Thursday, May 10, 2012

Childhood Obesity: The Blame Game

           A sweeping epidemic has crept upon the United States putting the future lives of millions of children at risk.  It is popular knowledge that obesity in adults is a serious problem in the United States and recently mainstream culture has responded with efforts to improve health nationally.  However, are people conscious of the reality that obesity has stricken even our youngest inhabitants and has reached pandemic proportions?  If not, the statistics might be shocking.  According to data rendered from the Center for Disease Control, “childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years.”  In the United States, obesity in children has been ranked the most critical problem facing our youth.  Year after year, American children are eating more unhealthy foods while living more sedentary lifestyles. The CDC also reports that, “The prevalence of children who are obese is now 19.6% and obese teens make up 18.1% of the population.”  This staggering fact reveals that 1 in 5 children, ages 6 to 19, is obese.  If that doesn’t constitute an extreme level of awareness and proactivity; then I cannot imagine what would.  To wane this plague and protect future American generations from health risks and constraints, we must nationally establish a renewed mentality of personal fitness and proper nutrition.  

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Medical professionals, children, adults, and even the obese collectively agree that this problem has reached a pandemic level.  Consequently the prevalent follow up question is “who is at fault?”  Many want to blame the easy accessibility children have to unhealthy foods at the school cafeteria, the home pantry, and the endless fast food options on the closest main street.  Or they blame the more sedentary lifestyles more and more children are adopting.  However, the concern exists in that simple question.  Although I am aware that in this situation pointing fingers is nearly useless, it is crucial that as a nation we understand the sources of the problem, so it can be effectively dismissed.  The problem stems from multiple sources.  Specifically, the misguided nutrition routines parents instill in their children.  Along with paternal misguidance, programs and help centers are essential to defeat this crisis.  Schools must take an active role in preventing the growth of child obesity by establishing more regimented fitness schedules.  Further, federal education legislature must reflect cognizance to the progress of physical fitness programs in schools.  As a nation, we need to prevent the obesity rate from continuing to sky-rocket by educating and advocating to the masses, especially our youth, on how to live proper, healthy lifestyles while crafting health-centered solutions and alternatives for modern day obesity concerns. 
There exists not solely one factor in creating obese children, but rather a handful of catalysts.   These dynamics can be attributed to children collectively not eating healthy enough foods, continually getting less and less physical activity, and parents that do not set examples orientated to self-fitness and apt nutrition for their children.  While the source of the issue dictates an ugly truth, the horror lies in the harmful consequences obesity dictates.  The health issues alone can be awfully harmful to a child’s developing body.  Obesity in children is extremely likely to persist into adulthood.   There's a 70-80 percent chance that an obese child will become an obese adult.  Long-term obesity can cause tribulations such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are common risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  Further, it increases the child’s risk to become diabetic, create lifelong breathing problems, harm joints and muscles, and develop fat-related diseases.  Just as significant, obesity drives children to have excessive social and psychological problems that can lead to poor self-esteem and even self-harm. These side effects should not be taken with a lack of alarm and immediate actions should be adopted to avoid future health repercussions.

            The prevention of child obesity must first initiate in the household.  It must be a family affair.  Children cannot control if they become obese or not.  They are helpless in the battle against gaining weight, unless parents create a nutritional and physically healthy environment for their kids to flourish.  Simple and effective concepts are available for conscious parents seeking a healthier lifestyle for their family.  The Mayo Clinic outlines methods to promote healthy habits and behaviors in the household.  These effective methods involve a gradual implementation of goals and guidelines to offer healthy routines and options.  The Clinic recommends parents to “celebrate success” by awarding children when they reflect healthy choices, “[remain] positive” by being patient with the family’s progression to a healthy lifestyle, and to “be flexible” by adjusting the goals to accommodate the fleeting needs of the children.  The parent’s role doesn’t culminate in encouraging their kids to maintain a balanced diet and exercise; but rather, they must be an active role model by committing to the identical, if not heightened, nutritional expectations they have for their children.  Parents have a grocery list of expectations to raise young people in a house that caters to fitness and wellbeing.

"...there is ample amount of records defining
 fast food as nutritionally criminal" 

            Vital to the children’s wellbeing is their daily diet.  Contemporary children become more and more susceptible to weight gain as fast food and unhealthy nutrition overload their diets.  Once again, the paternal unit takes a dynamic level of participation in providing a balanced and nourishing diet for their children.  In contemporary America, fast food restaurants dominate the local food scene.  For all families, but especially those of low income, fast food is an excessively common outlet.  According to Catherine Adams, Vice President of McDonald’s Corporation, fifty million customers are served at McDonald’s every day (Adams).  Fast food is undoubtedly a source for children to indulge in fatty and sugary foods; however, should fast food corporations bear all the blame?  In Reframing the Obesity Debate: McDonald’s Role May Surprise You, Catherine Adams portrays otherwise.  Although Adams admits that, “Sure, McDonald’s sells lots of chicken, hamburgers, french fries, egg McMuffins, drinks, and desserts”, she retorts that, “customers tell us that they want choice and variety, and we have responded by adding more choice and variety to our menu more than ever before” (Adams 154).  Many wouldn’t believe that “McDonald’s [serves] more salads than anyone else in the world” or that “McDonald’s would serve more than 3.7 billion servings of fruit and vegetables in just one year” (Adams 154).  Even though there is ample amount of records defining fast food as nutritionally criminal, according to these stats, McDonald’s is making a decent effort to provide healthier options.  Staying mindful of these corporate statistics, it is apparent that fast food establishments offer numerous unhealthy options.  Therefore, it remains the parents’ responsibility to condone the healthier food choices.  Keeping in mind, families have difficulties endorsing healthy eating; plenty of resources are available for parents to find nutritional and economic food options outside the realm of fast food. 

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Numerous blogs across the internet mold themselves specifically to endorse positive eating habits.  For instance, My Overweight Child is a collaborated blog of up to date research, articles, and resources pertaining to the prevention of childhood obesity.  The site has an abundance of tips and methods to help parents help their overweight child.  This blog and many others encourage parents to prepare nutritional meals and eat them together as family.  This approach embodies good family morals while giving children hearty, nutritional food.  Recommendations are also made by blogs like Childhood Obesity at to teach parents how to eliminate junky snack food and to keep healthy food stocked in the pantry and refrigerator.  The struggle to achieve a healthy lifestyle is multidimensional and requires attention in other health areas, such as physical fitness.

            A tremendous factor in the prevention of child weight gain is the application of physical activity in the daily schedule.  Parents must be active role models for exercise by personally seeking active livelihoods, while consequently sowing the ground for their children to grow and create their own fruitful fitness habits.  The goal in the prevention of obese adults is to develop healthily conscious young adults with active lifestyles.  Today, television, video games, and computers largely dictate the day to day activities of young people.  These technologies have forced our youth to adopt more inactive lifestyles, which have significantly contributed to the obesity crisis sweeping the nation.  Our young citizens must be taught to balance their daily activities with physical fitness and limit television and computer time down to a couple hours a day.  Along with in the home, this lifestyle must be administered in the one place children are required by law to attend 9 months out of the year: school.

Pete Ellis conducting P.E. class at Easterling Primary.
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           Cities, towns, and communities across the country alike are dealing with the identical epidemic of kids exponentially gaining weight year after year.  ESPN, the world leader in sports which defines itself by physical fitness, seized the opportunity to nationally televise this common crisis of widespread child obesity.  During the segment, Dr. Toni Yancey, a professor in the Department of Health Services, UCLA School of Public Health and expert in adolescent health studies was interviewed regarding the national cutbacks in physical education programs.  She confidently stated, "Cutbacks in P.E. and increasingly sedentary lifestyles of today's kids have been a key factor in child health issues".  The report highlighted Marion, South Carolina, a small, poverty-stricken town, fighting the same economic and obesity crisis as the rest of the country.  As every school in every district and state in this country is being forced to pinch pennies and cut funding, physical education is taking serious blows.  Easterling Primary in Marion, a school of 800 kindergarteners, first and second-graders, is facing the same uphill battle as the rest of elementary schools across the country.  Low income school suffer because they cannot provide adequate fitness programs for their students and the health penalties among their students are evident.  Pete Ellis, who has been a P.E. teacher at Easterling for 9 years, says  
"The thing I notice is that the amount of time kids can sustain a moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is just monumentally lower.  Something as simple as running two laps around the track--that can be brutal for kids.  These younger kids, they do some running, some skipping, some galloping; and after a minute and a half, they're ready to pass out."

The truth is foul and can be echoed in the lack of physical activity endorsed by the people that run public education.  According to a CDC survey, "Only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools and 2.1 percent of high schools provide daily P.E.; while, "22 percent of schools don't require kids to take any P.E.".  The facts are appalling; and therefore, force us to once again ask the same question: who is to blame?  

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In recent history, federal legislature has fallen under scrutiny for the lack of attention and funding directed to physical education programs across the United States.  In 2002, President George W. Bush implemented a controversial program, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  The NCLB contributed major focus and funding towards the core subjects, math, reading and science, with emphasis on standardized testing.  Consequently, P.E. programs across the country experienced drastic cutbacks, while the other subjects became fat with tax dollars.  On the other hand, many organizations with goals to end childhood obesity are combating this imbalance.  The Alliance, a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, assists schools to create better exercise schedules and all around healthier environments for their students.  Currently, there are harsh consequences for schools that do not meet acceptable collection reading and math scores, while no consequences exist for lack of P.E. time.  In due course, that could be changed.  The Alliance heavily supports the FIT Kids Act, an attempt to nationally add physical education to the core classes and potentially increase exercise time for every American child.  If successful, this Act could conceivably alter the course of our nation's bout with child obesity forever.
An end to this detriment is undoubtedly attainable.  The key to sending childhood obesity to its demise is the acceptance of responsibility.  Parents must take a front running stance to instill healthful and appropriate eating and exercise habits for their children.  This means parents must set the example by doing, and therefore maintaining suitable, healthy and active lifestyles for themselves.  Further, mothers and fathers must severely advocate good eating habits as fast food continues to corrupt adolescent diets.  Parents must become experts in childhood nutrition by preparing healthy meals, eliminating daily snacks with high levels of fat and sugar, teach portion control, accommodate good eating habits, and encourage their children to increase their level of physical activity. Additionally, the United States government must implore legislature for schools that generates funding to establish a legitimate balance between core academic and healthy values through physical and nutritional education.  As the solution to eliminate childhood obesity continues to unveil itself and improve, the entire American population must take responsibility and commit to the betterment of our future generations.