Childhood obesity in the United States evolved from an oppressive problem to the epidemic in scale issue; this crux cannot be ignored and society should radically fight with it. This paper focuses on the main causes of the existing situation’s deterioration; these are poor diet and inactivity combined with excessive TV watching and reluctance to change. In addition, the paper describes the relationship between poverty, environment and the level of childhood obesity, giving the statistical data of obesity prevalence among the various races and social classes. Role of parents in the occurrence of this problem is discussed as well. The emphasis is on the fact that targeted training, comprehensive information, and lifestyle changes should be applied to prevent the decline of national health.
Many researchers agree that the main causes of childhood obesity, except for genetic predispositions, are unconscious consumption of energy-rich food in quantities that exceed the daily rate of a child, lack of mobility and physical activities, and useless pastimes in front of TV with a mass advertising attack (Boero, 2007; Gard & Wright, 2005; Klein & Dietz, 2010). Heredity and genetic influences are evaluated up to 40 per cent according to some sources, in particular Braunstein (2011), and they amount to more than 60 per cent according to other researchers, like Olfman (2005).
Simons et al. (2008) argued that the figure indicating the childhood obesity almost tripled during the past thirty years. It raised a concern about the emotional and physical health of future generations. Moreover, African-American children were affected the most. The level of obesity and overweight among European American girls were twice lower than among African-American girls (Baskin, Ard, Franklin & Allison, 2005).
Ogden, Lamb, Carroll and Flegal (2010) stated that, in 2007–2008, almost 17% of children aged 2-19 years were diagnosed as obese. Psychosocial and health problems in particular cardiovascular diseases are associated with obesity. The authors made a conclusion that dispelled the myth about the correlation of low income families and obese children. They state that “most obese children and adolescents are not low income (below 130% of the poverty level)” (p.1).
The investigation pointed out that the decrease in obesity level among boys and girls was associated with an increase in income, although this trend was not uniform for different ethnicity groups and races.
Blasi (2003) put an emphasis on the fact that, being deprived of attention from hard working parents, half of 8-16 aged children spend 3-5 hours in front of a TV-set consuming enormous amounts of Cola, chips and other not useful junk food. Purposeless surfing the Internet and playing video games drive children to trance-like state, thus replacing sports activities or even playing in the yard.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (2010), the obesity rate among children aged 2 and younger is approximately 9.5 per cent. They state that socioeconomic and environmental factors that facilitate the progression of obesity are: limited access to fresh and low-calorie healthy foods; lack of time to prepare healthy food and its replacement with high fat content ready-made food; poor districts or high-crime areas with no access to parks, gyms or community centers; conscious choice not to walk to school or being involved in recreation activities, due to safety concerns in particular. Moreover, the researchers highlight that sweetened drinks, fast foods and high-fat snacks that accompanied young children at home, during classes and their spare time are also crucial factors that determine the increasing rate of childhood obesity. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends parents to pay their attention to controlling the children’s appetite, not to force their children to clean off their plates, whenever possible to prepare a simple meal from natural and fresh ingredients, “to provide ample fiber in the child’s diet”, not to convert food and sweets in the incentives for good academic performance results and other awards, try to remove access to harmful food at least at home, encourage physical activities, joint family outdoor activities, limit the possibility to watch television more than 2 hours a day.
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Davis and Carpenter (2009) argued that the increase in the number of children eating at fast food restaurants increased 5-fold between 1977 and 1995. The authors underlined that the proximity of the fast-food restaurants to the schools affected the growth of the obesity rate among children. The authors urged parents to express discontent with such facts and to influence the adoption of legislative acts that would forbid fast-foods restaurants to be located near schools. Olfman (2005) also supported the above mentioned position and pointed out that billions of dollars were spent on advertising and marketing campaigns influencing eating habits of children in fast-food industry. It is incomprehensible, but the daily diet of children aged 8-18 included over 30 per cent of low-nutrient snacks. It is the impact of 10, 000 advertisements per year that promote unhealthy food as they focus mainly on children audience. The author argued that such free behavior of American manufacturers was more aggressively regulated in other countries. Norway and Sweden, for instance, do not allow advertising certain food products to the children audience aged fewer than twelve. In Quebec, Canada, there exists a law prohibiting advertising to children who are less than thirteen years old. In Belgium, the advertising is forbidden 5 minutes before and after children’s programs. These are only few facts that prove the consciousness and care of children’s health that should be taken as an example in the United States.
The aggressiveness of media influencing the unspoiled and naive minds of children affects greatly their behaviour and buying preferences of their parents. Such passiveness and vulnerability are used by manufacturers of obesity causing products to increase their profits at the expense of children’s health. Sedentary and sloth lifestyle combined with easy availability of harmful products and poor diet quality became the norm in American society (Rothblum & Solovay, 2009).
Furthermore, the emphasis of the school curriculum on the development of other disciplines except physical education is a well-known trend. Another alarming fact is that inactive preschoolers risk to be diagnosed as obese four times more frequently than their peers who are physically active at least 60 minutes per day. Moreover, numerous studies highlight the correlation between improved performance at school and physical activity. Therefore, it is recommended to implement such a school model that would introduce balance between mental and physical exercises (Olfman, 2005).
All the above mentioned numerical facts and numerous preventive measures should be implement in the nearest future. At the same time, great attention and help should be address to children who already suffer from this disease. To prevent the future health problems in the most complicated cases, Henry (2005) pointed out the bariatric surgery as a radical and last resort help for such patients.
Lack of awareness and understanding of the existing obesity situation among the parents is gaining a greater scale. It is vital for the American society and responsible parents in particular to protect their children from the media and environmental influences that are beyond the children’s conscious understanding and ability to realize the truth (Eliadis, 2006). It is high time to stop obesity epidemics by providing children with the opportunity to eat healthy food, spend more time engaged in outdoors activities rather than in front of TV or computer. Children should not be the slaves of the society that does not value health and future or does not want to see the root of the problem hiding behind large employment and money earning. Basic limitations in food preferences, change in the way of life, and regulation of advertising campaigns manipulating eating habits of children are the right tools on the way to the nation’s recovery.