The Concerns of Obesity in Children and Young People
Fat adults are fat because they eat too much fatty food and do not get enough exercise. Fat children are healthy and cute. Fat teenagers are not. Fat people are funny. Fat people can lose weight if they really wanted to. These are just a few common perceptions the public have of people who are over their ideal body weight. What most people do not know is that being overweight or obese carry with it a myriad of health risks, economic burden, social problems and psychological stress. In simplistic terms, obesity occurs when the body takes in more energy than it expends, and this propensity for storing excess energy (fat) is attributed to several factors interacting in complex ways. The common idea is that it is caused by the intake of excessive amounts or high-fat, high-energy foods and beverages, whether processed or not. Others perceive that being fat means prosperous (hence high socio-economic status). Some believe there is a definite genetic link for obesity, and perhaps hereditary factors may influence the susceptibility of the child for unhealthy eating behaviour as well as, to lesser extent affect how the body absorbs and processes energy. (Dehghan et al 2005) However, the condition is much more complicated, and the solution is not as simple as dieting or exercise. The need for research into this condition is spurred by the morbidities associated with obesity. Obesity poses significant costs in health and healthcare as high BMI increases the risk of some cancers, NIDDM, heart disease and hyperlipidaemia. In terms of financial costs, many developed countries disburse as much as 7% of their total healthcare expenditures for treatment of obesity, translating to US$99 billion in 1995 for the US, for example. Aside from these direct costs, the cost for loss in wages, premature pensions as well as intangible costs such as reduced sense of well-being and health makes prevention a much more viable alternative to treatment. (Macdiarmid 2002) Of particular concern is the alarming increase in the prevalence of obesity in children. Early onset type 2 diabetes was unheard off three decades ago, but currently 50% of Type 2 diabetes diagnoses are for children. In the period prior to development of diabetes, many severely obese children exhibited glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. (Ebbeling et al 2002) A survey of 79 countries indicate that approximately 22 million children under five years old are obese, and in some developed countries the prevalence of overweight children between the age of 5 and 14 are between 10% to 40% more than in the previous two decades. In the US, particularly, the increase of American children considered overweight in the past 30 years is 17%. (Macdiarmid 2002) These children will most likely remain obese or overweight up to adulthood and depending on the age of onset, will be in need of serious medical intervention by the time they reach middle age. This paper will focus on the global prevalence, causes and management of childhood obesity in an attempt to provide an overview of what is today considered a “global epidemic.” It will then be argued that based on existing research, the key to the effective management of childhood obesity is through prevention, making use of strategies that aim to effect lifestyle change for the gradual and sustainable loss of weight that will eventually approximate the ideal weight and body fat distribution of the child or adolescent. The paper will also briefly discuss the negative attitudes and biases of the general public, medical and health practitioners and children against overweight people. The mechanisms of obesity-associated morbidities
The focus on childhood obesity is predicated by the increased risk of disease in adulthood. Daniels (2006) contends that such risks are not limited to health problems in later life but have...
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