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The Obesity Epidemic: Helping America’s Children, Essay Example

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Essay

Obesity amongst American children has risen drastically over the last thirty years due to shifts in eating habits and attitudes about exercise that promote fast food and a sedentary lifestyle.  Currently, one in three children in the United States are considered obese, a statistic that increases in African-American and Latino communities (Let’s Move, 2011).  This trend has dangerous and long-lasting implications for the psychological, physical, and social well-being of children, given that obesity in childhood and adolescence are linked to obesity in adulthood (Let’s Move, 2011).  To combat this problem, First Lady Michelle Obama has launched the “Let’s Move” campaign in conjunction with the Childhood Obesity Task Force to raise awareness of the root causes of and possible solutions for this potentially dangerous epidemic.  With over seventy initiatives that emphasize physical activity, education, and a family-based approach to general wellness, Obama aims to end childhood obesity by 2030 by creating  positive attitudes towards healthy living that will impact upon future generations of children to come.

The rise in obesity rates amongst American children can be directly traced to social factors that find families living fast-paced lifestyles in which they spend more time in cars and less time engaging in physical activity and eating nutritional home-cooked meals.  New technologies such as computers have become a common source of entertainment and education for children, meaning that they spend an increased amount of time inside and online.  The business of many American families also means that parents have less time to prepare healthy meals and teach their children about the lifestyle habits that can lead to better physical and mental health.

The eating habits of children have changed drastically in the last thirty years as fast food and  snacking in between meals have come to replace portion-controlled nutritious food that emphasized vegetables and home-preparation. Although children used to only eat one snack per day, today’s children “are trending toward three snacks, resulting in an additional 200 calories a day, and one in five school-age children has up to six snacks a day” (Let’s Move, 2011).  An increase in portion sizes and the high calorie count of many pre-prepared foods also plays an important role in contributing to the obesity of American children.  On average, families are consuming “31 percent more calories than we were forty years ago–including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners” (Let’s Move, 2011).  These food choices, coupled with a general lack of physical activity that finds that children and adolescents spending approximately 7.5 hours per day using new technologies such as video games, movies, and cellphones (Let’s Move, 2011), means that it is rare for this age group to receive the amount of exercise that they need to combat a diet based on fatty foods and high sugar intake.

Children learn through example, and both parents and educators have an opportunity to model both positive and negative behaviors surrounding food choices and exercise.  This includes cooking with children, avoiding fast food, and emphasizing activities that build muscle groups and encourage physical activity (The White House, 2010).  However, the fast-paced nature of modern North American culture, shifts in demographics to suburban areas, and changing attitudes towards educational curriculum mean that children are driven more places,  spend increased time involved in sedentary activities, and have less overall awareness of the steps necessary for a healthy lifestyle.

The effects of obesity in children have dangerous implications for their immediate and long-term health, placing a strain on the health care system.  As well, the health difficulties experienced by children who are obese often extend into adulthood, creating a cycle of illness and dependence on the medical establishment (Let’s Move, 2011).  There are also profound psychological and social effects that stem from obesity such as peer ostracization and the accompanying anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.  These large-scale health and social issues play a crucial role in shaping a child’s sense of self and determining their academic performance and general well-being.

Obesity impacts on the health of children by causing them to be prone to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea (Let’s Move, 2011).  Scientific studies of obese children and teenagers demonstrate a strong connection between the health concerns of childhood and those experienced in adulthood.  One study conducted on a group of 5-to 17 year-olds indicated that almost “60% of overweight children had at least one CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk factor and 25|% of overweight children had two or more CVD risk factors” (Let’s Move, 2011).  The social and psychological factors associated with obesity in children are also concerning, given that such children are more likely to become targeting of bullying and other forms of social discrimination.  While research about social functioning amongst obese children hasn’t been as extensive as that dealing with physical health, studies suggest that negative peer relationships are directly related to poor academic performance and feelings of low self-esteem which carry over into adulthood (Let’s Move, 2011).

The rising trend in childhood obesity has disturbing implications for the overall health of children in both the short and long-term. A child’s psychological well-being is directly linked to their acceptance by peer groups and their sense of self and contributes to their growth and development into adulthood (The White House, 2010). Thus, the likelihood that obese children will have difficulty on multiple levels, impacting on both the educational and health care system, has serious consequences for the nation itself.

Despite the serious nature of this epidemic, medical reports suggest that obesity need not be a chronic condition.  As outlined in First Lady Michelle Obama’s comprehensive action plan for tackling childhood obesity, there are numerous simple steps that can counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet (White House, 2011).  With the support of President Obama, who created the Task Force on Childhood Obesity, the Let’s Move campaign seeks to deal with childhood obesity at both the local and national level through educational programs and a commitment to physical fitness in schools.

First Lady Obama believes that a child’s future successes are connected to their experiences in childhood.  As such, she has made it her goal to implement a series of specific recommendations that provide concrete ways in which children and families can alter their lifestyle to encourage nutrition and “tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time” (The White House, 2010).  These measures include providing children with a “healthy start on life” (The White House, 2010) through the encouragement of prenatal care and breastfeeding support and an emphasis on supportive and healthy home environments which limit the amount of exposure children have to television and other medias. The support of the educational system is crucial to the success of First Lady Obama’s initiatives through the implementation of healthy breakfast and lunch programs, improved nutritional curriculum, and a return to an emphasis on outdoor activity through recesses and physical education programs (The White House, 2011).  The improved health of all children is contingent on support not only from the federal government, but at the private sector and local level through improved labelling of restaurant products, better access to quality food in both rural and urban areas, and a focus on creating environments like parks and recreational facilities that encourage physical activity as a form of entertainment (The White House, 2011).

Education is a key component when tackling the problem of obesity in children, and it is crucial that parents are included in any national or federal programs that attempt to teach children about healthy lifestyles. Rather than dealing with obesity issues through ‘fad’ diets that encourage a ‘quick-fix’ approach to a child’s weight, steps must be taken to deal with the deeper issues surrounding obesity. This involves gathering support at multiple societal levels, both in the government and in the private sector, so that children can learn that good nutritional choices and exercise can be a positive part of their everyday life.

Children cannot be expected to independently make healthy food choices and engage in physical activity .  Instead, they need their parents, educators, and other adults to model appropriate behaviors and teach them that nutrition need not be a chore.  As demonstrated by First Lady Obama’s Let’s Move program, there are a myriad of opportunities to educate children and families in the numerous simple ways that healthy food choices and exercise can be incorporated into a child’s daily life. The current problem of obesity in children is one that will take time to solve through the thoughtful implementation of programs that encourage and empower children to take control of their physical fitness and caloric intake.  Such steps will ensure that America’s children are healthy, happy, and strong, and will result in better academic performance, social bonding, and overall well-being that benefit both the individual and the nation.

References

Let’s Move. (2011). Let’s move: America’s move to raise a healthier generation of kids. Retrieved from http://www.letsmove.gov/learn-facts/epidemic-childhood-obesity

The White House. (May 2010). Childhood obesity task force unveils action plan: Solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. Office of the Press Secretary. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/childhood-obesity-task-force-unveils- action-plan-solving-problem-childhood-obesity- Let’s Move.

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