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Children are Environmentally Fat
February 21, 2011
Obesity has become a rising epidemic in the United States and, sadly, it has also begun to affect the youth as well. These young individuals make up the future of our country’s stability and structure, but can we blame more and more youth who are becoming obese? According to the statistics, 16.9% of children and teens between ages 2-19 are obese (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/index.html). However, since the 1980s, childhood obesity has been on the rise in America. Also, since the 1980s, food and the environment of children have changed. The purpose of this paper is to focus on how a child’s environment can lead to childhood obesity and ways to prevent it.
Parents and Poverty
When a child is hungry, naturally their caregiver, parent or legal guardian wants to supply the child with food. Parents often feel tired after a long day at work and do not have the time to make a home cooked meal. What do parents do to satisfy the hunger so quickly? The answer lies within the fast food industries like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and junk food as well. This goes with the fact that American food is very inexpensive, and also the most abundant. “Basically we live in a culture that’s engineered to promote obesity”, says Margo Wooten (qtd. in Greenblatt 4-5). Children seem to inherit bad eating habits, based solely on the fact that when they want food, they typically want it fast, causing a leading trail to going out to eat, instead of enjoying a hot, fresh (and often lower in calories) meal from home. Moreover, with the economy being in a recession, most parents cannot afford to pay the extra money for health foods or things that may be beneficial to their child. Leading to the option of high-calorie food at low prices. The government tries to help low-income parents with food stamps and other financial aid available, but oftentimes the amount still is not enough to be able to afford a healthy meal or snacks for the whole household.
Rewards and Punishments
When children do well in school or around the house, how does a parent reward them? With a treat of course! “I’ll take you to Dairy Queen after school if you make good grades and listen to the teacher Johnny”. So, how does Johnny learn to obtain what he wants? He models his behavior towards something more acceptable and is able to get the ice cream (or other treat of his desire) from his parent. These bribes to be better or do better is of course, as a child, sent to the brain and begins to associate food with happiness or some reward, which may lead to children eating uncontrollable amounts of food when feeling stressed or unhappy (Bettelheim 4).
Conversely, children are also punished from food. Desserts are taken away when children misbehave or when parents want to try and “shape” their behavior. Heard of curiosity killed the cat? Well what about high calorie sugar-based products lead to bad health problems in youth? Essentially, when momma says “don’t touch” or “don’t eat” it only raises the child’s interest in the subject at hand more.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
When children see their parents eating what they want, gaining weight, and not caring about the healthy choices available, why should the children care if they do the same? Parents must model the behavior that they want to see from their children. “Because parental obesity represents one of the major risk factors for pediatric obesity, many at-risk children will live in families with obese parents.” (Epstein, Gordy, et. al 1-2). Parents should begin to recognize that children tend to mimic their parents behavior without realizing it. Recent studies show that if parents eat healthier so will the children. Conversely, if parents tend to eat more sweets, children mimic that behavior as well (Staff, 2-3).
School: Not Just for Learning
Ever wonder how many calories are stacked into those cafeteria lunches? Pizza, burgers, cookies, chips name just a few of the high calorie content that linger around children in their everyday school environment. Children are allowed to even start their day with the option of breakfast pizza; coincidentally, it is the same pizza that the cafeteria serves for lunch. “In a group of more than 1,000 sixth graders in southern Michigan, those who regularly had the school lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch” (http://www.citizensreport.org/2011/02/11/school-lunches-contribute-to-childhood-obesity/). The number may continue to rise if schools cannot invest into paying more for healthier food rather than going for the high-calorie, cheaper food (http://www.citizensreport.org/2011/02/11/school-lunches-contribute-to-childhood-obesity/).
Not only do school lunches affect childhood obesity, but also the snack content in vending machines. The snacks vary from Oreos to chips to soda pop, which are very appetizing while fattening. Research shows that vending machines do not always have healthy choices and this detrimentally can affect a child’s lifestyle (Colwell, 1). Once a child is handed money to spend for snack, they cannot help but buy some of these sugar-filled, high-calorie content for instant gratification. The machines are a “nice” segue to a quick chocolate fix or be able to quench a thirst with a refreshing Coca-Cola. The misconception here is that the 100% fruit juice in machines is a “healthy choice” for kids. However, the juice can add over “140 to 320 calories outside of a regular meal” (Colwell, 1).
Ever wonder how school’s can promote health classes and physical education, but negate those things with unhealthy food in the lunches and vending machines? Schools can be hypocrites with such things. It becomes harder for children to participate in activities the more unhealthy they are (Fainaru-Wada, 1). Also with increasing age, like high school students, physical education becomes optional, or, most sadly when the school cannot afford to fund a physical education class for its students (Fainaru-Wada, 1).
Bullying: Constant Teasing in One’s Environment leads to Obesity:
“Bullying is a highly prevalent (~30%) form of aggression in youth that involves the repeated use of power and aggression” (Janssen et al., 2). These bullies constantly find targets and their weaknesses and use it against them. For instance, with obese (or slightly overweight) children, a bully may decide to say some wise cracks about their weight or eating habits. Instead of taking up for themselves (mainly out of being scared of what could happen), children resort to finding comfort in “happy foods” like chocolate, which release serotonin and dopamine (key neurotransmitters that cause people to feel happy) (Kuwana, 4).
Effects of Childhood Obesity
Early onsets of obesity (primary years) can lead to morbidity and mortality once people reach adulthood. The effects of obesity can be very detrimental to one’s health. Obesity can lead to terminal diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease hypertension, and cancer (Abramovitz 21). The illness most likely to affect overweight and obese people is Type 2 diabetes. “Health experts are concerned about this trend because diabetes can lead to many serious complications, such as blindness, limb amputation, and kidney disease” (Abramovitz 21). Obesity can also be the source behind rising blood pressure levels. Uncontrollable amounts of high blood pressure can lead to terminal damage of the brain, heart, and kidney.
How can we prevent childhood obesity?
Parents, school, or any other environment where children may be present must take the steps to prevent childhood obesity. If not prevented soon, the effects of being obese can lead to harmful health risks or death. Parents can begin by instilling an active lifestyle within their children. Remember, “monkey see, monkey do”; therefore, parents should be active with their children as well (i.e. exercising, running, sports, etc.) (Pratt, et. al., 1-2). Because children tend to feed off of people’s emotions, then it is necessary to use positive reinforcement to promote the child to choose healthier options and ensure them that it takes time to be healthy and that they can change who they are today with time and dedication. “Previous studies measuring local food environments have tended to focus on various aspects of food access, including availability, proximity, or consumer choice” (Day, 3). Essentially, schools can provide children with more healthy choices and proportion sizes then there can be a dramatic decrease in childhood obesity. Parents can also watch for mood changes within the child and take account of when children lose weight and help them towards not gaining it back. When parents change the environment of a child it changes their behavior. Parents must “identify obesogenic environments and influence them so that healthier choices are more available, easier to access, and widely promoted to a large proportion of the community” (Deghan, et. al 3). Building a healthy environment yields healthier lifestyles for children to follow.
Obesity is a disease that affects the youth of today. Prevention of obesity before and after is a key essential. Obesity can potentially lead to other disorders as well, such as depression, diabetes, etc. Initiate the game plan for children beginning in the home and broaden research from there. “Children can benefit from an appropriate built environment” (Deghan, et. al., 2). However, research shows that the steps needed are specific and based off other elements as well.
Abramovitz, M. (2004). Obesity. Diseases and Disorders. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group. In Obesity: Diseases and Disorders (pp. 14-34).
Bettelheim, A. (1999). Obesity and Health. CQ Researcher 9.2: 1-22 CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1999011500.
Colwell, C. (2008). Vending Machines Found in Most Middle Schools:
Snacks, drinks sold not helping fight against childhood obesity, researcher notes. HealthDay. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/diabetes/articles/2008/10/06/vending-machines-found-in-most-middle-schools.
Day, P.L. (2011). Obesity-Promoting Food Environments and the Spatial Clustering of Food Outlets Around Schools. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VHT-51XXFK5-5&_user=86629&_coverDate=02%2F28%2F2011&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000006878&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=86629&md5=a0e2f8a2dc8c3d995a035c6656df1116&searchtype=a.
Dehghan, M., et. al. (2005). Childhood obesity, prevalence and prevention. Nutrition Journal. Retrieved February 2, 2011, from http://www.nutritionj.com/content/4/1/24#IDAY0Z4D.
Epstein, L.H., Gordy, C.C., et al. (2001). Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Decreasing Fat and Sugar Intake in Families at Risk for Childhood Obesity. Obesity Research. Retrieved February 20, 2011, from http://www.nature.com/oby/journal/v9/n3/full/oby200118a.html.
Fainaru-Wada, M. (2009). Critical mass crisis: child obesity. ESPN Archive. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=4015831.
Greenblatt, A. (2003). Obesity Epidemic. CQ Researcher 13.4:1-32. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Retrieved February 11, 2011, from http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre20030131100.
Janssen et al. (2004). Associations Between Overweight and Obesity With Bullying Behaviors in School-Aged Children. Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/113/5/1187.
Kuwana, E. (2010). Discovering the Sweet Mysteries of Chocolate. Neuroscience for Kids. Retrieved February 2, 2011, from http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/choco.html.
Pratt, C.A. (2008). Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment Recommendations for Future Research. NIH Public Access. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/pmc/articles/PMC2546465/?tool=pmcentrez.
Staff, L.S. (2009). Parents Blamed for Childhood Obesity. LiveScience.com. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://www.livescience.com/3293-parents-blamed-childhood-obesity.html.
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