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Health Policy: Obesity in Children

Introduction

Obesity is a health condition that refers to having too much too fat in the body, in excess of what is considered healthy with regards to the individual’s age and height (Kids’ health, 2009). Professionals normally use a statistical measurement known as Body Mass Index commonly known as BMI to determine whether an individual is obese or not. The BMI is calculated by dividing an individual’s weight with a square of their height (Kids’ health, 2009), and is considered an accurate measurement for a person having an average weight but may be faulty if the individual has a lot of muscles, since the individual may appear like he/she is having a high BMI while in the real sense his/her weight could actually be much lower than what is expected (Scott, 2009). It has also been found inefficient in determining the percentage of the fats that an individual could be having; a BMI of 18.5 and below is considered underweight, while if a person has a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 then that would be considered normal weight (Kids’ health, 2009). A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight while a BMI of more than 30 denotes obesity (Kids’ health, 2009). Research has also shown that men with a weight size above 40 and omen with a waist size above 35 are more susceptible to obesity and the health complication associated with it. Indeed, obesity is serious health complication that makes an individual to be more susceptible to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart failures (Kids’ health, 2009). This paper will discuss the issue of obesity in children, the underlying problem and cause, as well as the key stakeholders in the policy issue of this problem plus the various policy options available and recommendation for right course of action.

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Problem identification

Over the past few years, there has been a tremendous rise in the cases of obesity. Obesity had always been associated with the developed countries but recent research has shown that obesity is becoming a poor man’s problem too due to lack of access to balanced diets; the poor end up consuming a lot of carbohydrates which are normally readily available. In the developed countries, it has been shown to be on the rise as a result of food policies that enable these people to have access to cheap food, thus has encouraged overfeeding. The farm bill in the United States enables farmers to produced subsidized corn, wheat and rice among others, making such carbohydrates quite affordable to the citizens. It also results to the cheap production of snacks or foodstuff from such crops. Moreover, the rise in the obesity rates in the United States could have been caused by the act of the government to allow free advertisement on candies and children’s foods, resulting into these products being quite affordable and consequently leading to their consumption (National blood and lung institute: Disease conditions index n.d.).

Obesity in children can be inherited or it can occur as a result of a child’s lifestyle and nutrition. At times, obesity in children occurs right from the time of weaning whereby, if the child is introduced to solid foods much early, they are likely to develop obesity since they are still less active and so a large amount of the nutrients that they take are likely to go unutilized and end up being stored in the body in the form of fats (Bupa’s Health Information Team, 2009). Research done has indicated that that obesity can be inherited; if the child’s parents are obese or overweight then the child too is likely to be obese. This could be as a result of a genetic influence or it can be due to the family’s feeding habits. Childhood overweight is another common cause of obesity in children.

According to a number of surveys done, it has been found that the children who are overweight in the first four years of their lives are likely to be obese in the later years (Bupa’s Health Information Team, 2009). Unhealthy feeding habits is a major cause of obesity in most children; this is true especially if the children are overfeeding or if they consume a lot of fatty or carbohydrate rich foodstuff. The excess nutrients will be stored in the adipose tissue and this will definitely cause obesity.

Exercising normally is an important remedy since it will consume a lot of energy which is normally produced through the process of respiration, during which the body nutrients especially carbohydrates will be broken down in order to provide energy (Bupa’s Health Information Team, 2009). If children do not engage in any exercises or do not participate in any activities that will require energy consumption then they are likely to develop obesity since the excess fats in their body will not be utilized but just accumulated in the body. This accumulated fat is what causes obesity.

Research has affirmed that lack of sleep could be a cause of obesity. This is so because, a number of people who sleep less tend to over eat, take foods rich in carbohydrate and this is likely to promote weight gain. In addition, when a person sleeps less then it means that he/she is likely to have insufficient amounts of insulin which is the hormone that regulates the amount of carbohydrates, glucose in the body. People who sleep less have been shown to have low levels of a hormone called leptin that suppresses hunger and more of ghrelin which cause hunger and therefore promoting overeating which will then cause obesity. Lastly, there are some medications that when taken, are likely to cause obesity mainly because some of them promote retention of water in the body, increase appetite and slow down the rate of metabolism; these are likely to promote weight gain and hence obesity (Bupa’s Health Information Team, 2009).

In order to reverse this alarming rate at which obesity is affecting the children, it is important to realize that it is going to demand the efforts of the state, parents and individuals. The state needs to control the prices of some of the foodstuffs that are considered most dangerous in promoting obesity (Anonymous, 2005). This may not necessarily mean that the government may have to cease giving farm subsidies, but could also establish a number of educational programs to educate both parents and the children on healthy feeding habits. Though there are some states in the U.S that have programs for this, a lot needs to be done even in the other states that have not taken the initiatives to do so. The school curriculum should promote exercise and should educate the learners on the healthy feeding habits, as well as various ways through which they can prevent obesity (Lobstein, 2006).

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Parents play the greatest role in war against obesity. They should be role models to their children by practicing healthy eating habits, getting involved in exercises and preparing healthy balanced meals for their family members. The children also need to be socialized to have a sense of responsibility over their lives (Anonymous, 2005).

According to world health organization, the number of people suffering from obesity is on the rise and soon it will be equal to the number of people who are hungry and can not get access to food. Obesity has become a great challenge for the government and in fact it has been obliged to allocate about 12% of the health care budgetary allocation towards obesity alone. A lot of resources are wasted on food advertisements and liposuction procedures; instead, such resources could have been used in education and prevention of obesity. Obesity brings about health complications such as diabetes; this is a serious health condition that comes as a result of the body being incapable of processing glucose, a form of carbohydrate in the body. Another disease associated with obesity is hypertension and heart failures.

Obesity also has serious impacts on the general society, for instance, the rise in the number of obese people has led to an increase in the health insurance premiums. This is because the people who are obese are always faced with a lot of health challenges that will require lot of medical attention. These extra costs are transferred down to the consumers of the health care services. Due to the increased sizes and weights, the car manufactures have been obliged to design bigger seats in the cars and the extra costs of producing seats is always passed on to the consumers (Anonymous, 2009).

Background of the Problem

An ample amount of energy is important for the children as they grow up and this is normally provided by the energy rich food that they take. If the children take in more energy foods that their bodies can utilize then it means that the extra nutrients will be stored in the body in the form of fats(National blood and lung institute: Disease conditions index n.d.). This excess stored fat is what causes obesity in children. If a child’s is 25% more for boys or 32% more for girls relative to their weight and height then the child would be considered obese(Kids’ health, 2009). In the past years, obesity was never a serious health issue but at the moment, it has become one of the major health challenges in the United States. According to the American obesity association, about 15% of teenagers aged between 12 and19 and children aged between 6 and11 are obese. Obesity has both emotional and social impacts on the child, and this therefore calls for the need to practice healthy feeding habits in the children. Indeed, a child that has developed obesity, just like adults, is likely to develop health complications related to obesity (Bupa’s Health Information Team, 2009).

There are various cases associated with the cause of obesity especially in children spanning from inheritance to untimely weaning to unhealthy eating habits to overweight (due to lack of exercise) and finally to lack of enough sleep. The genetic inheritance provides some explanation that a child is likely to be obese if his/her parents have had the problem in the past. Introducing children to solid foods early in their life may lead to overweight since their bodies may not have developed to an active state of utilizing nutrients from such foods. This may trend may be related to cultural beliefs or ethnically aligned. In addition, many families, both rich and poor rarely eat balance diet thus risking their health conditions through excessive consumption of the readily available carbohydrates. Economic factors play a great role in this with the rich likely to spend more money on snacks and fast foods while the poor concentrating on the starch foods that are easily accessible and being unable to afford other foods such as fruits and various proteins. Rarely are the exercises taken serious by many people, and it is common find out that the most obvious cases of obesity are accelerated, if not caused, by inactivity or lack of exercises. Lastly, lack of sleep is deemed to reduce the amount of insulin in the body, a hormone that regulates carbohydrates, and in the process lead to accumulation of fats in the body; people who do not get enough sleep are also considered to overeat. Political and legal factors also play a hand in obesity due to ambiguous or unavailable health policies touching on healthy living (Bupa’s Health Information Team, 2009).

In making plans for the future, governments are planning to put in place proper strategies that will help in educating people on the ways through which they can either prevent or assist people with obesity. There may be a need to increase the taxation on the children’s snacks in order to reduce the amount that being consumed. It may also be important that programs are put in place to encourage people to exercise and as a result burn the excess carbohydrates from their bodies (Lobstein, 2006).

Issue statement

This paper aims at coming up with the strategies that can be employed in order to control and prevent obesity. Obesity is not a disease but a health condition that mainly emanates from behavior. This therefore means that obesity can either be prevented or controlled by having individuals alter their behaviors. In order to prevent obesity in children, it is important that the children are engaged in a lot of extracurricular activities that will enable them to burn out the excess fats, it is also important that the young children are introduced to solid foods at the right time and not early as this is likely to make them overweight thereby predisposing them to overweight and obesity. The children should also be provided with balanced healthy meals and at the right amounts, if the children are overfed then they are likely to be overweight hence increasing their susceptibility to obesity.

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In a case where the child has already developed the full blown obesity, it is important that the condition gets well controlled or managed so that it does not develop negative effects on the child. It will be important that the parents and teachers engage the children in energy consuming activities that will help them in burning excess fats. It is also important to encourage such children to practice healthy eating habits so that their weights do not continue to increase. Moreover, it is also important that the obese child is taken for medical examination so that the best care can be prescribed for him by the doctor. This is especially important especially because the child could have developed a number of complications related to obesity and therefore the need for a proper medical checkup. This paper therefore aims at finding ways through which obesity in children can be controlled and prevented (Health Policy Monitor, 2005).

The stakeholders

In order to come up with a viable health policy, it is important that the decisions are made based on a review of the available facts. It is important that the facts available are of a credible source and that they are relevant and before decisions are made, it is important that these facts are clearly understood so that the facts are not misinterpreted. In coming up with a policy towards the prevention and control of obesity, it is important that political, economical, public, experts and health professional’s points of argument are taken into consideration. It is crucial to consider opinions from various sources because, for instance, a plan to limit the intake of sugars and fatty foods by children may mean that the sales of the drinks taken by children will go down. Such a proposal is likely to have a lot of political implications involving the stakeholders in the soft drinks production. Therefore, in coming up with a policy aimed at preventing and controlling obesity, it is important that all the stakeholders such as politicians, manufactures, traders, advertising agencies, health professionals and the general public are involved in the policy making process. This will help in preventing any conflicts of interest that are likely to arise. However, the stakeholders in the line of production such as manufactures, distributors and advertisers are likely to be against such an idea as this will likely make them lose revenue.

The insurance agencies benefit from the rising obesity cases as which have enabled them to make more revenue by increasing the health insurance premiums for those that are obese. In this case, they benefit from the situation and therefore it’s quite unlikely that they will be in support of such a policy. The health professional normally bear the burden of taking care of the obese children; this therefore means that they will be in full support of a policy that will aim at reducing and preventing obesity in children.

The government is also an important stakeholder in the health of its citizens. The government’s position in such an issue may be divided because, as much as the government earns revenue from the tax paid by the manufacturers it’s also its sole responsibility to ensure that its citizenry is healthy. Such a scenario is normally exhibited by different politicians giving conflicting views on the same matter. The public is normally on a divided opinion on a given issue and will rarely show any solidarity in support of such a policy. This is because the opinions the members of the public provide are normally determined by a number of personal matters.

Policy options and recommendation

An efficient health policy should be one that will support healthy feeding habits and involvement in body exercises. This means that the policy should aim at enhancing the amount of nutrients in the food taken so that not so much or too little of a given nutrient is taken (Mason, Leavitt and Chaffee, 2002). This policy should promote physical exercises as this will help in burning out the excess fats and hence preventing obesity. The current health insurance programs do not seem to have enough provision for the obesity treatment and prevention. A health insurance policy should therefore be able to advocate for this. This is very important because obesity comes with a lot of health complications that require additional medical attention (Mason, Leavitt and Chaffee, 2002). It will therefore be important that the health care providers take this into consideration while the health care insurer should come up with initiatives that promote the prevention of obesity. In order to eliminate obesity completely or to reduce it, it will be important that communities are involved in the initiatives geared towards prevention and management of obesity (Mason, Leavitt and Chaffee, 2002). These could be community organized walks; this will encourage the burning of excess fats. Another option is involvement in community activities such as tree planting or cleaning the environment; these too will help in the burning of excess fats and as a result preventing obesity.

It is important to note that the fight against obesity can not be limited to the homes alone. It will therefore be quite important to organize the learners’ curriculum in such a way that it encourages a lot of physical activities, which will help in the utilization of the stored fats. The school curriculum should contain content that educates the learners on healthy eating habits as well healthy lifestyle that will not promote weight gain. Most of the school-going children tend to learn a lot from their fellow learners or from the teachers. It will be important that the activities in the school are those that promote health. The schools should also be encouraged to sell healthy foods to the learners while in school; this is so because moist of the schools sell to the learners foods rich in carbohydrates, which are likely to predispose them to obesity (Mason, Leavitt and Chaffee, 2002).

The policy should be one that has a program that educates the public on the ways of preventing and controlling obesity. Such awareness programs can be aired on the television or on the print media. This is normally a very powerful tool in informing people. Still in line with the media, the government should at least control the advertisement of those products that targets children especially if they are those of the food substances deemed unfit for the children’s health.

Some of the policies that can be employed to fight obesity in children include, Stop Obesity Act, Stop Obesity in Schools Act Of 2009, Obesity Prevention Treatment and Research Act of 2009, and Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act. Stop Obesity Act can be a general policy targeting all the stakeholders to join hands in the fight against obesity. It is meant to bring to the attention of the parents, government, health professionals, manufactures of food stuff and all the other stakeholders involved, the reality of the obesity. It is a policy that suggests that either very little or no attention has been paid to the obesity issue. It also tries to alert the various stakeholders about their collective responsibility in the issue of obesity.

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Stop Obesity in Schools Act is specific to the schools and it aims at alerting the schools that they could be having a hand in the cause of obesity and therefore the need for them to address the issue. Such a policy aims at having the schools to put their activities and curriculum in order to change what is considered unhealthy as it promotes the development of obesity. For instance, the policy could be advocating for increased extracurricular activities in the school program. It could also be advocating a change in the kind of food stuff sold by the schools to the learners since most of the foodstuff sold in the school canteens are mostly soft drinks that contain a lot of processed sugars that promote weight gain and obesity.

The Obesity Treatment, Prevention and Research Act is based on professional way of handling the obesity issue. Such an act is normally designed by specific group of people especially professionals, for instance, those in the health sector. Such a policy suggests that very little research has been done on obesity and therefore the needed to carry out more medical investigations in order to come up with the appropriate treatment and prevention procedures. Such a policy is important since it will promote investigations so that people can have information about the actual facts about obesity. Once the actual facts have been acquired then appropriate prevention and treatment strategies will be established. This policy is especially important in clarifying conflicting facts about obesity such as the real cause of obesity. Moreover, research provides the general public with credible first hand information (Health Policy Monitor, 2005).

The last policy is the Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act. This policy is normally aimed at the genera public and encourages people to eat healthy foods and to engage in physical activity. Such a policy also aims at bringing to the attention of the general public, ways through which having well balanced meals and engaging in physical activities are likely to prevent them from developing obesity.

In order to prevent and control obesity, it is important that a culture of supervising the health of the children is developed. For instance, it is important that the family history of the children is analyzed in order to determine whether they are susceptible to obesity or not. This is important because at times obesity is inherited, or by looking at a child’s cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, one can actually tell their susceptibility to obesity. It is also important that the children’s BMI is taken at least once a year, and if possible, the relative variations in the measurements should be used to determine excessive growth in the child. This can help in determining if the child is likely to develop obesity or not and if possible, provide for early interventions where necessary.

It is also important to form support groups for individuals with obesity so that they can be helped to deal with the condition. In promoting healthy feeding habits, it is important that parents are encouraged to prolong the breastfeeding period instead of introducing infants to solid foods so early thereby increasing their chances of developing obesity. For the grown up children, it is important that healthy meals are served in the families and the parents should avoid serving their children with very fatty foods or too much snacks that contain large amounts of processed sugars that are likely to predispose the children to obesity. It is also important that both parents and teachers encourage children to engage in a lot of physical activities that can help them burn the excess fats thereby preventing them from developing obesity.

I will also recommend that programs are developed that will assist parents and educators to assist the youths in developing active lifestyles and healthy feeding habits. I would also recommend that the policy makers at the school, local, state and national levels come up with strategies that educate the youth on adopting healthy lifestyles. Moreover, I would advocate for the establishment of organizations that will promote more research on obesity and therefore provide efficient treatment and prevention tactics.

Conclusion

Obesity is a health condition that has affected the social life of many people in various parts of the world. Despite it being associated with the rich nations, the condition is spreading fast to other areas including Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which were previously deemed less susceptible to the problem. Healthy lifestyles should be prioritized especially considering that the numbers of people who are obese have increased tremendously especially in the developed countries. It is important that obesity is detected early enough because if it is delayed then the commonly used intervention may not be successful and the individual (Kiess, Claude and Wabitsch, 2004. 234). Obesity is can be genetically inherited from the parents or it can one can also develop it as a result of consuming too much of fatty foods or those that are rich in carbohydrates. It is also caused by lack of enough sleep, physical activity or by some medication that promote water retention in the body as a result increasing the weight of the individual. In order to prevent obesity in children, it is important that they get provided with healthy meals, encouraged to indulge in a lot of physical activities and they should also be encouraged to have enough sleep.

References

Anonymous. (2009). The effects of obesity on a society as a whole. Web.

Anonymous. (2005). How to control and prevent obesity in children. Web.

Bupa’s Health Information Team. (2009). Obesity in Children. Web.

Health Policy Monitor. (2005). Obesity Prevention Initiative. Web.

Kids’ health. (2009). What is obesity? Web.

Kiess, W., Claude, M. and Wabitsch, M. (2004). Obesity in childhood and adolescence. Karger Publishers. Web.

Lobstein, L. (2006). Comment: Preventing Child Obesity an Art and a science. Web.

Mason, D., Leavitt, J. and Chaffee, M. (2002). Policy & politics in nursing and health care. NY, Elsevier Health Sciences.

National blood and lung institute: Disease conditions index. (N.d.). What causes overweight and obesity? 2010. Web.

Scott, J. (2009). Calculate and understand your IBM. Web.

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