The ever-increasing prevalence of childhood obesity has become a public health dilemma. The number of overweight and obese children and adolescents has exceedingly doubled from 1980. Childhood obesity is an unhealthy condition that affects children and teenagers typified by excess body fats. It has negative effects on both children’s health and well-being. The diagnosis of the obesity poses a noteworthy challenge since it is frequently determined by Body Mass Index. Under this method, an obese child is considered to be weighing above the average with regard to height and age. Body Mass Index approach has been incorporated for assessing the condition for children inclusive of two years and above. The BMI is not constant but changes depending on children’s age and sex. According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity is a BMI equal or greater than 95th percentile. According to Bagchi (2010), the prevalence of the condition has been identified to affect specific minority population such as the African American and Mexican American teenagers of 12-19 years, 21%, and 23% respectively than non-Hispanic white teenagers, 14%. Knowledge of causes of childhood obesity offers a prospect to concentrate resources, prevention and stimulates research towards its eradication. This paper offers an overview of the childhood obesity.
Prevalence of Childhood Obesity
There has been a remarkable increase in obesity growth levels with no state registering less than 20% growth and 36 states having more than 25%. Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, and New Jersey are some of the states experiencing high growth of obesity. Approximately one-third of United States adults are facing this health hazard, which are mainly due to propagation from childhood obesity. These rates have shown some capability of staying high if not addressed immediately. The present prevalence rates in the United States are shown in the table below (Poskitt & Edmunds, 2008).
Causes of Childhood Obesity
Nutrition and eating habits the primary causes of childhood obesity. However, this causality poses a challenge because it is difficult to associate nutritional preferences and childhood obesity. Present observations reveal that changes in consumption and eating pattern have a connection to escalating pervasiveness of childhood obesity. Children’s eating habit entails a variety of foods such as sugar-sweetened drinks and snacks in tremendous quantities. Convenience and low prices forces people to purchase ready-to-eat, quick service or restaurant meals than to cook at home. However, these foods have questionable nutrition contents, which raise concern. Parents purchasing such foods make children vulnerable to obesity. Other dietary habits include reduced breakfast consumption especially for working mothers. Studies have affirmed that children feed on food not prepared at home increasing their energy from 20% to 32%. The picture below shows how consumption of soft drinks fast foods leads to childhood obesity (Paxon, 2006).
The second cause is physical inactivity and sedentary life. Children who engage in physical activity have fewer risks of obesity than those who engage in physical activity. The motivating factor is the reduction in energy usage with no affiliated reduction in total energy consumption. This implies that less energy is used with regard to high-energy intake. Three-week study on childhood obesity employing accelerometer to assess every child’s extent of physical activity showed that 35% of children are obese due to inactivity during school days and 65% inactive during weekends compared to non-obese children. Inactivity during childhood has been observed to be inherent in some adults as revealed by a study on 6000 adults. According to a survey by Bagchi (2010), 25% of active teenagers between 14 and 19 were active adults alongside 2% of inactive teenagers within the same age range who transformed to active adults. Physical inactivity tends to increase unused energy in the body, which is stored as fats and carbohydrates. Overfeeding on carbohydrate is likely to generate 75% to 80% unused energy, which is converted to fats (Poskitt & Edmunds, 2008). On the other hand, excessive feeding on fats produces 90% to 95% excess energy (Boyle & Long, 2008). Much of inactivity is allied to a child’s stationary activities such as playing computer games or watching television. Television and other technology are the comprehensive causalities of inactivity. Another factor associated to children’s inactivity is the reduction in duration of physical activity at school. Average children benefit from physical education and extracurricular activities reducing the risk of obesity. The excess energy is converted to fats and carbohydrates hence increasing body weight.
The physical environments, such as urban and suburban, have an implicit effect on children’s state of obesity. Urban areas are viewed as less spacious hence cannot facilitate outdoor activities, which hinder physical activities. Other urban-linked issues like neighborhood crimes, busy traffic, and unattended dogs provide insecure environment for daily exercises inhibiting physical activity. On the other hand, suburban’s sprawl inhibits children from walking or cycling contributing to reliance on increasing levels of vehicle usage. Additionally, these areas are typified by less recreational facilities and sidewalks studies have affirmed that the evolution of sprawl has an impact on BMI and obesity (Paxon, 2006). Residents of high sprawl areas are likely to have obesity, walking less and high prevalence for hypertension.
Genetics and medical illnesses have also been an avenue for the increasing pervasiveness of childhood obesity. It involves the relationship between various genetic environmental factors such as gene polymorphism. Desire for food is an inheritable trait and inclines children to obesity when food diet has adequate calories. Obesity is regarded as distinct and health condition, rarely facilitated by genetics. Ultra amounts of cortisol in the body, a condition referred to as Cushing’s syndrome; affect the degree of occurrence of obesity among children (Bagchi, 2010). Another genetically and medical influence on obesity are the isoforms, which is same-purposed proteins but variedly programmed by genes. Studies on isoforms on adults undertaking abdominal surgery revealed that isoform generated oxo-reductase activity, which activates cortisone to cortisol. The generated cortisol is responsible for subjecting children to obesity.
Food advertising and marketing have a reasonable influence on incidences of obesity, though the issue is debatable. A child watching television averagely views an estimation of more than 40000 food commercial adverts each year. In addition, this food adverts such as beverages, candy, snack foods and other convenience foods majorly target children. Some cereals have high calorie and fat content, which are driving factors of obesity. Advertising influences dietary habits and food preferences in children, which vitally affects energy imbalance and weight gain. The adverse effects of advertising such enticing children and purchasing preferences among parents are fundamental contributors of childhood obesity (Boyle & Long, 2008).
Effects of Childhood Obesity
Obesity has been among the forefront contributors of hypertension. Research has proved that approximately two-thirds of obese people are at greater risk of hypertension. The neuroendocrine mechanism and adipose tissue are regarded as causes of hypertension. Obesity has negative influences on body’s hormonal level, which regulates blood volume and amounts of sodium and water preservation in the body. This system is accountable for good regulation of blood pressure. As a result, the interference of obesity with the system increases the prevalence of hypertension among obese children (Bagchi, 2010).
Obese children face social discrimination and low self-esteem. Obese children are at risk of largely lower self-worth alongside average children. The degrading of oneself has various ways of ruining the attitude and behavior of a child. This may cause an obese child to resort to engage in drug abuse and other risky behavior. In addition to, low self-fulfillment might affect education and future career expectations alongside increasing the likelihood of being abused physically and emotionally (Poskitt & Edmunds, 2008).
Other effects of childhood obesity include nervousness, perception of poor body image and depression. Obese children are vulnerable to nervousness due to their subjection to mocking hence fear participating in physical activities. Anxiety is also caused by social stigmatization at school, which has the probability of affecting performance negatively. Severe levels of stigmatization might lead to dropping out of school (Boyle & Long, 2008). Victim children of obesity suffer from poor body image, which also hinders their participation in healthy physical activities. Notably, poor body image can result to impulsive eating health problem named bulimia. With regard to depression, obese children might try to react to the increasing body size and weight. Unsuccessful attempts lead to hopelessness and depression. Keller (2008) points out that, relentless bully also contributes to depression and can even result to suicide.
Prevention of Childhood Obesity
Obesity is similar to global warming; a looming crisis that demands preventive measures prior to reinforcement by scientific evidence. These measures can be primary prevention that aims at reducing obesity itself, and secondary prevention that targets averting of weight regain. The first prevention is to increase the level of physical activity through curriculum-based approach among obese children. This intervention influences eating patterns, cuts down time spent in sedentary activities such playing computer games, and increases activity levels among obese children at school. However, this intervention would demand educational institutions to implement policies that conform to aims of reducing obesity among children and teenagers. Moreover, walking and biking to school rather than using the inactive forms of transport reduces the alarming rate of obesity.
Increasing the price of high volume foods with low nutritional benefit through taxation is an intervention aiming at influencing purchasing habits. A relatively small amount of tax on foods such as soft drinks and snack foods might reduce the threatening levels of overweight among children. Increased prices lower their demand and discourage their usage. Some parts of United States have already implemented the policy. With regard to the food sector, food should be labeled and provide an assurance of meeting nutrition standards because this helps consumers to make a wise decision concerning their health.
Reduction in food commercial adverts is another important policy. Fast foods or ready-to-eat foods are the most televised adverts targeting children (Boyle & Long, 2008). This policy aims at trimming down the promotion of high energy content foods and drinks to the easily enticed children. This strategy has been highly advocated particularly in Sweden. Other countries such as Norway, Austria, Ireland, and Greece have some legislation on television food and drinks promotion addressing childhood obesity.
Childhood obesity is an increasing at an alarming rate. Body Mass Index approach is used to determine obesity. Alabama, Arkansas, and New Mexico are some of the states registering high obesity rates. An approximation of 35% of childhood obesity is caused by physical inactivity. Food advertising increases the prevalence by enticing children, their target market. Genetically, obesity is an inheritable characteristic from parents. The effects of obesity are categorized as psychological and health effects. Psychological affects the mental well-being of children whereas health impacts affect the physical condition of the body. Some of psychological effects include depression, social discriminations, anxiety, law self-esteem, and perception of poor body image. Health impacts associated to childhood obesity is the hypertension due to cholesterol. Measures such as increasing physical activity, reduction of food commercial adverts and increasing taxation on foods that cause obesity have been put in place to reduce these effects. In conclusion, many resources should be focused on finding solution this health problem before it becomes a major global pandemic.