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The Role of Social Work in the Childhood Obesity Epidemic, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1580

Essay

Childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is a significant problem in the United States.  Despite the fact that the government, schools, and physicians have been emphasizing healthier lifestyles, each year more children become overweight and obese. This is a very serious problem because so many psychological and physiological conditions are associated with obesity in children.  Children with obesity are more likely to have a negative body image, experience low self-esteem, and be prone to depression and anxiety.  These feelings can negatively impact their academic and social progress (Karnik & Kanekar, 2012).  Obese children are also more likely to have develop preventable health problems such as hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Childhood obesity is a major concern for public health because these comorbid conditions often follow obese children into adulthood.

According to Karnik and Kanekar (2012), childhood obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for children of same age and sex.  The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for the year 2007-2008 estimated that 16.9% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years were obese (Karnik & Kanekar, 2012). In the years 1976-1980, 5.0% of children ages 2-5 and 6.5% of children ages 6-11 were classified as obese.  In 2007-2008, 10.0% of children ages 2-5 and 19.6% of children ages 6-11 were obese.  The data collected for the same period shows that obesity has increased from 5.0 to 18.1% for adolescents ages 12-19 years (Karnik & Kanekar, 2012).  These increasing numbers, despite advances in nutrition and exercise science are presenting a great concern for children, their families, and society.

Obesity in children is due to genetics, environmental factors, or behavioral conditions (Karnik & Kanekar, 2012), and is often the result of a combination of the three factors.  Social workers have a wonderful opportunity to work with obese children and their families, and strategize different coping mechanisms.

Genetic factors can affect metabolism and the endocrine system, creating difficulty for children to maintain a healthy weight.  Social workers can educate children and their families about their condition, proper nutrition, and appropriate physical activity.  Social workers can additionally offer counseling if obese children are struggling socially or academically.

Behavioral factors in obese children include a sedentary lifestyle, eating large portions, or eating too many foods high in fats and sugars. Karnik and Kanekar (2012) report that children snack more when watching television, most likely due to boredom, or advertisements that influence children to make unhealthy food choices. Different approaches to interventions for behavioral interventions include: family-based lifestyle interventions, school-based interventions, community-based interventions, play-based interventions, childhood-obesity prevention interventions, and hospital-based interventions.  Family based interventions work to increase parents’ awareness of their child’s problem, help parents to purchase healthier foods and plan healthier meals, encourage physical activity, and provide them with emotional support.  School-based interventions work with the child’s school to educate children to make healthy food choices, provide healthy meals, and encourage children to participate in physical activities.  Communities-based interventions can help to create safe neighborhoods, which allow for children to participate in physical activity, help children access affordable and healthy foods, and provide gymnasiums with supervised physical activities.  Play-based interventions can make learning about health and nutrition fun, using games and interactive media programs.  Childhood-obesity prevention intervention programs provide education about health nutrition and how they are related to obesity.  Hospital-based interventions occur for children who are obese and are at risk of health complications.  In addition to weight loss programs and physical activity, some pharmacological therapy may be appropriate.

Working with environmental factors can be challenging, as they are influenced heavily by families and schools.  Children often take their cues from their parents and mimic unhealthy behaviors.  Many of the behavioral interventions can be applied to assist obese children with environmental challenges.  Schools can influence children by providing healthy foods and encouraging physical activity. Increasing physical activity can be challenging, especially if there are no accessible facilities in the child’s community such as “safe side walks, bike paths, and safe parks” (Karnik & Kanekar, 2012).

There are often many challenges to helping children struggling with obesity.  Karnik and Kanekar (2012) state that financial challenges, stigmatization, and logistical issues may impede the progress to interventions.  The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2006) reports that families are often very busy and may not have time for nutritious meals.  Meals are often eaten in a car, restaurant, or in front of the television.  Because of their training, social workers are able to address these challenges and have a very important role in combating obesity in children and can address the behavioral and lifestyle changes of the child and family.  Social workers are able to use family systems theory, advocacy, cultural competence, and strength-based perspective as methods to help obese children (NASW, 2006).  Systems theory helps the social worker better understand the child and the various people and factors surrounding him/her.  Strategies include working with the parents and teaching the importance of proper nutrition and exercise.  Advocacy includes making resources available to clients and help parents and children advocate for themselves in their community.  Social workers are also trained to be culturally competent and are able to work with families whose interactions center around food.  The goal is not to make the child feel like an outcast, but to encourage families to provide altered versions of their favorite foods.  Strength-based perspective in social work takes into consideration the positive aspects in the child’s life and builds on those to make necessary changes.  Strengths in fighting obesity may include using a child’s motivation to play sports, or the assistance of family member who is willing to make nutritious food for holidays.

On a personal note, I have witnessed friends and family struggle with weight problems and realize that physical medicine can only go so far in preventing and treating obesity.  Social workers are equipped to tackle the problem.  While there are certain instances where obesity is caused by a genetic or physiological problem, in many cases, obesity in children is the result of a behavioral pattern, often picked up from the family.  Childhood obesity can be fought with education, prevention, and interventions that stress physical activity and healthy eating habits.

Graduate School

I anticipate that graduate school will be challenging. The curriculum will be more intense than it was for my undergraduate program. The deadlines and complexity for assignments, projects, and papers will be much more severe. Life will become even crazier when field placements begin. As excited as I am to gain real lift experience, I am well aware that in addition to school, these internships will be difficult.  But I must encourage myself to remember my motivation for becoming a social worker.  If I ever feel like giving up, I must remember that I am determined to become a social worker so I can help people lead better lives.

Working hard has always been natural for me. When I am passionate about a subject, I will become completely immersed and always strive to perform to the best of my abilities. I am very persistence about achieving my goals, and am aware that in order to achieve those goals, I cannot neglect my own health. Eating right and exercising regularly will help to ensure that I stay in the best physical and psychological condition as possible.  Sleep cannot be sacrificed.  I learned in my undergraduate program that sacrificing sleep to study all night is counterproductive, and will make sure to be well rested so I can learn each day.  Good time management skills will be essential in order to be successful in graduate school.

The field placements excite me the most. I am very much aware of their challenge, but the opportunity to work with people and apply the information that we have learned is very exciting.  I hope to find a mentor who will help guide me through the process.  I know that I will have many questions, and finding a mentor would be a great help.  Right now, I would like to work with children, but that may change as I learn more about the field of social work.

I realize that I must establish a support system.  In addition to finding a mentor, I hope that I am able to form lasting friendships with my classmates and colleagues.  The stress of both school and the social work profession can be dangerous if left unchecked.  Even though I will be busy with schoolwork, I know that I must make time to relax and enjoy myself.  If things become too stressful, then counseling is always an option.

Becoming a social worker allows me the opportunity to help people who are struggling.  Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and live a high quality life. Many resources are available, but all too often, people are unaware of them. Social workers can inform people about these resources, show them how to obtain them, and even offer counseling for emotional problems. While I know that graduate school will be difficult, if I keep myself focused on my goals, I know that I will be successful.

References

Karnik S., & Kanekar, A. (2012). Childhood obesity: A global public health crisis. International Journal of Preventative Medicine 3(1): 1-7 Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3278864/

National Association of Social Workers. (2006). The role of social work in the childhood obesity epidemic. Washington, D.C.: Eliadis, E.E.  Retrieved from https://www.preventchildabusenj.org/documents/fop_admin/p86chobesity.pdf

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