According to the American Heart Association, childhood obesity affects about 1/3 of the kids and teens in America. This means that 1 in every 3 kids is either obese or overweight. Both are the result of consuming too many calories and not enough calorie expenditure.
What is the reason for this growing childhood obesity epidemic in America?
Who is to blame for this growing epidemic? What are we doing differently that has resulted in so many children being obese. However there is not a single cause working alone, that is contributing to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, but there are multiple factors.
Genes or Genetically Modified Foods:
Although genes play a very important role in determining your body weight. Research has found that children of obese parents are more prone to be overweight. But the real cause of concern here is Genetically Modified Foods or GMOs. A study done in rats at Norwegian school of veterinary science shows that rats who were fed GMO corn grew fatter then the rats who were fed non-GMO corn. In words of a lead researcher at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science “If the same effect applies to humans, how would it impact people eating this type of corn over a several years, or even eating meat from animals feeding on this corn?”
Role of media and food marketing advertisement:
Kids are spending too much time watching television. Junk food ads on T.V. is making the problem worse. A study done at Harvard in 750 children between the ages of 10 to 15 have shown that, kids who watched TV for more than 5 hours had 500 times more risk of being overweight.
School Lunches and Vending Machines:
Schools play a very important role, given the fact that an average child spends about 7 to 8 hours at school. Lunches offered at school are many times high calorie, high sugar, low nutrition foods, and given unlimited access to these foods including the vending machines lurking in the hallways, does not make it easy on the kids. Physical Education in high schools have become optional and not a necessity.
Changing family structure:
Everyone in the family seems to be in short of time. Children are involved in too many activities. Parents and kids are stressed out. Eating take-out and fast food meals have become a routine given the busy schedule in the families. Fast food and super size meals have become more prevalent today then it was ever before, becoming another major cause of childhood obesity. Family mealtime have disappeared.
Psychological and physiological effects of childhood obesity :
Research has found that because of this growing epidemic of childhood obesity, there is an increased in disease related obesity in children. Some diseases and conditions that were not known to affect kids 30 years ago are becoming life threatening in the kids who are obese. Children who are obese are often diagnosed with the following:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Allergies and asthma
- Sleep apnea
- Kidney disease
- Fatty liver
- Metabolic syndrome
- Hormonal imbalances
- Early puberty
- Low self-esteem
- Eating disorders
- Behavioral problems like aggression and moodiness
Steps we can take to fight childhood obesity:
So is there anything we can do to stop this epidemic or is it too late? Well let’s begin by saying that it is not too late. There are some things we can do at every level that can help.
Role that the schools can play to prevent childhood obesity:
- Provide healthy school lunches.
- Remove vending machines or give healthy choices as an alternative.
- Educate Children on distinguishing between junk food and healthy food and the importance of making healthy choices.
- Increase physical activity time during PE and making it mandatory.
- Getting a good grade in physical activity at school is not given the same importance as the grade in math or language arts. It is more of an option and not a need. We forget that healthy body makes healthy brains. We are sending our kids the message that physical activity is only secondary to getting good grades in other subjects.
Role of parents:
- Encourage physical activity and take part with your children in playing sport that he/she will enjoy.
- Absolutely no T.V or computer use in bedrooms.
- Team up with your child’s pediatrician to educate your child to make good food choices and long-term medical effects of making having a healthy life style. Children tend to listen, if the information is coming from someone other than the parent and an authority on the subject such as a doctor.
- Make home cooked meals instead of take out or boxed food. In words of Dr. Mark Hyman, “Americans spend more time watching cooking shows on television than actually cooking in the kitchen”.
- Form a community group that can help kids come together and do some fun physical activities.
- Kids imitate what the parents do. As said by M. K. Gandhi ” Be the change you want to see in the world”. If you want your kids to start eating healthy, set an example by making healthy food choices. If you don’t want your kids to eat junk food, don’t bring it home.
- Do not use food as a reward or punishment.
- Teach your child how to manage stress by meditation and yoga, as many kids are emotional eaters.
- Kids these days do not drink enough water. A typical teenager will grab a bottle of soda, juice or an energy drink. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, and it gets worse, when instead of reaching out for a glass of water, kids reach out for soda or junk food.
- Even though it is impossible for every family to stay away from genetically modified foods as food companies are not required to label them, there is a list called dirty dozen which lets you know which foods have the high amount of pesticides and if you do want to eat these 12 foods, you should buy organic. Smart budgeting will allow you to buy these foods, like skipping one trip to a fast food place.
- Getting kids involved in a meal preparation and shopping for food also helps them in making good food choices.
Role of Government agencies: Realizing the importance to combat childhood obesity the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was passed, which gave USDA the power to set standards for school breakfast and lunches. There are other measures that can be taken which include the following:
- Building more accessible parks, side-walk and promote safe routes to school.
- Providing subsidies to companies making healthy foods to make it both affordable and accessible to low-income families.
- Setting standards in schools for more physical activities and give funding to schools for PE, making it as important as other core subjects.
Where do we go from here?
We know that change is needed and we need to work together as a community to combat this growing epidemic of childhood obesity. We as parents are greatest influence in our children’s lives. Children are our future and we know we need to take care of the future for a better tomorrow. Let us change the course of this growing epidemic by changing one child at a time.
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