Growing up as a child and adolescent in the United States is met with many obstacles including exposure to domestic violence, proper education, lack of proper nutrition and other socioeconomic issues within the family unit. One particular issue that has begun to grow is childhood obesity which can lead to many health and social issues that carry on into adulthood. This epidemic stems partially from genetics but mostly from a combination of things like a lack of tools to educate parents and children on healthier life choices. As this issue reaches a critical point, changes are being set in motion to combat its cause and overall affect. While childhood obesity is not an issue for some parents, they should educate themselves in order to assist their children in making healthier decisions regarding food and physical activity.
Making these necessary changes can potentially improve the child’s mental and emotional health and removes certain medical problems later in life resulting in a healthier adult. According to the Mayo Clinic, obesity is defined as having an excessive amount of body fat over what is considered to be healthy. Determining whether a child is obese is determining what is a normal weight for their height and weight. For children and adolescents, obesity is particularly troublesome not only for their health now and in the future but for their self-esteem in their formative years. Self-esteem is so crucial to the development of a young person’s mind, body and soul. It is what helps them to become well-rounded and contributing members of society. Children and adolescents have different body types at all stages of development. Just because a child carries a few extra pounds does not mean they are in any danger of becoming obese or having long-term health problems.
With certain ages come different types of developmental changes. Some children have larger body frames that support more body weight. Simply looking at a child is not enough to ascertain if there is a weight problem. For example, during puberty adolescent children do gain weight more rapidly due to an influx of hormones. This type of weight gain is normal as long as the ratio of muscle, bone and body fats are in proportion. Determining whether or not a child has a healthy weight is as simple as calculating body mass index or BMI. Doctors often use this calculation though it can be a little more complicated to determine what is normal for a child. Anyone with children may recall frequent visits to the pediatrician early in the child’s life where the child is measured for height and weight.
These numbers are then plotted on a growth chart to determine what percentile that child ranges within. BMI equal to or greater than the 5th percentile and less than the 85th percentile is considered a healthy weight for his or her age (Unknown, 2012). Anything above the 95th percentile is considered obese and at risk for various health-related problems. The averages for boys and girls will differ based on the fact that they develop at different speeds especially during puberty, but it is very important that parents do not jump to conclusion based on appearances and these numbers alone. One must also consider that an athletic child or teen may have more muscle mass which can also increase BMI. The most common contributor to childhood obesity is improper nutrition, food choices, and too little physical activity.
Less common but still a factor are some genetic and hormonal disorders. Unfortunately many parents will use the knowledge of these disorders to rationalize a weight issue their child might have. In an age of technology, children and teens spend excess amount of time sedentary playing video games, watching television, using computers, and mobile devices. Commercials on television entice children to eat fast food and drink highly caffeinated, sugary drinks. The choices being made are not in the interest of the health of the child. Most parents spend 40 hours or more at work, leaving the children alone to fend for themselves which is when they make decisions on what to eat, drink and do to entertain themselves. Family history also presents a risk factor for childhood obesity.
One might assume that a family with several or more overweight family member will have children in an environment where high-calorie food and drink is always readily available. In these types of households, physical activity is not stressed nor is it encouraged. Some families also inadvertently teach their children to be “emotional eaters.” The family that relies on the convenience of quick cooking meals is also at risk for overweight children because of high calorie content. Certain socioeconomic factors cause families to rely on these types of foods because it is all they can afford. With childhood obesity comes many complications that can affect a child’s physical, emotional and social well-being. One of the more well-known physical complications is Type 2 diabetes which affects the way a child metabolizes sugar.
Usually a simple change in diet and exercise can keep a child from suffering this chronic disorder. A parent may notice that their overweight child seems to be going into puberty sooner than other children which is also another complication of obesity. Carrying around extra weight can cause breathing problems and issue with the development of the child’s lungs which can lead to asthma or even sleep apnea (abnormal breathing during sleep). If a child has a poor diet, he or she may also suffer from high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These factors can eventually lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries causing a stroke or heart attack later in life. These complications overall are known as “metabolic syndrome.” This is not a disease in itself but a cluster of problems suffered at once. Beyond the physical issues caused by obesity are the matters of social and emotional complications. Youth is difficult under the best circumstances but contribute being overweight and a whole new host of issues present themselves.
For example, school-age children tend to tease their overweight peers leading to further bullying and loss of self-esteem. According to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic overweight children tend to have more anxiety and poorer social skills than children with a normal weight. These children may withdraw into themselves or act out and disrupt their classrooms or families. Eventually these issues can lead to the more serious problem of depression which is an overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness. If a parent suspects that their child is suffering from depression, a doctor should be immediately contacted and consulted. Parents play a very meaningful role in the causes and risk factors for childhood obesity. They are the first to make the child feel loved and in control of their own bodies.
Sensitivity to a child’s emotional needs and feelings is very important in helping that child develop into a healthy adult. If a parent feels that his or her child is at risk for obesity, the issue needs to be addressed in a kind and considerate manner. Directness and openness are the best method and one cannot be overly critical or judgmental. Lifestyle changes are difficult for a child to make so giving choices makes them more likely to stick to something new. Praising a child’s effort to change will also help boost their self-esteem and keep them going in a positive direction. Some medical issues are brought on by heredity which is to say that people are just “born with them,” but in the case of childhood obesity, it is a completely preventable problem. As with most issues that affect children and teenagers, home is the first line of defense against future problems.
Educating parents and providing them support is an excellent way to ensure that children gain the proper instruction on lifestyle and health choices. Most do not realize that obesity is costly to each state. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, in 2003, annual medical expenses geared towards obesity and its effects were estimated at $75 billion dollars. Starting in 2005, state legislature became very active in considering programs and policies to address the epidemic. One of the most positive changes to occur is schools providing the nutritional content of the food on its menus enabling students to make better choices during breakfast and lunch.
This is also being done at chain restaurants nationwide. “Super sizing” was removed from all menus and alternatives for kids’ meals are part of this change as well. Even some convenience store chains banished their massive fountain drink cups to combat the obesity epidemic among children as well as adults. The battle for the health of children begins with education and monitoring. If parents maintain an open line of communication with their children, they will be privy to the issues affecting them. Childhood obesity is not just a physical or medical issue. It affects the psychological and emotional well-being of the child which follows them all throughout the rest of their lives. Children need the best start possible so parents should always remember to pay attention and lead by example.
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