Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a medical condition that affects children. “It is characterized by a weight well above the mean for their height and age and a body mass index well above the norm. Childhood obesity is considered by many to be an “epidemic” in Western countries, in particular, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Over 15% of American

children are currently considered obese, and the number is growing.”1 The Diet of School-Aged Children by Kweethai Neill explains what happens when we as adults neglect to properly take care of ourselves, and how in the end, it affects how we take care of our children as well. I believe that as adults we need to begin to understand how important it is to eat healthy and exercise. We must instill those values in our children before they fall victim to becoming overweight and unhealthy.

A distinguishing feature of a child that is obese is an above average weight in comparison to their height. Some of the factors contributing to childhood obesity include; junk food in schools, excessive snacking, poor dietary patterns and lack of physical exercise. The dietary patterns of children today have changed compared to what they were 30 years ago. More and more families are headed by a single parent or two-parent families with both parents that work. This trend is forcing schools and daycares to feed our children. The readily available junk food in vending machines, that are being put in our schools, makes it very easy for children to snack through out they day on high calorie non-nutritious foods. Many schools have signed contracts with fast food and beverage companies to provide products to students. In return a portion of the revenue goes to the school.

Therefore many schools are serving pizza, burgers, chips, soda, candy and ice cream. More than 1/3rd of a child’s daily food intake comes from eating snacks between meals. Some states are beginning to ban junk food from their schools. Snacking has become the main eating style among children today. Eating high fat foods and decreasing exercise has helped in increasing the obesity problem. Children now days have fallen into an inactive lifestyle that includes watching television, playing video games, and taking a bus or car every where they need to go, even if it’s only a couple blocks. The consequences of childhood obesity include the risk for hyperlipidemia, “the presence of raised or abnormal levels of lipids and/or lipoproteins in the blood,”3 cardiovascular problems and diabetes. The trend of childhood obesity has also manifested to other countries including Brazil, Chili, Britain, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, China (the higher-income families), Taiwan, Thailand, and Australia. With the low cost of vegetable oils and fats, westernization is falling ill to low income persons in developing countries as well. The facts are, between 1980 and 1994; the percentage of children that are overweight has increased from 11 percent to 24 percent. Overweight children are 61% more likely to be at risk for cardiovascular disease, and an increasing amount of children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In addition, overweight children have a 70% chance of being overweight when they reach adulthood.

According to Neill, “Many school districts have negotiated exclusive contracts with fast food and beverage companies to provide their products to students, with a portion of the revenues going to the schools. As a result, cafeteria and vending machine lunches commonly include pizza, burgers, chips, soda, candy, and ice cream.” Knowing that childhood obesity is on the rise is important because it should make us aware of how we as a society need to start changing our eating habits at home and at school before it’s too late. With the rise of health care costs we all need to be doing our part to keep ourselves and our children healthy. We are what we eat.

According to Neill, children that are found to be obese are children that have not adapted healthy eating habits or a physically active lifestyle. This is seen when Neill writes, “High fats and more calories, combined with a decrease in physical activity, have created an obesity problem among adolescents around the world. The increase in popularity of television viewing and video games, better public and private transportation, and the urbanization of cities account for adolescents adopting more sedentary lifestyles.” It’s understood that parents need to work to survive, but, is putting their selves and their family’s health at risk worth all the extra overtime? Even with our busy lives we need to step back and take a look at how we are hurting ourselves. If we don’t, the extra money that we make now will end up going towards medical bills later to fix what we have done to ourselves trying to earn that extra buck.

According to Neill the obesity rate has more than doubled in the last 14 years. As she states,” Between 1980 and 1994, the percentage of children who are overweight increased from 11 percent to 24 percent.” If the obesity rate increased from 11 percent to 24 percent between 1980 and 1994, and it continues at the same pace, the obesity rate will be at 36 percent in 2008, and at 48 percent by 2020. The numbers are clear; we need to start eating healthier now and taking care of our children before the doctors have to.

We as adults need to start taking control over our eating habits, in doing so we will begin instilling these values in our children. People need to begin putting their health and their families first before it’s too late. I believe that the number one factor for children being over weight can account for parents not having or taking the time to make home cooked nutritional meals for their children anymore. Fast food dinners have become the normal family meal. In my opinion, the second leading factor would go to the introduction of junk food in our public schools. Making junk food readily available to children tells them it’s ok to indulge. As I said, we need to start taking care of our health and the health of our children before we can’t anymore.

1. Neill, Kweethai C. (2007). Diet of School-Aged Children. Nutrition and Well-Being A to Z, pp. 13-16
2. “Childhood Obesity.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
3. “Hyperlipidemia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.