More and more American children are becoming overweight or obese. Years ago an elementary classroom may have one kid who was overweight but today that has drastically changed. We have a whole new generation of kids who are consuming much more “junk food” and eating fast food 3 or 4 nights a week and they are not as active as kids used to be.
These kids are consuming things like Monster energy drinks, Starbucks coffee, Mountain Dew, chips, candy bars and more on a daily basis. Many of them are coach potatoes, video gamers, social networkers, texters, etc. We need to get this new generation of children to become more active. They also need to be educated on how to be aware of what they are eating and teach them to eat the so called “junk food” in moderation and incorporate more nutritious foods in his or her diet as well as maintain an active lifestyle.
Childhood obesity is on the rise due to the many changes in our society and we need to do something to prevent it before it gets out of hand.
Keywords: obesity, children, overweight
Childhood Obesity in America
Childhood obesity is becoming a problem across the globe and has been declared an epidemic in America. Children are consuming more calories than ever and many are not as active as earlier generations. For the first time in the history of this country, young people are less healthy and less prepared to take their places in society than were their parents. Diabetes is on the rise, American kids are getting sicker, becoming sadder and getting fatter.
(W. Sears, M.D., M. Sears, R.N., J. Sears, M.D., R. Sears, M.D., 2006) Many of you probably remember running around the neighborhood when you were younger playing things like tag, hide and seek, capture the flag and many other outdoor games. Then you would get called in to eat, only to go right back out to play until it was time to come in for the night.
Now days you are more likely to find children indoors in front of the television, on the computer, texting a friend or playing a video game, not to mention they may be eating an unhealthy snack, such as a cookie or a bag of chips. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.5 million children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Obesity is a good indicator of unhealthy lifestyles, characterized by over-eating and lack of physical activity.
Who is responsible for this you might ask. Is it the parents, the schools, fast food restaurants, technology, a down economy or even the food industry? We cannot single out and put the blame on any one of these. However, each one can be a contributing factor and the combination of them certainly could be part of the cause. Let’s take a look at how each of them impacts our children’s health. Let’s start with the parents.
As I stated earlier, years ago children were outside playing much of the day. However, now parents are not letting the children out to play until they are much older because they worry about their safety.
Part of the reason for this is that the world has changed. Ever hear the phrase “It takes a village”? Well years ago neighbors looked out for each other and their children. Now everyone minds their own business and keeps to him or herself. Even the cars going through the residential neighborhoods do not seem to be as cautious about watching for children. Maybe this has to do with the fact that children are not as often outside playing as they used to be.
Families seem to be so much busier today than in the past. Most families are living on two incomes instead of one, which means there is not a stay at home parent making home cooked meals everyday. Not to mention families are having less and less meals together at the table. Instead parents are tired and are relying on quicker meals like frozen pizza’s, banquet chicken, corndogs, fries, hotdogs, macaroni and cheese, microwaveable meals, and even fast food. Many families are a single parent household and may be on a tight budget and may be purchasing the cheaper convenience foods that are typically less nutritious and have more additives and preservatives.
Parents are not intentionally trying to make their children fat and/or sick.
Most are trying to do the best they can and don’t realize the long-term effects of all the processed foods, especially combined with a less active lifestyle.
What about the school’s role in all this? Kids spend a big part of their day at school and some eat breakfast and lunch at school. As a Licensed Family Child Care Provider, each year I have to take nutrition training through the USDA food program. After taking it one year and learning about high fat foods that are commonly served to children, I was looking at my son’s monthly lunch menu for the elementary school and noticed they were serving too many of these high fat foods in one week at lunch. In the same week the kids would be served chicken nuggets, pizza, and a breaded chicken sandwich. These foods are not bad if eaten on occasion and in moderation.
However, what I learned in the nutrition training was that we should limit the amount of high fat foods served in one week. My daughter, who attends the high school, told me that everyday if the students don’t like the main option for lunch they could go and get a hamburger or hotdog with french fries as an alternative choice. Middle schools, junior highs, and high schools often have an a la carte line or snack bar at lunch, which consists of ice cream, cookies, juice, and other foods that are not very nutritious for a lunch. Some schools even have soda machines and snack machines. There have even been some schools that are cutting their physical education and sports programs.
Technology plays a big role in the children not being as active as they used to be. There are no longer just Saturday morning cartoons. Now with channels like the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network kids can watch cartoons twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Today our children spend many hours on media devices, such as cell phones, Ipads, Kindles, and hand held video games as well as the television, computer, or other game systems such as Xbox. Many kids today would rather be inside on the computer or playing video games than out with a friend or being active. This morning I was at the doctor’s office to have my cholesterol checked. In the waiting room at my clinic they now have a TV up on the wall that is always playing something educational about staying healthy.
Today as I was watching it they were talking about how people who sit more than three hours at a time shave time off of their life. They said after three hours of sitting you should get up and move around for a while before sitting back down. According to this program we have enzymes in our body that help break down fat. However, when we are sedentary or sitting these enzymes are not able to break down the fat in our body. If that is true than these children who are spending hours on the computer, watching TV or playing video games are not burning as much fat as they could be if they took a break every now and then and got up and moved around for a bit before sitting back down.
Another contributing factor to childhood obesity is the food industry. Why the food industry? I’ll tell you why. The food industry is packing more and more preservatives, dyes, fat, sodium, sugar and other stuff into our food to make it last longer and taste better, but what are these added ingredients doing to our children?
They are literally turning our children into sugar and carb addicts. Products such as chips, cookies, candy and other junk food are being targeted towards our children. Watch a cartoon with your child sometime and pay attention to how many of these commercials you will see. You will be amazed.
Something many of you might not think of is the down economy as another contributing factor. Many families are struggling and have had to make plenty of cutbacks on their spending. Yes, that sometimes includes cutbacks on food. It can get expensive feeding a family of four for a week. It is actually cheaper sometimes to buy processed foods and junk food than it is to buy natural and healthy foods. For example, it is much cheaper to buy a box of Little Debbie snacks than it is to buy a small bag of apples or carrots.
During my own families rough financial times we discovered that feeding a family of four from McDonald’s $1 menu was not only more convenient but cheaper than cooking many meals as well. If everyone got 2 to 3 items it was less than $15 for the whole family. However, in the long run eating lots of the unhealthy foods and snacks is going to cost you more in healthcare and prescription medications from the consequences of eating an abundance of these foods.
“A family with an obese child spends 30% more in health costs and 77% more in medication costs.” (Parekh, 2012,
Prevention is Better than Cure, para 1). Also obesity in childhood often follows into adulthood, which further supports the importance of preventing childhood obesity. (Wang, 2011)
Fast food is another big factor for some people. I am not saying you should never eat it at all but some families are eating the stuff three or more times in one week. When I was a kid I was lucky if I got fast food once every six months and that was a treat. McDonald’s seems to have taken the blunt for the fast food industry when it comes to the consequences of eating it too often. They have tried to make some changes like getting rid of the supersize portions and adding apple wedges as an alternative to fries in their kid’s Happy Meal.
There even is a documentary that was made about the negative impact McDonalds and the rest of the fast food industry are having on society. The main character, Morgan Spurlock in the movie did a one-month experiment. He ate three full meals a day at McDonald’s, only ordered a super size meal when asked, and never ate food from any other source. By the end of Morgan Spurlock’s month long McDonald’s binge, he had become depressed and exhausted, he was experiencing dramatic mood swings, and his sex life had greatly diminished.
He gained 25 pounds, his body fat percentage increased from 11% to 18%, his liver was showing notable signs of damage, and his total cholesterol increased from 168 to 225. However, because of Spurlock’s unrealistic extent of excess calorie consumption, the only thing that this really proves is that overeating is unhealthy. (2009) If eaten on occasion and in moderation as well as eating the right portion size it is not going to harm you and that movie can be misleading.
However, it does show what can happen to those who eat it on a daily basis. Parents should limit their child’s meals at fast food restaurants and think of another quick healthy alternative for those other days they may be in a time crunch.
Now that I’ve talked about some of the contributing factors of childhood obesity, let’s discuss the effects it has on our children’s health. Children are ending up with health problems such as, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes was previously referred to as “adult onset” diabetes because it used to be more typical for adults over the age of 40 to get this type. (Schraffenberger, L.A., 2012) Some of these overweight kids are also dealing with being teased by other kids and being called fat.
This is leading to more kids being treated for depression. If these kids, some as young as elementary age, are having these kinds of health problems, what does that mean for their health as adults?
So what changes have been made to fix this problem of childhood obesity in America? There have been some laws that have gone into effect. One such law has affected me as a childcare provider. The law went into effect in October of 2010 and states that all children over the age of 2 must be served low fat 1 percent milk or fat free skim milk. This law also applies to the schools. The schools have always had minimum calorie guidelines but now there is a maximum calorie guideline the school has to follow as well.
This went into effect in July of 2012. Some schools are making changes like taking their soda and snack machines out or having them shut off during lunchtime. Some have even put in new machines with healthier options. Our first lady, Michele Obama has been actively involved in trying to prevent childhood obesity and has even visited some schools that have changed their menus to implement healthier options. Another big advocate in preventing childhood obesity is Rachael Ray. She has started the yum-o organization, which is a non-profit organization. According to the yum-o website, the yum-o organization “empowers kids and their families to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking.”
Wang (2011) explains that the U.S. obesity epidemic can have many serious health and financial consequences if it cannot be controlled, and likely minority and low-income groups are hit harder. Childhood obesity is currently higher than it ever has been and we can do something to prevent it. Parents can help by limiting their child’s screen time, eating more nutritious home cooked meals at the table (not in front of the television) and encouraging their children to be active. For families with busy schedules the parents can take time on the weekends to plan meals ahead of time for the upcoming week.
They do not have to be elaborate and can even consist of soup, sandwich fruit and milk. (American Academy of Pediatrics) The schools can limit the “junk food” they offer in vending machines and the a la carte line or replace it with healthier options and offer more nutritious meals with the appropriate amount of calories.
They can also stop cutting their physical education programs, as keeping children active is very important in preventing obesity as well. Families who are struggling financially can buy fruits and veggies that are on sale or in season and make meals that are cheap yet healthy. Also we should have more restrictions on the food industry, such as maybe a warning label for parents on foods that are way too high in sugar, fat, or sodium. If we all work together to make as many of these changes as we can our kids will be much happier and healthier.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Obesity rates among all children in the united states. Retrieved September 30, 2012, from www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html Hassink, S. (Ed). (2006). A parent’s guide to childhood obesity. United States: American Academy of Pediatrics Parekh, N., (July 13, 2012). Childhood obesity prevention tips. Prevention is better than cure. Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/6-7-2004-55178.asp Ray, R., (2012). Rachael ray’s yum-o cook feed fund. Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://www.yum-o.org/ Schraffenberger, L.A., (2012). Basic ICD-10-CM/PCS and ICD-9-CM Coding, Chapter 6, Page 123 Sears, W., Sears, M., Sears, J., Sears, R., (2006)
The healthiest kid in the neighborhood. New York, NY:
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Wang, Y., (2011). Disparities in pediatric obesity in the united states. Retrieved October 21, 2012, from advances.nutrition.org/content/2/1/23.full.pdf+html