In the modern world, obesity is the most widely spread health problem among children. That is why it should be the primary concern of the public. Since 1960, the predominance of obesity and overweight among teenagers and children in the United States has increased four times (Goran, 2017). The problem does not disappear after adolescence. Ahima (2013) states that about 70% of overweight teenagers turn into overweight adults. Obesity brings both psychological and physical health problems. Overweight may cause psychological disorders, problems with the cardiovascular and muscular-skeletal system or digestion. It may precondition diabetes or sleep apnea. Hence, the research on obesity causes, consequences and the analysis of prevention strategies is a topical issue.
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Reasons of Obesity and Risk Factors
Before the problem can be solved, the factors provoking it should be studied. The scholars researching the subject of childhood obesity accentuate various reasons. Ahima states that “obesity is now considered a classic example of a complex multifactorial disease resulting from the interplay between behavioral, environmental and genetic factors which may influence individual responses to diet and physical activity” (p.4, 2013). For example, Goran (2017) and Ahima (2013) mention racial and ethnic components. Thus, among the ethnic groups of the United States, Asian girls have the lowest obesity prevalence, while Hispanic boys have the highest. Dawes (2014) suggests the idea that obesity is the evidence of physical disorders and can be treated with drugs. Kiess, Wabitsch, Maffeis, & Sharma (2015) believe that obesity is restricted to genetic and non-genetic factors equally. They consider that genetics together with the lifestyle contribute to the susceptibility to obesity. Hassan (2015) concentrates on genetic (influencing metabolism), behavioral (like overeating and low activity), and environmental (altogether home, school and society) factors of obesity. Unlike others, Voigt, Nicholls, & Williams (2014) also include parental responsibility to the factors that lead to overweight and obesity. Besides, Williams, Pasch, & Collins (2013) discover the effect that the media, advertising, and community have on obesity.
Speaking of risk factors, nutrition is the one that comes first. Goran (2017) mentions diets, the impact of which is little investigated apart from the sweet beverages and fast-food. He emphasizes that children consume more fruits and vegetables to prevent gaining weight, but not enough to make it a significant factor. Another thing is that young people just eat more fruits and vegetables instead of replacing unhealthy food, so together they may also contribute to gaining weight. Goran (2017) also reviews such nutrition factors as daily eating patterns, snacking, eating frequency, and portion sizes.
Kiess et al. (2015) analyzed the connection between nutrition and obesity according to the child’s stages of development. Thus, the authors believe that even antenatal environment is important. They consider that maternal overweight affects the child’s overweight and obesity. The researchers (Kiess et al., 2015, Goran, 2017) state that early childhood period nutrition is among the major factors influencing the childhood obesity. As for the adolescence, eating fruits and vegetables may help in reducing body weight. Another problem regarded by Kiess et al. (2015) is that of energetic beverages. Teenagers get about 20% of energy from sugars in food and drinks, which also influences the increase of obesity.
Goran (2017) speaks of the family influence as well. The child’s food preferences derive from the family. Healthy parents are likely to bring up a child in the traditions of a healthy lifestyle. Consequently, parental obesity increases the risk of the child’s overweight. All those factors result in the fact that about one in 3 children in the United States is overweight or obese. The unhealthy weight in childhood is sure to lead to various diseases both in the early age and as the person grows up.
Childhood Obesity Consequences
The childhood obesity has various consequences, both social and health-connected. First of all, it affects the self-esteem which is usually low among the obese children (Goran, 2017). Self-esteem as a psychological construct deals with the perception and valuing oneself. Thus, children with low self-esteem do not believe they are capable of something important. Besides, mental disorders often cause further weight gain (Kiess et al., 2015). Goran (2017) together with Kiess et al. (2015) emphasize the metabolic consequences of gaining weight. They usually result in insulin resistance, which later may lead to type 2 diabetes, one of the most spread diseases of the present time. Moreover, obese people complain of pain in postural and locomotor apparatus. Thus, overweight causes damage to the musculoskeletal system which results in different kinds of deformations and inability to live a normal life. Ahima (2013) adds another dangerous condition which is the result of obesity. It is obstructive sleep apnea that comprises sleep-disordered breathing. Besides, Goran (2017) enumerates such health consequences of obesity as cardiovascular risk and pediatric nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Hassan (2013), Goran (2017), and Kiess et al. (2015) mention the high risk of cardiovascular problems among the obese children. What is more, cardiovascular risks are connected with higher mortality rates. Obesity is also one of the leading causes of widely spread diseases such as hypertension, associated forms of cancer, and this fact makes obesity a burning problem of humanity.
Childhood Obesity Prevention
Hassan (2013) suggests some preventive programs to deal with childhood obesity. They include family-based lifestyle, school-based, hospital-based, and community-based interventions. Thus, the researcher underlines that the problem may be solved using a complex of actions. He also provides some recommendations for the future. Among them, there is a systematic review of physical activity and health condition of school children, the analysis of the role of school meals in the context of nutrition education, and promotion of school physical activity.
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Voight et al. (2014) introduce the idea of regulating food marketing targeted at children. It may be done through social marketing and the increase in media literacy. They even express the idea of price policies as one of the possible strategies to prevent obesity. Vash (2015) also supports the notion of protecting children from the harmful influence of food marketing, but at the level of local governments. Besides, he suggests the promotion of healthy eating and active living at school. Goran (2017) also suggests a kind of weight loss treatment based on family. It is aimed at both children and parents. It proved to have multiple effects. On the one hand, it stimulates the weight loss, on the other hand, improves the general health condition. The work by Dawes (2014) also pays attention to the role of family in childhood obesity. It deals with the emotional factor as substantial as well.
Kiess et al. (2015) consider that childhood is a suitable period to cope with obesity. As long as children are still growing, a slight diet correction may be enough to stop gaining weight. Still, the problem of obesity should be taken seriously. The belief that a child will “grow out of it” may have negative consequences. The study by Asgima (2013) provides an example of the tool that may predict the risk of developing early obesity. It is based on traditional newborns’ risk factors.
“Fat camps” are the commercial resources for overweight children (Dawes, 2014). These are residential camps that suggest dietary education together with the diet accompanied by physical activities. They are aimed at helping teenagers and children to lose weight. Williams et al. (2013) give special attention to the role of voluntary and nonprofit health organizations. They influence the attitudes of the community and the norms of behavior connected with the healthy lifestyles. It may result in the increase of physical activity and healthier food choices.
On the whole, the problem of childhood obesity is not new. Still, it has become more dangerous in the last decades. Contemporary researchers mostly agree on the causes of the problem. Thus, genetics, lifestyle and environment are referred to most often. The obesity among children and adolescents is even more threatening for it continues into maturity. The obese children become adults with a bunch of diseases and inability to change their lives due to low self-esteem, which in its turn is the result of overweight. It is better to break this cycle at the early age when the personality is easily influenced. So, all the possible measures should be taken to reduce the childhood obesity and promote the healthy lifestyles.
Ahima, R.S. (2013). Childhood obesity: Prevalence, pathophysiology, and management. Oakville, Canada: Apple Academic Press, Inc.
Dawes, L. (2014). Childhood obesity in America: Biography of an epidemic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Goran, M.I. (2017). Childhood obesity: Causes, consequences, and intervention approaches. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group.
Hassan, A. (2015). School nutrition and activity: Impacts on well-being. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group.
Kiess, W., Wabitsch, M., Maffeis, C., & Sharma, A.M. (2015). Metabolic syndrome and obesity in childhood and adolescence. Basel, Switzerland: Karger AG.
Vash, P. (2015). The childhood obesity epidemic: Why are our children obese – and what can we do about it? Oakville, Canada: Apple Academic Press, Inc.
Voigt, K., Nicholls, S.G., & Williams, G. (2014). Childhood obesity: Ethical and policy issues. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Williams, J.D., Pasch, K.E., & Collins, C.A. (2013). Advances in communication research to reduce childhood obesity. New York, NY: Springer.