It is a scary feeling when climbing a simple flight of stairs only to reach the top and be completely out of breath. In America today this is the reality that many children face. Obesity has become an epidemic in America, it has many contributing factors, and affects learning abilities but there are preventive manners for it. Although little is being done about obesity, its negative effect on children is caused by multitude of factors. The rising numbers of obese children has reached an alarming rate. With many Americans, “…‘obesity’…carries the connotation of being extremely overweight. [But] health professionals define overweight as an excess amount of body weight that includes muscle, bone, fat and water; whereas obesity is specifically defined as an excess amount of body fat” (Andrews 1). More often than not, people tend to switch these definitions and have the false pretenses that being obese includes all your body weight and that being overweight is having too much body fat. Although there are many health threats in the world today, “…childhood obesity (is) one of the leading health threats in the United States” (2). Even the statistics show that obesity is becoming an epidemic. In fact, “[s]ince the 1970s, the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled for preschool children and adolescents and more than tripled for school-aged children” (1). The increasing rate of obese children should cause health officials to step in and do something about this epidemic. Through tests and observations, it has been found that obesity can be caused by other factors other than diet. Many scientists “…believe there are other causes for the obesity epidemic besides too many French fries…” (Belluz 1). Eating habits can contribute to obesity but they are not the only factor playing into the bigger picture. For instance, “[p]ollutants, like DDE, are believed to alter or block the activity of natural female and male sex hormones, causing fat to store more efficiently, and spurring the creation of fat cells where cartilage or bone would have been” (1). If the pollutants are altering body cells, certain parts of the body may not grow properly and more fat could produce where it does not belong. When these “…chemicals [are present] in the mom’s blood, such as DDE (a by-product of the now widely banned pesticide DDT, which lingers in the environment decades later, and is still found in small amounts in many foods such as meat, dairy, and fish)” can alter the development of the fetus and cause problems later in life (1). The children of mothers who had this chemical in their blood while pregnant are even more at risk for obesity without even having bad eating habits. Monitoring what food is consumed during pregnancy and throughout life will greatly help the chances of having body cells not be altered. Children's learning ability and overall health can be affected by them being overweight or obese. Some of the obese and overweight "...children are developing conditions and diseases that normally would be associated with adults, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, ...type 2 diabetes...occurrence of certain cancers, including colon cancer..." (Andrews 2). Along with these conditions and diseases many children are also faced with "...social discrimination" from their peers and the people around them (2). In schools "...overweight students showed 0.4 lower GPA and 11% lower national percentile reading scores... also [they] had significantly more detentions, poorer school attendance, more tardiness, and a lower participation rate on school athletic teams than their non-overweight peers" (7). This attitude of non-participation is most likely due to the fact of social discrimination from their peers and being picked on for their weight. Overweight children are taking a hard hit when it comes to health conditions, diseases and academic achievement. Among all the contributing factors, not having enough exercise can also contribute to being overweight or obese. For children today a "...lack of physical education; increased amounts of screen time (time in front of the television, computers, and video games); poor eating habits; fast food consumption; and lack of recess" are all things that often distract them (Andrews 2). Adolescents get addicted to candy, junk food, video games, television, etc. and lose interest in physical activity. In fact "...almost half of young people ages 12 to 21, and more than a third of high school students, do not participate in physical activity on a regular basis" (2). When it comes to physical activity, if it is not required to do most kids are not going to volunteer to participate. As a result, "[f]ewer than one in four American children gets 30 minutes or more of physical activity per day and more than three in four get no more than 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week" (2). More opportunities for physical activity should be offered for children so they have a chance to get more exercise. There are prevention methods for the obesity epidemic. Parents can start by looking for obesity at younger ages by "...the use of body mass index (BMI)..." so that it can be detected and hopefully reversed before it escalates (Skolnik 1). Everyone, especially children "...can start by getting 60 minutes of exercise a day" (Move 1). All that needs to be done is going out and playing or even going for walks, any way to be active. At schools and in our communities everyone should be "...learn[ing] about healthy eating and physical activities..." so that they are informed and can make their own decisions (1). That way more people will know the facts and be able to fix their situations. In fact, "[i]ndividuals, especially children who practice and pursue healthy lifestyle habits, including nutritional eating patterns and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming overweight and developing diseases known to be associated with obesity" (Andrews 2). By putting into practice what children learn through physical education they can better their life and become healthy. Furthermore, "...most scientists working on endocrine disruptors agree that staying away from chemicals, whenever possible... [and] opting for glass or stainless steel instead of plastic, avoiding scented and anti-bacterial products, seeking out cosmetic and body products with fewer ingredients and perhaps, eating organic foods..." (Belluz 2). Avoiding these chemicals can decrease our risk of taking in pollutants like DDE and less chance of cell alteration. Following these preventative methods and making lifestyle changes can help accomplish healthy living. Many benefits may be obtained through living a healthy lifestyle but reaching that point in life may be harder than expected. For instance "[o]ur society and the environment in which we live have changed in the past few decades in ways that make healthy choices..." harder to obtain and leaving "...many families liv[ing] in areas without affordable access to healthy foods and without safe places for children to be physically active" (Beebe 1). This often causes achieving a healthy lifestyle more difficult for people in poorer communities. Hence people should be "...support[ing] positive changes to provide healthy food in [our] school[s]...[and] talk[ing] directly to community leaders about the importance of dealing with childhood obesity" and help be advocates for the children (2). In doing this, it would give our children a better chance of eating healthier foods and more physical activity opportunities. If we can get over these hurdles we find that "[h]ealthy eating and exercise can make a difference for so many American children, not only for their physical health but their mental and emotional health, psychosocial health, educational attainment, and long-term quality of life as well" (DeSanti 2). As known by most people, a healthy kid is a happy kid. Additionally, "[p]hysical activity during the school day [has] helped reduce boredom and contributed to keeping children's attention focused" (Andrews 7). In particular, if a child's attention focused more, they will retain more information. Although it may be a long road to living a healthier life, it will well worth it once achieved. The solutions are there, we just need to incorporate them. For example, we could be "[i]ntegrating simple physical activities and games into the normal classroom routine [which] provides all children the opportunities to participate at a mid-to-moderate level of physical activity of relatively short duration..." (Andrews 3). By doing so, children will get more physical activity then they normally would during school. Subsequently teachers should "[e]ncourage students to spend less time in front of the television or computer, and...playing video games, and more time engaged in physical activities while at home or away from school" (3). More time being active and less video games, television, computers, etc. equals improved health and a more social life. Furthermore having "...minimum requirements for daily physical activity, and limiting television time and computer screen time..." at school and at home, will in turn give kids more time to be active and act like kids while they still are (DeSanti 2). In addition, if a child acts up "[d]on't withhold recess or physical education classes as a way to punish children" (Andrews 4). Taking away a child's recess will only make them rebel more or eventually they will stop caring about physical activity all together. A further example is to "...not use candy or other heavily sugared foods as rewards in the classroom...[and] limit the number of sweets at class parties or celebrations by providing fresh fruit as an alternative..." or other healthy snacks kids like to eat (4). Some examples of healthier snacks or rewards might include granola bars, Craisins, raisins, etc. These solutions and alternatives will help to encourage students to want to be physically active and eat healthier snack at parties and in the classroom. If schools or a community does not have the resources to increase physical activity, there are alternatives. In fact "...a grant program [is available]...which provides money to qualifying schools for the purchase of physical education curriculum and equipment" (Beebe 1). This gives schools the opportunity to have equipment for their kids to play with and play on, so they can get fit and educate their kids too. However if this option is not available "...school gyms, playing fields, etc., that would otherwise be closed after school hours [can be] made available to increase the number of safe places for families to be physically active" (2). More safe places for families to play could help encourage them to be more active together. By increasing the amount of safe havens for child and their families to play together, they will often grow closer and help each other in their walk to living healthier. While affecting a wide range of people but mostly children, obesity can be caused by a multitude of factors and has horrible health effects. The obesity epidemic in our world has many contributing factors; it is affecting learning abilities and attentiveness in the classroom but preventive methods are available. Children should be eating healthier foods whenever possible, finding more ways to access healthy foods, fight for better and more nutritious foods for our schools, teaching our children while also learning ourselves about living out a healthy lifestyle and incorporating physical activity in our daily life. By doing so, after climbing a simple flight of stairs, we will not be the ones that are out of breath when we reach the top.
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