Over the years, the society has experienced a lot of changes as far as the livelihood and habits of its constituents are concerned. Mainly, issues that affect social health in relation to the mental, psychological, economical, intellectual as well as the physical health of the society have been compromised. One such area that has faced a lot of negative changes has been in the eating habits of most of the people. These issues have resulted to development of many complications in the society especially due to development of diseases and conditions such as cancer, Hepatitis, Asthma, obesity, TB, HIV/AIDS, Flu and many other diseases that have been associated to the modern way of life.
This study seeks to understand the effects of development of obesity among children especially in their psychological aspects. It further seeks to understand the different attitudes that a child with obesity may develop as well as the place of such a child in the family and in the society (Smith, 1999).
Obesity as a Health Condition
Childhood obesity has been defined as a condition in which excess body fats have a negative effect on the medical health of the victim. It usually affects the body shape, size and mass and may result to low self esteem, poor social interaction characteristics, low self image as well as other mental and physical problems that may interfere with the general growth and development of a child (Berg, 2003).
Recent studies have found out that about a third of children in the USA suffer from childhood obesity due to bad eating habits, a factor that adversely increases the risk of developing other diseases and complications for the victim. Obesity is a condition that develops due to bad eating habits, especially due to over-eating of ‘junk’ food as well as food with large amounts of sugars and carbohydrates. Intake of such foods causes the body to have an excess of the fats, carbohydrates and sugars which usually get converted into fats and are stored under the skin and in other places within the body, causing an increase in weight and body mass. Development of obesity is a very dangerous condition since it is a loophole for development of other conditions and diseases such as hepatitis, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular arrest, hypertension and many other related conditions (Butte, 2001).
There are different factors that contribute to development of childhood obesity. Some of these factors include family history resulting to inheritance, socio-cultural, environmental and behavioral factors as well as due to energy imbalance resulting to low physical activities, imbalanced and excessive intake of foods with high concentrations of energy and fats as well as lack of engaging in mind-utilizing activities.
Obesity has been found to be more prevalent among the younger children at their early ages, especially due to either inheritance or the bad eating habits. This is usually because at the early stages of growth, the body undergoes very rapid growth and development and is easily influenced by the food that the child takes. This means that the eating habits at this stage are very important and influence the physical and mental growth of a child and future development of a person (Dietz, 1994; Troiano, 1995).
In the society, self image is a very important aspect of an individual and is determined by different factors. One such factor that determines the self image of a person and consequently that person’s placement within the society is the physical appearance and the way one presents himself/herself within the society and especially among his/her peers. Peers usually have an effect on the way in which one view himself and are placed within the society. Whenever there is a problem with the physical appearance of a person, there usually arises a problem with the psychological perspective of that person usually resulting to loss of self confidence, lo self esteem as well as one looking down upon himself/herself. This is usually one of the main complications of obesity.
Since childhood obesity has an effect on the physical appearance of a person and causes one to have a larger body and weight compared to peers, this may be a source of ridicule from peers and may also result to a child with the condition feeling misplaced among his peers. This may also lead to development of different attitudes for the victim hence affecting other issues of life at the present or in the future.
Childhood Obesity and related Attitudes
There are different attitudes related to childhood obesity and which develop mainly due to the interference with the normal growth of a child, the mental growth as well as the general interaction and placement of a child within the society. Some of the main determinant of the attitudes that a child with obesity develops right from an early age is the perceptions and attitudes of the parents of that child, the cultural beliefs and habits of the society in which the child grows up as well as the kind of peers that the child interacts with.
From past research, it has been found that children with parents who have a negative attitude towards their overweight or obese children usually develop a negative attitude towards themselves and eventually develop low self image and esteem. Also, though it is prevalent to find children who are obese having a lower self esteem than those who have a normal weight, usually the children who develop the lowest self esteem have parents with a negative attitude towards them (Troiano & Flegal, 1998).
On the other side, it is evident that those children who have a bad perception of themselves and who view themselves may actually have a negative self esteem at a higher extent than is actually determined by their level of being overweight or obese. Hence, negative attitude is not directly proportional to the extent of obesity but is rather more proportionally related to the negative perception of the child. Hence, a child who has a positive attitude, especially due to the confidence demonstrated towards him/her by parents or peers, may have a relatively higher self esteem towards himself/herself irrespective of the fat that they are relatively overweight compared to their peers.
Peer pressure is another factor that affects attitudes. The attitude the child gets from the peers may affect the child negatively, especially if the rest of the peers have a normal weight or have a large weight difference compared to the child. This may cause the child t develop low esteem and also not to be able to interact efficiently with the rest of the peers.
Other factors that may affect the development of attitudes due to childhood obesity include age and gender. Children are usually more sensitive to their weight and appearance at teenage rather than at an earlier age. Also, girls are usually more sensitive to their weight than boys and so girls who have a similar level of obesity with boys may demonstrate more negative attitudes towards themselves than the boys (Berg, 2003).
Poor eating habits are other attitudes that may develop as a result of obesity and vice versa. Children who are exposed to poor eating habits at an early age tend to intake a lot of ‘junk’ food, foods with high concentrations of energy and fats as well as foods with a lot of sugars. These poor eating habits may result to excess fats that get stored as body fats and which causes an increase in weight, a change in the body shape and an increase in body mass. On the other side, children who suffer from obesity may develop low self esteem and hence may not be able to interact freely with their peers. This may lead to the child secluding himself/herself and staying alone or with other children with the same condition. Other children may become depressed, a factor that may worsen their eating habits and make them poorer since they may turn to over-eating, eating of ‘junk’ food and low physical activity which may further worsen their condition by increasing their weight and consequently their level of obesity rises.
There are a lot of issues that arise in addressing the issues of child obesity, most of them arising from parents. In most cases, parents of obese children do not believe that their children are obese and hence do not see the need for addressing the issue. In such a case, parents will keep encouraging their children to keep up with harmful eating habits irrespective of their health implications. In other cases, parents may not be aware of the health implications of childhood obesity and poor eating habits and may actually think that such children will change as they grow up. The fact is that in most cases, such poor eating habits prevail into adulthood and also obesity is a long-term condition that is not easy overcome and which needs a lot of commitment from parents, physicians as well as the victim (Serdula, 1993).
Another challenge that arises in addressing the problem and which also relates to parents is that most parents are unable to devise a method to control the quantity of food intake for their children. In such a case, the child will over-eat or intake unbalanced diets without the intervention or concern of the parents. In addition, some parents may think that increase in body mass is a sign of healthy growth in children only for them to realize that their children are overweight when it is too late. Finally, parents may lack enough time and motivation to deal with the behavior changes demonstrated in their children. This means that, even if the parents may realize the harmful eating habits in their children, they may not put in a lot of effort to try and rectify such behaviors. In adverse cases especially where obesity is hereditary, parents may also be struggling with their own poor eating habits and this may make them not see the need to deal with their children’s habits while they have not dealt with their own issues.
There are different ways that have been found to be effective in dealing with childhood obesity. First of all, as in many other medical conditions, this condition would be easier to control rather than to treat. Since it is usually correlated to poor eating habits as well as bad perceptions, it would be necessary to first address the psychological aspects of the condition. Parents should always be encouraged to ensure that they breastfeed their children adequately instead of applying modern methods of feeding young children especially due to their absence at home as they are out for work. This may ensure that the child does not take in a lot of processed food that may contribute to their development of childhood obesity.
The issue of family history may also be resolved immediately at birth through medication and ensuring that the child is properly fed so as to avoid obesity. In addition, encouraging involvement in physical activities especially at an early age through ensuring that the child undertakes outdoor games with other children instead of playing indoors especially with technological gadgets such as the computer, video games and watching of TV may help reduce the risk of developing childhood obesity (Giammattei, Blix, Marshak, Wolitzzer, Pettitt, 2003; British United Provident Association, 2004).
Finally, ensuring that a child only takes balanced diets and that they do not intake foods with a lot of fats, sugars and energy contents at an early age may be helpful in overcoming the challenge of childhood obesity (Troiano, Briefel, Carroll, Bialostosky, 2000).
In the cases where the child has already developed childhood obesity, parents, teachers and other involved parties should aim at encouraging such a child to get involved in activities that help reduce their weight and help reduce the levels of obesity. Further, such children should be accepted into the society, family and into the groups of their peers so as to ensure they develop a high self esteem and self image. This would consequently help them overcome mental complications related to childhood obesity hence enabling them to eventually overcome their condition (British United Provident Association, 2004).
There is a lot of literature that exists on the topic of childhood obesity. A lot of these materials have addressed the causes of the condition, its effects as well as the ways in which the condition may be overcome (Klesges, Eck, Hanson, haddock, Klesges, 1990).
In particular, these materials have shown results from different researches showing the extent of childhood obesity in the society. Further, they have provided all the information on the main causes of the condition including inheritance due to family history, poor eating habits as well as psychological perspectives associated to the condition. In addition, the materials have provided information on the most effective ways of overcoming the condition including addressing parents’ perceptions, modification of eating habits, engaging in physical activities and exercises as well as seeking for advice from physicians.
However, there are a few issues that have not been adequately discussed in the materials. Most of the materials have not properly addressed the psychological perspective of the condition, especially the issues pertaining to development of attitudes towards issues that result to the condition, the perceptions of the condition and also the way those with the condition are viewed within the society.
It is clear that apart from the health risks associated to the condition, there are a lot of mental conditions that may arise from the condition and which may have a negative effect on the general growth and development of the victim, especially in social aspects. Hence, such factors are of concern in the psychological discipline. This is mainly so because, apart from the physical health of a person, psychologists believe that wholesome healthy development of a person is not just about physical health but also about other facets in life such as the social, economic and mental development of a person. This hence means that since childhood obesity affects the mental development of a child as well as the social interruption of the child with the rest of his/her peers, then the condition is of great concern in matters of psychological aspects.
More research should hence be dedicated to seeking an understanding into the development of different attitudes due to childhood obesity as well as seeking for ways of addressing such attitudes. Such a research will be able to help understand the contribution of attitudes by different groups and their effects on the victim of obesity. Such groups may include the parents, peers and the society which are the main groups in whose interaction a child grows up and develops. In addition, such research may help recommend different ways of increasing self esteem and self image for victims of childhood obesity and in helping them gradually lose weight and become more healthy.