Essay: Childhood Obesity: Problem and Solutions Health Professionals

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Childhood Obesity: Problem and Solutions

Health professionals have, for a long time, known the consequences of being overweight and obesity in adults. Over the course of the past three decades, there has been increased concern and attention regarding the issue of Childhood Obesity. There are varying opinions about what factors contribute to increased childhood obesity. Main contributors range from genetic predisposition to sedentary lifestyles. A number of disciplines have developed approaches to address these concerns. However, these approaches seem to only address one facet of a problem that is multifaceted. Applied separately, these approaches still leave us with the problem of a steady rise in childhood obesity. As such, perhaps a holistic approach to address childhood obesity would be more effective.

The marked increase in childhood obesity can be seen in the statistical analysis conducted by the Department of Health and Nutrition. Researchers took a comparison of the rate of obesity in children and youth between 1963-1965 and 2007-2008, and found that:

Obesity in children ages 2 to 5 increased from 5.0% to 10.4%.

Obesity in children ages 6 to 11 increased from 6.5% to 19.6%.

Obesity in adolescents ages 12 to 19 increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.

Researchers also noted differences between gender and race in the increase in childhood obesity.

Obesity in non-Hispanic Caucasian males increased from 11.6% to 16.7%.

Obesity in non-Hispanic African-American males increased from 10.7% to 19.8%.

Obesity amongst Mexican-American males increased from 14.1% to 26.8%.

Obesity in non-Hispanic Caucasian females increased from 8.9% to 14.5%.

Obesity in non-Hispanic African-American females increased from 16.3% to 29.2%.

Obesity in Mexican-American females increased from 13.4% to 17.4%.

Although research into the causes of childhood obesity has not been as extensive as the research with overweight adults, significantly increased health related issues in obese children have been noted. Short-term health issues may include hyperinsulinemia, asthma, hypertension, and obstructive sleep apnea (Berg, 2004). Pervasive health issues such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease; diagnoses once reserved for adults, are now being made more and more with children (Franko et al., 2005). Additionally, obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and as a result are more at risk for associated adult health problems, including osteoarthritis, stroke, heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke, and various types of cancer, (Freedman, Zuguo, Srinivasan, Berenson, & Deitz, 2007).

Because of the steadily increasing numbers of children clinically determined to be obese and the ever increasing rates in which children are being diagnosed and treated for what use to be 'adult only maladies', health professionals and researchers alike have begun to regard this increasing phenomenon as a pandemic; not just for the United States, but for industrialized countries all over the world. The possibility has been raised that the pervasiveness and severity of childhood obesity may significantly, and for the first time, negatively affect what has historically been the steady increase of life expectancy; with youth today on average living shorter and potentially less healthy lives than their parents (Daniels, 2011).

Not only are health related issues of serious concern with childhood obesity, but also the psychological and social implications that naturally follow. According to the Surgeon General, social discrimination is considered one of the greatest problems overweight children and adolescents may face (USDHH, 2001). Being taunted, teased, shunned, and ridiculed may be daily occurrences for children struggling with their weight; and oftentimes as a secondary result, obese children are reportedly suffering with less psychosocial well being, low self-esteem and more depression than their average size peers (Mellin et al., 2002).

There has been a great deal of speculation as to what has contributed to such an increased and disproportionate number of children suffering with obesity. Some of the main contributors to childhood obesity have been identified as genetic predisposition, unhealthy eating habits, and sedentary lifestyles (Ballard & Alessi, 2004). The notion of genetic predisposition as a contributing factor to the staggering rise in childhood obesity may be attributable, in part, to environmental changes that affected prior generations, now manifesting itself in this generation.

Specifically, gestational diabetes and diabetes during lactation caused by maternal obesity may promote a repeat pattern in subsequent generations (Rogers, 2003). In Addition, Body Mass Index (BMI) or adiposity has a heritable component, or the ability to be passed through lineage.

This finding is well supported by clinically researched testing, including animal breeding studies, human twin, family, and adoption studies, with an estimated heritability of approximately 65% (Allison, et al., 2003). Rossner (2002) has identified childhood obesity as the "disease of the 21st century" because of the consumption of unhealthy quantities of dietary fat and lack of regular exercise that earmarks the behaviors of obese children and adolescents today.

Substantial contributors to the sedentary lifestyle so many young people have adopted today can be directly related to advancements in technology (Sallis, et al., 2003). According to the most recent A.C. Nielsen rating for 2010, children and youth spend approximately 1,680 minutes or 70 hours per week watching television (Television & Health, 2010). Whereas children and youth spend roughly 900 hours per year in school, more than 1500 hours per year are spent in front of the television. According to William H. Deitz, pediatrician and prominent obesity expert at Tufts University School of Medicine, "The easiest way to reduce inactivity is to turn off the TV set. Almost anything else uses more energy than watching TV." In addition to the inactivity of children and adolescents associated with the television, is the noted elevation of inactivity due to engagement in video gaming technology, computers, and cell phones. Very little physical activity is required, and some experts speculate that this pervasive inactivity can even lower a child's metabolism (Zametktn, et al., 2004).

Today, engagement in physical activity is primarily relegated to physical education in school. However, there are only two states, Illinois and Massachusetts, which require physical education for children and adolescents in grades kindergarten through 12th. Further, a recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) study indicates that less than 4% of elementary schools, less than 8% of middles schools, and a little more than 2% of high schools require daily physical education for all students all year. Even though National Association of Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) have recommended an increase in physical activity from 30 minutes to 60 minutes for children ages 2 to 5, many school gym facilities are being used for multiple purposes, limiting the opportunity for children to actually take advantage of the PE time allotted (2010 Physical Activity Report). As children spend more and more time after school in front of the television, on the cell phone, or playing computer games, less and less time is spent engaged in physical activity. Research reports indicate that a student's participation in school-based sports programs, physical education, or extracurricular activities greatly reduce the risk of obesity (Burke, et al., 1998).

Interestingly, however, there has been a nationwide trend towards cutting or eliminating team-based sports in elementary and middle school (Kimm, et al., 1996). Much of the noted reduction has been attributed to the new, "No Child Left Behind" law. Due to increased pressure for academic performance from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or "No Child Left Behind" law, many elementary, middle, and secondary schools have suffered weighty budget cuts that have drastically reduced funding for physical education classes, extracurricular sports, and athletic programs. School boards across the United States have to determine what's most important: retaining funding for academics, or ensuring children receive the allotted number of hours of physical education per week. With its emphasis on getting children to pass standardized tests by bringing low performing students to proficiency, the ESEA is literally forcing the hands of schools to take already limited resources and primarily, if not exclusively, divert them to academic performance. "Physical education is a critical part of a complete education and every student deserves to be physically educated," says Charlene Burgeson, the Executive Director of the National Association for Sports and Physical Education.

Robinson and Sirard in their article, "Preventing Childhood Obesity: A Solution-Oriented Research Paradigm" posit that part of the problem to resolving the situation of childhood obesity is the continued perpetuation of the predominant biomedical, problem and disease oriented social science research paradigm, as it continues to slow research progress in effective prevention (p. 195). Their research supports a solution-based paradigm that seeks to identify solutions to improve health vs. looking at factors that contribute to poor health (p. 196). This is a much more forward thinking approach than has been utilized in the past with minimal if any clinically significant results. When the research questions, therefore, are phrased differently, for example; "Does adding bike paths and sidewalks increase physical activity levels?" versus, "Is childhood inactivity related to childhood obesity?," then research findings may generate different results. Regardless of whether the response to the solution focused question is positive or negative, the responses can be directly translated to plausible… [END OF PREVIEW]

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