There is no doubt that obesity at an early age causes a variety of health complications. Worse still, it is known that high body mass in children leads to a greater risk of chronic disease comorbidity. Its etiology relates to the consumption of junk food and decreased physical activity in children. Childhood obesity is linked to multiple chronic conditions, including hypertension and type 2 diabetes that affects one’s quality of life and increase medical spending (Sahoo et al., 2015). Excess weight in childhood is also a risk factor for adulthood obesity. Obesity is also a social issue in childhood. Obese children suffer low self-esteem and unfair treatment (Sahoo et al., 2015). Therefore, reducing the high incidence/prevalence of childhood obesity in developed countries through weight management/loss interventions has implications for public health.
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Public health interventions aimed at helping obese children attain healthy weight levels usually involve basic lifestyle recommendations, i.e., dietary changes and exercise. Childhood obesity is a multifactorial problem; this means that lifestyle changes may not yield optimal results. According to Mehtala, Saakslahti, Inkinen, and Poskiparta (2014), the prevention or management of obesity depends on how an intervention addresses the problem in five levels: “individual, interpersonal, organizational, community and societal levels” (p. 3). The ultimate goal is to achieve a sustainable change in behavior or practice in a coordinated way. Socio-ecological models are premised on multi-level stakeholder involvement. An examination of the socio-ecological framework can help illuminate the link between personal problems and environmental factors to shape an effective approach to reducing obesity (Townsend & Foster, 2013).
The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. remains high despite sustained public health interventions. An analysis of national trends by Ogden, Carroll, Kit, and Flegal (2014) showed that obesity prevalence stands at 17% and 35% in children and adults, respectively. The surveillance also revealed that a higher BMI correlates with race/ethnicity, gender, and age. Reducing childhood obesity is not an easy task because children are exposed to the interplay of environmental factors. The family, media, and friends shape physical activity levels and dietary habits of children from an early age (Mehtala et al., 2014).
Multiple overweight interventions focusing on lifestyle change show varying levels of efficacy in reducing obesity in children. They do not achieve overwhelming results largely because they fail to tackle the unobvious, but crucial contributing factors in an integrated way to foster healthier lifestyles in this population. The exclusive target of these interventions is children. However, a limited grasp of the importance of healthier lifestyles – diet and exercise – and lower control over certain behaviors make reductions in obesity a challenge for children (Mehtala et al., 2014). Interventions that address the risk factors can help reduce obesity and its consequences on public health. In particular, the physical, social, and economic impacts of obesity in adults can be reduced by tackling overweight risk factors in children.
Effective interventions for childhood obesity reduction should focus on factors at the individual, interpersonal, and community levels that impede effective behavior change in children. A socio-ecological model comprises of five nested levels, namely, “individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and societal levels” (Mehtala et al., 2014, p. 6). A basic understanding of these levels is critical in evaluating the efficacy of interventions for childhood obesity reduction. Generally, parents have a high influence over their children’s lifestyles; therefore, personal level influence on obesity is absent in childhood (Mehtala et al., 2014).
Personal level interventions often involve professionals, e.g., dieticians. The aim is to modify attitudes or values that engender certain behaviors. The interpersonal level addresses the informal influences of family and friends on the children’s behavior. Interpersonal interventions include family-based programs that reinforce positive behavior through parental or peer involvement (Mehtala et al., 2014). The organizational level focuses on formal health education to promote healthier choices. It may involve institutional policies or rules guiding dietary options in environments like the school cafeteria. Community interventions may include policy initiatives that enhance people’s access to inexpensive healthier diets and/or training facilities, such as parks. On the other hand, interventions like school wellness policies at the state level are society-level programs. Addressing the contributing factors in an integrated, multi-level way will help achieve sustainable behavior change to reduce childhood obesity.
Mehtala, M. A., Saakslahti, A. K., Inkinen, M. E., & Poskiparta, M. E. (2014). A socio- ecological approach to physical activity interventions in childcare: A systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11(22), 1-12. Web.
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Ogden, C., Carroll, M., Kit, B., & Flegal, K. (2014). Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA, 311(8), 806-814. Web.
Sahoo, K., Sahoo, B., Choudhury, A. K., Sofi, N. Y., Kumar, R., & Bhadoria, A. S. (2015). Childhood obesity: Causes and consequences. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 4(2), 187-192. Web.
Townsend, N., & Foster, C. (2013). Developing and applying a socio-ecological model to the promotion of healthy eating in the school. Public Health Nutrition, 16(6), 1101-1108. Web.