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Childhood Obesity: Causes, Effects and Current Solutions

By mighttiemouse Jan 09, 2012 1308 Words
Over the past 30 years childhood obesity has been increasing at an alarming rate. With working parents, technology, and processed foods; children are eating more and are less active then ever seen in the past. Obesity is hitting youth so hard that health experts warn that this generation of children will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents (Afterschool Alliance, 2006). This paper is intended to explain current issues surrounding childhood obesity, and touch on some of the causes and effects of this epidemic. Also, touch on what some states and school districts are doing to tackle obesity at its source. These programs and other ideas that are being implemented will be touched on with the intention to bring forth the importance of this issue that has been overlooked.

There are many factors that could contribute to childhood obesity, some of the most common ones are; television and technology, convenience foods, education, and habits taught at home. Alone, each one of these factors may not be something that would be the cause to obesity, but together they form a dangerous cocktail. Today's generation of children statistically do less activity then generations before; 95% of students are required to take physical education during school hours but 65% of these students do not meet recommended levels of physical activity ("The Obesity Epidemic and United States Students," n.d.). A contributing factor to this less physical generation could very well be television and technology. Younger generations are ever more dependent on technology; they are watching television and using computers more frequently. On average children are spending more than three hours a day watching television, playing videogames, or using a computer ("The Obesity Epidemic and United States Students," n.d.). Due to this dependency, children and teens are moving less, and sitting in the same position for long stretches of time.

Another contributing factor to obesity is convenience foods. The culture in which we live in today seems to have an obsession with how fast things are, from cars to information, and now food. The current problem with many fast foods and ready-to-eat meals is the amount of preservatives and empty calories that they contain. Ate in moderation these foods are fine, and can satisfy the hunger of an individual, but some families consume convenience foods almost on a daily basis. More households in America have dual incomes, and after a long day of work parents tend to just "pick up" dinner rather than cooking meals. As Michelle Obamba stated, "there were plenty of times when after a long day at work, when the fridge was empty and the kids were hungry, that I just ordered a pizza because it was easier" (Nanci, n.d.). In combination with inactivity, frequent consumption of convenience foods can result in weight gain.

Other factors that have been associated with weight gain in children are their parents, and schools. We as humans tend to learn habits and mannerisms from our parents, and when parents exhibit unhealthy eating and exercise habits; their children are likely to follow in their footsteps. Genetics and behavior have been shown to contribute to weight gain; parents and children gain weight in households shown to contain more energy-dense foods, and in household where parents are not physically active (Anderson, 2006). But parents aren't the only individuals who have the finger pointed at them; schools are also under the microscope for potential catalysts in the child obesity epidemic. Some people believe that health education in our school systems is not a priority for some districts. Currently only 69% of students are required to take health education ("The Obesity Epidemic and United States Students," n.d.). Researchers believe that if health education is required of all students, then obesity rates may decrease. Schools are also said to offer too many alternatives to healthy lunches through vending machines. Individuals believe that by having these machines available, students are purchasing sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks, and then consuming them during class hours.

As a result of increased childhood obesity rates, healthcare rates have also increased. When children are obese they have a higher risk of becoming obese adults, and higher risks of developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. As a result to these complications, in a 30 year time span hospital costs resulting from obesity related complications have more than tripled (Afterschool Alliance, 2006). Other studies have shown that there is a relationship between students with poor academic performance and obesity. These studies have shown that male obese adolescents think they are bad students and are likely to consider dropping out (Hunt, 2008). It is believed there is a direct connection between low self esteem and academic performance, and student who are obese tend to have low self esteem.

Some school districts, states, and even the federal government are beginning to recognize how out-of-control child obesity is. They have begun to offer solutions such as afterschool programs, physical education classes, healthier lunches, and even suggested as to where schools should be located. Afterschool programs have become extremely innovative in order to get children up and moving. Some of them integrate tutoring with physical education, and health education, with the intent to teach children healthy habits for life; others have local college and professional sports teams connect with schools to promote healthy living (Afterschool Alliance, 2006). Another way that schools have been taking the initiative to reduce obesity rates is by redesigning the school lunch program. The National School Lunch program offers more nutritious alternatives for lunch, although there is no guarantee that children will eat more fruits and vegetables, but they are available (Ralston, 2008). Some schools unplug the vending machines during class hours to prevent children from unhealthy snacking during classes. Even the government is beginning to step in and offer suggestions as to how to solve childhood obesity, some of their suggestions are; have schools within walking distance of residential neighborhoods, require schools to teach physical education, and discourage consumption of sugary beverages (Nanci, n.d.).

Although the childhood obesity epidemic is at its highest percentages in years, organizations are beginning to offer programs and suggestions as to how to control and reduce the issue. Although there are many causes to obesity; they are mostly excuses. It is imperative that parents take control of their children's diet and activity level, and promote healthy living. Schools also need to take responsibility in the issue and require that children take physical education at every level, and also, schools need to instate heath education classes. Solutions need to be set in place not only for health reason, but also for the academic and profession futures for today's youth. It is said that 46% of children will be overweight this year (Afterschool Alliance, 2006). This is the year to prove that statistic wrong and make an improvement in the culture of America.

Afterschool Alliance, W. (2006). Active Hours Afterschool: Childhood Obesity Prevention & Afterschool Programs. Issue Brief No. 24. Afterschool Alliance, Retrieved from ERIC database. Anderson, P. & Butcher, K. (2006). Childhood Obesity: Trends and Potential Causes. Future of Children, 16 (1), 19-45. Retrieved from ERIC database. Hunt, J. (2008). Childhood Obesity and Academic Outcomes. James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy. Retrieved from ERIC database. Nanci, H. (n.d). Michelle Obama to Fight Child Obesity at Grass Roots. USA Today, Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Ralston, K., Newman, C., Clauson, A., Guthrie, J., Buzby, J., & Economic Research Service. (2008). The National School Lunch Program: Background, Trends, and Issues. ERS Report Summary. US Department of Agriculture, Retrieved from ERIC database. The Obesity Epidemic and United States Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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