Modern nurses encounter many difficulties while fulfilling their role as a patient advocate, educator, and partner. One major task nurses are confronted with is the growing epidemic of childhood obesity as younger patients are being treated for serious conditions usually associated with adult patients. According to the American Nurses Association article, Fighting Childhood Obesity, “approximately 13 million obese children in the United States, and the rate of childhood obesity has [increased] from 14.8% in 2003 to 16.4% in 2007” (Jones, 2010, p.1). These numbers are alarming to healthcare providers such as nurses as this issue has grown from a common disease to an epidemic. Childhood obesity is a challenge for nurses due to cultural, socio-economical, and physiological barriers; however, overcoming these matters will take expert initiative from nurses as they educate parents and children of the importance of healthy living.
When breaking down the barriers of childhood obesity, one significant factor is culture. Many cultures have different views on the determining factors of obesity. Penn and Kerr (2014) explain, “… [childhood] obesity is a consequence of dietary neglect, with parental choices causing detriment to a child’s health and well-being” (p.20). Parents have a major impact on their child’s daily activities and overall routines thru unhealthy customs such as poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles. As a result, these practices are superimposed on the child observing these type of behaviors. Many parents instigate behavioral factors in obese children by making their children eat everything on their plate. Children grow up with this learned behavior of eating unhealthy meal proportions, and it trends continuously through generations. Likewise, children who do not see their parents actively engaged in physical activity tend to develop the same fitness practice. As parents acknowledge the risk factors for childhood obesity and become better role models, childhood obesity will become obsolete.
Economic deprivation may pose significant problems on many different levels in a society where many families are living from one pay check to the next. The cost of healthy food is considerably higher than the cost of fast food, convenient meals, and school lunch. Fast food chains often offer dollar menus with foods that are high in fats, sodium, and MSGs. Grocery stores in low income areas have a poor selection of fresh produce and organic food, yet the same grocery stores are abundantly stocked with boxed and frozen meals full of preservatives. Federally funded school lunch programs are not sufficiently financed to provide a nutritional variety to children. Berkowitz and Borchard (2009) state, “…foods which children are routinely exposed shape preferences and consumption” (p. 3). This suggests that children will eat the foods that are available to them. Eating fruits and vegetables is a solution in decreasing caloric intake of fatty food thereby reducing obesity related issues.
Physiological barriers associated with childhood obesity encompass aspects that inhibit a child’s bodily function and psychosocial wellbeing. Today many children prefer to participate in “…sedentary activities such as watching television/playing video games…” instead of going outside to play on the playground (Rabbitt and Coyne, 1995, p.731). Inactivity leads to weight gain and decreased vitality by slowing down the child’s metabolism. Weight gain reflects a child’s physical appearance, which is an element that influences a child’s self-concept. The way a person view themselves and how others view them are established throughout adulthood. A sedentary lifestyle as a child affects relationships with peers by causing bullying, social isolation, and low self-esteem. It is also a precursor to other illnesses that may last throughout life. Increased physical activity aids in overcoming the obstacles related to childhood obesity.
Effects on Nursing and Nursing Interventions
Childhood obesity has an effect on nursing by the increased number of medically treated children with serious conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and asthma thus creating a vast spectrum of challenges related to this epidemic. Nurses may enlighten parents in a non threatening way by identifying defining characteristics of childhood obesity. Information can be provided to bring awareness through sharing comprehensible literature and clear health related statistics. School nurses can actively advocate for healthier lunch options to be made available in schools and help children and parents understand healthy proportions by putting together nutritious selections. Nurses may promote exercise routines that children and their family can actively participate in by implementing strategies that are cohesive to the interests of the children. These interventions will reverse childhood obesity by incorporating a collaborative effort among nurses, parents, and children.
The rising epidemic of childhood obesity is an area of concern in American healthcare. Nurses experience direct effects of childhood obesity as children are being treated in school clinics, primary care offices, emergency rooms, and other healthcare facilities. Nurses face many challenges while educating patients on the importance of lifestyle changes that influence a healthier way of life. Cultural, socio-economical, and physiological barriers are challenges that must be considered in the process to overcome childhood obesity. The nursing role transitions from an educator to a patient advocate and finally a partner along with other stake holders such as parents, schools, communities, food and beverage companies, as well as government officials in the initiative to create an equal opportunity for all children to live a healthy life. This opportunity may be created through educating the public on the factors of obesity, maintaining access to affordable healthy foods, encouraging healthier eating habits at home and school, and developing a child friendly exercise regimen. Since the fight against childhood obesity is a great concern, more work must be done in the effort to resolve this issue.
Berkowitz, B., Borchard, M. (2009). Advocating for the prevention of childhood obesity: A call to action for nursing. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 14(1), 1-9. Jones, Trinna. (2010). Fighting childhood obesity: Taking a stand to control an epidemic one child at a time. ANA Issue Brief, 42(4), 1-3. Penn, S., & Kerr, J. (2014). Childhood obesity: the challenges for nurses. Nursing Children & Young People, 26(2), 16-21. doi:10.7748/ncyp2014.03.26.2.16.e398 Rabbitt, A., & Coyne, I. (2012). Childhood obesity: nurses’ role in addressing the epidemic. British Journal of Nursing, 21(12), 731-735.