Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal discomforts are some of the many serious health effects that should be the nightmare we all avoid. So why it is that in today’s society we are faced with the alarming fact of half of our population being obese, which are the causative agents to these malicious health problems? It seems as if this is an ongoing problem that may never cease to exist. Why? If the quandary of obesity isn’t realized and address it would not be acknowledged as a problem, therefore it would not be corrected. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) at or above the 95 percentile to children of the same sex and age. Obesity is an excess proportion of total body fat. A child is considered obese when his or her weight is 20% or more above normal weight.
The most common measure of obesity is the body mass index or BMI. Obesity is rapidly becoming a world wide epidemic, and is starting with our children. Stanford (2001) proposes that the escalation of obesity could be the greatest health threat the world will face in the 21st century. Stanford is highlighting that childhood obesity is a growing health dilemma with a deadly prospect, but who are to blame? In this world today the roles of parents are becoming more demanding than ever before. Our basic knowledge of a parent is one that guides and teaches how to live and survive in this complex world. They are the ones that influence and set out lessons to learn and morals to live by, they are the ones to protect you from harm and detour you from their previous mistakes. Becoming a parent one takes on endless responsibilities and countless blames.
However, a parent is only human and can only take full responsibility for certain decisions and behaviors made by their child or children. According to Oxford, a child is defined as a young human being below the age of full development which is 18 and childhood is the period of being a child. Obesity is one of the many hefty misconceptions placed on parents, as we over look the alliance with genetics, environmental and psychological factors. Childhood obesity is in fact highly associated with genetics. A child is in its developmental stage; therefore, genetics plays an accommodating position in the development of obesity. Hills (2011) assume that “recent studies of genetic syndromes of obesity in rodents have provided insights in to the underlying mechanisms that may play a role in energy homoeostasis. In recent years, research has begun to identify human disorders of energy balance that arise from defects in these or related genes .
These mutations have been shown to result in morbid obesity in children without the developmental features that commonly accompany recognized syndromes of childhood obesity. Most children probably have some genetic predisposition to obesity, depending on their family history and ethnicity.” There is no denying that genetic alone is the cause for childhood obesity but it is a major fact that it is a large contributor to this chief health hazard. Harvard (2012) remarks “subsequent work on the relationship between the FTO gene, physical activity, and obesity yielded contradictory results. (16-18) To arrive at a more definitive answer, investigators recently combined and re-analyzed the data from 45 studies in adults and 9 studies in children—nearly 240,000 people in all. (19)
They found that people who carried the obesity-promoting FTO gene variant had a 23 percent higher risk of obesity than those who did not.” Nonetheless, genetics is a contributing factor, and the reality of it is that it can be controlled by means of healthy eating habits and exercise regiments. However, why should parents be blamed for uncontrollably giving their child the “obesity curse” which was given to them? Determination of a healthy choice is not an easy one for a child when there are a variety of endless environmental factors that alter decision making. Children spend time away from their parents almost 50% of the time in a day which can be spent at school, child care and community environments, while parents meet the demands of world. The development of a child can be a very confusing one based on decision making.
It is difficult for many children to make healthy food choices when the environment they are exposed to encourage great availability to high-energy-dense foods and sugar drinks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stipulate, “a recent study among children showed that a high-energy-dense diet is associated with a higher risk for excess body fat during childhood. Sugar drinks are the largest source of added sugar and an important contributor of calories in the diets of children in the United States. High consumption of sugar drinks, which have few, if any, nutrients, has been associated with obesity. On a typical day, 80% of youth drink sugar drinks.”
Today the schools provide students with vendor machines, school stores, canteens or snack bars lighted up like candy land where you can eat to your hearts content. Cafeterias and lunch programs are no different; Hoang Do Wendt (2009) explains a report by USDA in the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study shows that typical school lunches derive 35% of their energy from fat and 12% of their energy from saturated fat, which is higher than the recommended levels of 30% and 10% respectively (USDA 2001). Various lunch vendors and programs want to meet the satisfaction of their buyers, which are the children. Lehmann (2010) proposes that “even in the face of an obesity epidemic, cafeteria directors say they need the brand-name meals to keep their programs running. Schools and other food distributors are concerned with purchasing and distributing food that would be appealing to children. The choices made by most of the lunch vendors doesn’t exactly encourage healthy eating habits, as their goal is to reinforce children’s taste for fast food for that golden dollar.
In close relation to environmental factors, the additional causative agents of childhood obesity are psychological factors. The weight of depression, low self esteem, and social anxiety plays a major role in childhood obesity. Acceptance for a child, in relation to his or her peers places pressure on their mind and in their bodies. Lawson alleged that at the center of obesity-depression link is biology, notably the hormonal pathway known as the HPA axis. It is the route of communication between the hypothalamus, the peanut-sized part of the brain that governs parts of the nervous system, and the pituitary and adrenal glands, which secrete a variety of hormones, which work together to maintain chemical equilibrium when the body is under stress. The HPA axis is responsible for releasing cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.” It plays a critical role in energy metabolism as well as other functions. The problem is, cortisol prompts the body to deposit fat around the abdomen, a pattern that is especially hazardous to health. Chronic stress also begets depression.
“Obesity, depression and behavioral disorders have all been linked to abnormal functioning of the HPA axis,” says Mustillo. It is a fact that many children today battle depression due too many environmental stressor at home, school and friendships. Depression is coped many ways, however in relation to obesity, the comfort is found in food. This over loveable obsession for food in relation to depression contributes to an unhealthy lifestyle followed by an extension of psychological factors. Low self-esteem is also a contributing factor of obesity. When a child suffers from this disorder, what ever discussion, education, talk on caring for their body would travel through one ear and out the next. Eating may become a source of reassurance in reference to how they are feeling.
Lawson discloses by acknowledging that there is an interaction between what’s outside your body and what’s inside. “Obesity carries a large social stigma and may bring on depression if it negatively affects self-esteem, body image or social mobility. It may even disrupt the normal hormonal pathways. Then again, depression may also bring on obesity, if a child lacks the energy to exercise or is immobilized by stress.” Dealing with social ills, social anxiety is one strongly associated with children and their social relationships. Children greatest fear in their psychological development is rejection from their peers. Some children shy away from the normality of having peers for different reasons. Many children are victims of bullying and social discrimination, for many, there only source of comfort is food. Martyn-Nemeth et al (2009) found that low self esteem is clearly associated with over eating and weight gain in adolescents. Many other studies indicate that overweight and obese children and adolescents have moderately lower self esteem than non obese peers.
There are numerous types of psychological factors and they play with different approaches to obesity. In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor and 39% had two or more. It is heartrending to announce that there is a substantial amount of children affected by obesity today. We are all knowledgeable of health risks caused by obesity which includes physical and emotional dilemmas. These health risks can also create a shadow to follow children in adulthood. If children are overweight or obese, when in adulthood the affects are likely to be more severe. There are multiple factors in this occurrence of childhood obesity which makes food preferences and consumption questionable.
Those factors does however, include parent influence and education. It is not denied that parents are totally out of being the causative agents of childhood obesity. They are however a massive contribution with this underlying problem, but we have to think out the box. Think about a thirteen year old girl entering puberty, whose parents love her unconditionally and her mother prepares all meals according to the national food guide, but yet still battles obesity. Are her parents overweight? What kinds of foods does she have access to at school? Is she suffering from depression or social neglect?
One can’t look at an obese child and say I blame the parent. For all its worth that parent maybe the only struggling for help and answers. Obesity is a worldwide crisis, affecting millions of children from different ethnicities, cultures and religions. Does this mean that the millions of children affected, parents are to blame? Obesity can only be corrected by addressing all possible contributions to this dilemma. Therefore, the blame for childhood obesity needs to be lifted of the heads of parents and tackled by the world at large.
Fernando L. Vazquez and Angela Torres. Behavioral and Psychosocial Factors in Childhood Obesity. Hills, Andrew. “Genetics of Childhood Obesity.” Journal of Obesity 11 (2010) Lawson, Willow. The Obesity-Depression Link Philadelphia
Lehmann, Deborah “Why School Cafeterias are Dishing Out Fast Foods” Intechopen Retrieved from http://www.intechopen.com/books/childhood-obesity