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Child Obesity in North America


Some people have referred to it as a pandemic that is not getting the full attention it requires. Obesity and specifically childhood obesity have been on the increase in the developed world for the last 10-15 years. Childhood obesity represents serious health consequences in the future and looking at its major causes will be the subject of my essay. (Pařízková et al, p 12)

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The Reality

A lot of media attention has been focused on America and that it is becoming a “fat country” with states like Mississippi leading the list. Even the likes of Canada are aware of the impending health crisis that is likely to befall in the future and countries as far as Egypt and China realize providing sufficient healthcare to this “expanding” population will be a tall order. Health experts still feel the general public is not grasping the situation seriously.

The current measures that are being undertaken are focused on increasing the accessibility of various services to people of all sizes. Aircraft seats are now more accommodative and stretchers in hospitals are coming in bigger sizes. While such measures help in accommodating every person, our efforts should instead be focused on finding the causes of childhood obesity and look at policies that could be implemented to reverse it. (Pařízková et al, p 14)

The focus should be on the younger generation because statistics have shown a majority of obese people had issues with their weight when they were still growing up. A variety of reasons have been given as to the reasons for childhood obesity. Many parents including the most recent ones lament that kids nowadays are just not playing. Riding bicycles around the neighborhood is just not the “in thing” currently. Most of them would prefer to stay indoors with their Wii or x-box.

This coupled with the high intake of junk food is blamed for the current weighty issues afflicting our children. Some critics are calling for the ban of TV commercials that advertise junk foods but the fact is most adults agree that these commercials were there when they were growing up and they did not affect their weight that much. Most of them attribute their lean stature to their participation in various physical activities; something they believe is the solution to the current problem.

The reality is however, most neighborhoods in today’s urban centers do not incorporate a playing area for children when they are being constructed. Of course, there will be the odd jungle gym for the young g toddlers but the 10-15-year-olds have had their playing grounds invaded by parked cars.

There just isn’t enough room to play softball or soccer. Maybe this is a change in lifestyle that each generation goes through and what we should be looking at is ways to accommodate the current challenges. Bear in mind that during the Industrial revolution, some social experts questioned whether the fabric that holds the family unit together will remain intact with thousands of young men and women migrating to the major cities from their farms to look for employment. (Shephard et al, p 104)

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Childhood obesity represents a change in lifestyle that is sweeping through many urban cities in America. Technology has simplified everything whereby you can have everything delivered to your doorstep; from groceries to newly purchased furniture. This laid-back approach to life amongst the adult population could be the reason why the kids growing up are less inclined to engage in physically demanding activities. As explained earlier North America is facing a serious obesity pandemic.

The notion that the changing lifestyles in their respective urban areas no longer fly because the Scandinavian countries and the likes of France do not experience this problem to a large extent yet they are equally developed economic wise like Canada and the United States. Before we look at the likely causes for childhood obesity in North America, a rundown of the statistics as to the extent of the problem will give us a clearer picture of what we are currently facing.

Statistical Evidence

Every study conducted indicates that the number of overweight children is likely to increase worldwide by a significant number and this poses new challenges to the healthcare and economic status of these nations. “Close to half of the children in North and South America will be overweight by 2010.”(Associated Press) This is quite shocking.

Quoting the US Surgeon General, “in the USA the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has trebled since 1980.” (Associated Press) Obesity amongst children aged between “12-17 years has shot up from 5% to 13% in boys and 5% to 9% in girls between 1966 to 1970 and 1988 to 1991.” (Associated Press) This data isn’t recent enough to reflect today’s situation but everyone is in general agreement today’s figures are probably far much worse. (Associated Press)

Further studies have shown that childhood obesity doesn’t afflict the entire population equally but certain ethnic groups have borne the greatest brunt. “African American and Mexican American adolescents ages 12-19 were more likely to be overweight, at 21 percent and 23 percent respectively, than non-Hispanic White adolescents (14 percent).” (Department of Human and Health Services-USA) Still focusing on this demographic, overweight adolescents have more than 70% chance of growing up as overweight adults. This leads to an increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. With the hard figures already available as to the extent of the problem, the next task should be to look at the factors that lead to the continued prevalence of childhood abortion. (Department of Human and Health Services-USA)

Diets Being Adapted

The kinds of foods being consumed by children nowadays have always raised more than a few eyebrows but no one, other than the parents, has ever undertaken any serious measures to reverse this trend. The lifestyles are certainly to blame where both adults and children are eating a lot of their diet away from home. The choice foods are quick snacks that are washed down with sugar-sweetened drinks.

The nutritional composition of these foods and drinks are found to be wanting but children still opt for them because they are easily available and taste better than the greens. Parents are also to blame in that the traditional home-cooked meal is a declining routine in most households and most children are now growing up consuming low-cost delivered meals. The pie-chart below shows the proportion of consumed vegetables in the years 1999-2000 by children aged between 2-19 years:

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The proportion of consumed vegetables in the years 1999-2000 by children aged between 2-19 years

“The chart shows that only 21% of young people are eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.” (Department of Human and Health Services-USA)An interesting observation is that close to half of all vegetable meals constitute fried potatoes (French fries). Another common beverage, soda has been consumed extensively by both adolescent boys and girls. “Thirty-two percent of adolescent girls and 52 percent of adolescent boys consume three or more eight-ounce servings of soda per day.” (Department of Human and Health Services-USA)

Cases of children as young as 7 months old consuming soda have been reported. Milk consumption has also been declining in today’s generation and this applies to both adults and children. “In 1977-1978, adolescents drank 1.5 times as much milk as any other beverage and in 1996 they consumed twice as many sugar-sweetened beverages as milk” (Department of Human and Health Services-USA) The diet has certainly undergone some metamorphosis in the last 30 years or so. Most adults who fall in the 30-40 age bracket also consumed part of these diets while they were lids but surprisingly enough they were not obese. Another factor played a part which we will look at.

Participation in Physical Activities

Junk foods contain a high number of calories and fats that can only be broken down through participation in a physically exhausting activity. While some people are fortunate enough to have a high metabolic rate in that the consumed food can be easily broken down by the body, the majority of the population has to break a sweat to lose weight. The energy we get for our day-to-day activities comes from the food we eat when it is broken down by enzymes in the body.

If we do not undertake any strenuous activities, the body has minimal energy requirements and stores these foods (which are mostly carbohydrates from junk foods) as fat inside our bodies. (Barnett et al, p 241) This fat is what translates to the added-on weight. Another point worth noting is when fat (or starch) is broken down by the body; it has the capacity to produce twice as much energy as proteins or other food sources.

The problem is a breakdown of fat is a cumbersome procedure that requires a lot of input from the host. That is why losing added weight requires a lot of effort. Watching television or playing computer games may sharpen one’s mind but it does little to increase the metabolic rate in the body. “It is estimated that children in the United States are spending 25 percent of their waking hours watching television and statistically, children who watch the most hours of television have the highest incidence of obesity.” (Department of Human and Health Services-USA) Bear in mind that the average youth watching television is probably consuming some form of a high-calorie snack. Getting our children off the sofas and into gym shorts is probably the first step to solving the obesity riddle.


Research has shown that people with certain genetic traits have a higher likelihood of developing obesity, if not during their childhood than later in life. The data is not foolproof since it doesn’t explain the success rate of reversing this trend if the subjects par-take in physical activities. Another scientific study has shown that children born from overweight parents also have an increased chance of developing obesity but this fact hasn’t been conclusively proven. (Bendich et al, p348)

A common point that has been raised is the increased availability of automobiles and taxis is to blame for the reduced physical activities in all age groups of the population. Frankly, this notion underscores the argument we have been trying to make in this essay. (Shephard et al, p 107)

Take the example of the caveman in pre-historic mankind. Archeological evidence has shown that cases of obesity were pretty marched non-existent and this wasn’t because of the diet he was consuming. Some health gurus are calling for the adaptation of the “caveman diet” which was mostly meat. Early men had a high life expectancy and causes of diabetes and heart diseases were unheard of. This is even though red meat is vilified in today’s culture.

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The only difference was he had to track his prey for days or even weeks before he delivered the killer below; which was a physically demanding activity in itself. That is why the caveman was lean and athletic. Not because he only ate meat. A change in today’s lifestyle is necessary to minimize future cases of childhood obesity. While health experts are putting the blame on television commercials for influencing the eating habits among children, the buck stops with the parents who have the greatest influence on a child’s eating habits. Besides this, they should encourage the children to partake in physical activities.

After a long day hunting, the caveman was probably too tired to think of inventing something like the telephone, leave alone television. Probably after a long day on the football pitch, between the game console and a good night’s sleep, your child will choose the latter.

Works Cited

Associated Press, 2006, “Study: Child Obesity Expected to Soar Worldwide,”. Web.

Barnett Anthony H, Sudhesh Kumar, Obesity and Diabetes,, 2004, pp 241-245.

Bendich Adrianne, Deckelbaum Richard J, Preventive Nutrition, Humana Press, 2005, pp 347-349.

Department of Human and Health Services-USA, “Childhood Obesity”. Web.

Pařízková Jana, Hills Andrew P, Childhood Obesity, CRC Press, 2000, pp 12-17.

Shephard Roy J, Miller Henry S, Exercise and the Heart in Health and Disease, Marcel Dekker, 1998, pp 104-107.

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