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Effects Of Childhood Obesity

 Rubber DuckOver the last three decades, childhood obesity has emerged as a growing health problem especially in developed Western countries and middle-income economies around the world. Statistics show that over the last thirty years, childhood obesity has doubled globally (Ogden et al., 2012).  Similarly, obesity and weight problems have also grown more than three times in adolescents over the last three decades.

For example, in the United States, prevalence of childhood obesity grew from 7% in children between 6 to11 years of age in 1980 to almost 18% in 2010 (Ogden et al., 2012).  Obesity is the physical status of having too much body fat (Krebs et al., 2007).  Healthcare professionals attribute the growing problem of obesity and weight problems in children and adolescents to the elements within the social environment. In particular, technological advancement is a major contributing factor to this growing problem. In contemporary society, children and adolescents have adopted sedentary lifestyles characterized by physical inactivity. Today, children prefer staying indoors, watching television, and playing computer games instead of playing physically active games with peers in their neighborhood.

There are immediate and long-term effects of childhood obesity.  Children who are obese or overweight usually have lower self-esteem more than those who have normal weight.  Immediate effects of childhood obesity include increased risk for cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure or high cholesterol (Freedman et al., 2007).   Obese children are also more likely to suffer from pre-diabetes, a health condition where a child’s blood sugar levels cause a high risk of developing diabetes.  Childhood obesity also caused affected children to be at a higher risk of suffering from joint and bone ailments, sleep problems and psychological and social problems, like lower self-esteem and stigmatization (Daniels et al., 2005).  Overweight and obese children face a very hard life in today’s society.  Children with normal weight at the elementary school tease overweight and obese children and make them  outcasts.  The kind of treatment they get adversely affects many obese children in elementary school and a majority of them lack best friends in the classroom.  Obese children do not have best friends to play games with, and rarely are invited to parties and sleepovers.  These children have it very hard such that their self-esteem plays a significant role in their day-to-day life. 

Long-term effects of childhood obesity include first the likelihood of being obese in adulthood.   This in turn places obese children at a higher risk of developing adult health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and different types of cancer (Freedman et al., 2007). A study carried out by Freedman et al indicated that children who are obese from the age of  two were at a greater risk of being obese as adults.   In the long-term, childhood obesity and weight problems are connected to increased risks of contracting different types of cancer including colon, breast, esophageal, endometrium, kidney, ovarian and prostate cancer among others (Kushi  et al., 2006). 

Eradicating childhood obesity and overweight problems is a collective responsibility that requires input from parents, teachers, church leaders, healthcare providers, media and members of the greater society.  Most importantly, adopting healthy lifestyle choices is the most critical measure in the struggle against obesity and overweight  problems in childhood (Dietz et al., 2002).  Healthy lifestyle choices that families can adopt include physical activity and healthy eating.  These healthy lifestyle choices help to lower the risk of children becoming obese and developing  related diseases.  In particular, parents, teachers and caregivers should be aware of a child’s physical activity and several institutions of society including schools, families, childcare settings, media, communities, religious organizations among others, influence dietary behaviors.   Schools and childcare settings should establish supportive and safe environments with practices and policies that reinforce healthy behaviors.

References

  • Daniels, S.R., Arnett, D.K., & Eckel, R.H.(2005). Overweight in children and adolescents: pathophysiology, consequences, prevention, and treatment. Circulation,111,1999–2002.
  • Dietz, W., Bland, M., Gortmaker, S., Molloy, M., & Schmid, T. (2002). Policy tools for the childhood obesity epidemic. Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, 30, 83-87.
  • Freedman, D. S. et al., (2007). Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Journal of Pediatrics, 150(1), 12–17.
  • Krebs, N.F., et al., (2007). Assessment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity. Pediatrics,120, 193–228.
  • Kush , L.H., et al. (2006). American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 56, 254–281.
  • Ogden, C.L., Carroll, M.D., Kit, B.K., & Flegal, K.M. (2012).Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(5), 483-490.

Author: John W. Currie RN/MSNc from The International Reach and Teach Institute

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