I think that the growing relationship between children and obesity is complex. The consequences of obesity beginning in childhood are dire for society – just consider the statistics “Childhood obesity has doubled over the last 20 years, affecting 10 million children. One in five children are either overweight or obese.” Not only will kids be hindered by poor health throughout their lives, but also society will be robbed of having strong contributing citizens. Susan Okie reports, “obesity lowers life expectancy from eight to twenty years… severely obese children…have a similar quality of life as those diagnosed as having cancer.”
So, this means that the healthcare system will be further strained by greater demands on it by today’s youth and tomorrow’s retirees. What will happen to the structure of our society if the health care costs outweigh the taxes collected because there are fewer people working due to illness and old age? Society, cannot afford to have its future workers, contributors and taxpayers hampered by obesity and the many health complications that can arise from it.
To fight childhood obesity, there has to be a concerted effort from parents, schools, kids and society. In order to develop our youth into healthy citizens, parents and schools need to partner to ensure that their kids are well-prepared for the future and establish good health habits now. One thing is for sure, if things stay as they are now, the future for our youth’s health looks dim.
The causes for the rise in obesity rates are many. First, families are dealing with a time deficit which means that there is less time to shop for and prepare nutritious meals. Second, children have easy access to big portions of fast food packed with fats and calories. Third, there is today’s society is full of sedentary activities like watching television and surfing the internet. Also, the television has turned into a bigger component of childcare acting as a babysitter. It has been shown that children eat more when they are watching TV because their attention is on the media and not on the messages their body sends to their stomach indicating they are satisfied. Fourth, due to budget cuts schools are decreasing the amount of time devoted to physical education. Fifth, there are less public areas for outdoor recreation with the increase of urbanization. Finally, since parents are so busy working to survive, kids have less supervision and guidance in making good health choices.
All these factors combine and results in kids relying on frozen dinners, fast food or other such prepared foods which are laden with fat, calories and sodium. Thus, kids today are consuming more calories and burning less calories, “Fast food is designed to promote consumption of a maximum of energy in a minimum of time, including high energy density, low fiber content, extensive food processing (facilitating rapid swallowing with minimal chewing), and low satiating value.” Thus, weight piles on and compounds the obesity problem. By habituating kids to like fast food, they are allowing their taste buds to be used to highly processed food. In Ebbeling’s study about Energy Intake, the authors concluded, “Overeating to the magnitude observed in study 1 would be virtually impossible with satiating low-energy-density, high-fiber foods that require much chewing before swallowing (e.g., fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain products). The raising convenience of high-fat, calorie-laden fast food and the extreme time crunch that families experience make it harder to eat well. Further, people tend to move homes more often than in the past which has partly made it harder to know one’s neighbors well and be able to relay on them to help watch our children while they play outside.
Childhood obesity can be attributed to a number of environmental factors for which politically difficult solutions exist. To fight childhood obesity, a multi-prong approach incorporating children, adults and society in general is needed and several simultaneous shifts need to occur. Parents and schools are two forces that actively shape children’s lives and they can help to combat childhood obesity because they directly influence them. Parents represent the micro-level of kids’ lives and schools represent the macro-societal level. Kids need protection and education in order to form healthy life-long habits.
There is a basic equation that says the more calories one consumes, the more calories one has to spend in order to not gain weight so these two factors have to be addressed: nutrition and physical activity. To begin with, parents can help kids change from consuming unhealthy to healthier food and becoming more active, “The family that exercises together gets healthy together.” Another factor that impacts children is not getting enough sleep which impacts the hormones in the body which regulate appetite so that sleepy people eat more to stay awake. Lack of sleep caused by high stress, overload of activities and media consumption also contribute to irritability, lack of concentration and lower creativity. Obese children are often teased, bullied, or socially isolated by society and can react by losing self-confidence and becoming depressed or even aggressive. Furthermore, “A 2004 Chinese study said that children who sleep less than seven hours a night increase their risk for suicide threefold.”
Schools cannot continue to be obese-friendly environments where easy, convenient access to junk foods is prevalent. After all, the way the schools spend tax money impacts society so society cannot afford to be places where obesity is encouraged. Since schools are a place where children’s attention is captive for long periods of time, companies have woken up to this fact and deliver targeted food advertising in the classrooms as well as negotiate junk food vending machine contracts. Another aspect to consider is the school curriculum. Besides recess being reduced or eliminated due to budget cuts, it is not a good sign for schools to teach kids that being healthy is important but does not help them act on their guidelines. Schools have the potential to shape kid’s minds and help them reinforce their lessons through action. Ideas such as a challenge to increase physical activity through participating in Fundraising Walks and Car Washes are one way to make kids see the impact of their actions. Additionally, since schools are supported by tax dollars, then they should be held accountable to a certain degree about the health of the children they teach through the lessons children are taught, how much time is given to allowing kids to exercise and the food that kids are fed. Further, I think that if schools are to educate independent thinkers then kids would benefit from learning how to resist peer pressure since peer pressure also influences kid’s diets. After all, children’s actions today will impact their future.
Society has to make health well-fare of its citizens a priority by legislating when necessary children’s exposure to harmful health agents. Food advertising can be better regulated so as not to target kids in school for example. Instead, kids’ captive attention span would be better met by giving lessons on preparing healthy meals and snacks since many children have to prepare their own food because they are latch-key kids (come home to an empty house, have to do their homework and prepare dinner until their parents arrive home). Perhaps, fast food can also come with labels or warnings such as “Eating this may contribute to negative health effects such as heart attacks.” Cigarettes are not sold in vending machines because they represent a threat to children. I don’t know the answer as to how much control the State should have, but I think it is an important conversation to occur.
At the community level, communities can provide environmental inducements to physical activities such as safe, accessible pathways for walking and bicycling. Other things to consider overseeing is the budget for health education classes, public announcements on healthy lifestyles and tax strategies to promote use of bicycles and regular exercise. In addition, communities can foster community recreation, form neighborhood watch groups to increase safety and encourage malls and other indoor or protected locations to provide safe places for walking in any weather. Further, employers can be encouraged to provide supportive worksite environments and policies that offer opportunities for employees to incorporate moderate physical activity into their daily lives and eating healthier food. In return, employers can benefit by having lower premiums and fewer days taken off for sickness if they have less claims due to healthier employees.
In conclusion, the increase in childhood obesity is a trend that society cannot afford to ignore. Fortunately, it is a problem that can be addressed by kids, parents, schools, and society. Everyone can increase their physical activity and their intake of nutritious foods. On a broader note, there also has to be public conversations about the regulation of dangerous substances such as candy, soda and other such junk food. Children’s exposure to these substances needs to be regulated because they are dangerous to their health — much like alcohol and tobacco. In the end, making these changes is not simple but it is necessary. Children need to establish healthy living habits of proper nutrition and adequate exercise in order to grow up as healthy as possible. Society’s future depends on today’s youth. In order to have a strong, stable future, society needs that its citizens be as strong and healthy as possible.