their parents regarding the use of text messages as a support mechanism during the maintenance period following a behavior intervention, it was established that overweight adolescents may not know or have the ability to express how they can be supported with text messages during a healthy lifestyle maintenance phase (Smith et al.). However, in a qualitative study focused on leveraging text messaging and mobile technology to support obesity-related behavior change, it was found that text messaging is promising platform for supporting pediatric obesity-related behavior change (Sharifi et al.).
Mobile phone and wireless technologies. There is a possibility that use of mobile phones may interfere with sleep and thus affect health. One study investigated the extent to which mobile phones interfere with adolescent sleep and found that most adolescents took their phones to bed (63%) and did not turn it off (57%), about a half used it as an alarm (46%), and over one-third (37%) texted after going to bed, and about 8% were awakened at least twice per week by a text after going to bed (Adachi-Mejia et al.). These results suggest that mobile phones may be used positively (e.g., as alarm to wake up and perform exercise) or negatively (e.g., accepting text messages during sleep time).
In a systematic review (including 41 articles) investigating current use of mHealth technologies to prevent or treat pediatric obesity, it was found that the use of mHealth technologies was associated with increased consumption of fruit and vegetable, adherence to treatment and self-monitoring, and increase engagement in physical activity few effects were observed on outcomes such as body mass index (Turner et al.). Another review (14 studies) examining the association between mobile health and excess weight established similar findings: mHealth technologies may potentially be used to prevent and treat obesity in children (Sarno, Canella and Bandoni). Findings from these systematic reviews suggest that use of mHealth technologies such as using mobile phones and texting are feasible and acceptable tools for the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.
Findings of this investigation indicate that technology has both positive and native impacts on childhood obesity. Positive use of technology such as listening to music when engaged in physical exercise such as running or walking is beneficial to the child: the child burns calories and thus is unlikely to become obese. However, sedentary behavior (e.g., listening to music while seated or playing computer games or watching TV with limited motion) may be detrimental to the child: less calories is burnt thus increasing the likelihood of becoming obese. In recognition of the potential use of technology to address childhood obesity, many organizations are funding research focusing on innovative use of technology to address childhood obesity. For example, Recently, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, announced a $500 million pledge over the next 10 years to fund research on exploring how technology can be used to fight childhood obesity (Lavisso-Mourey). As children continue to be exposed to technology, it is incumbent upon parents to ensure that children use the technology in “healthy way.” That is, children should be assisted to use technology in non-sedentary ways for the betterment of their health. Because parent and other adults are role models to children, parents are challenged to model appropriate use of technology so that children can adopt similar health behaviors.
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