Growth is something that we desire as a nation in many ways. We want to grow our bank accounts and our investments. Parents want to watch their children grow up and become successful. Unfortunately, our nation’s parents are also watching the growth of their children physically at a very alarming rate. Visit any public setting that children frequent whether it be your local mall, park or movie theater and you are sure to see the same scenario. The waistline of America’s children has grown and it shows no signs of stopping. There are a multitude of reasons for the expansion of girth among our youth, but as grown-ups paving the way for the kids of our country we must do something to combat this. Adults should take more responsibility in the prevention of childhood obesity by placing a larger focus on the activity level and nutrition received by America’s children.
We have the ability to control this epidemic, but that’s not to mean that it will be an easy road. Obesity is one of the leading causes of death in our nation, but it is preventable. According to Obesity and Overweight put out by the World Health Organization (WHO) they list obesity as the fifth leading cause for global deaths. The WHO website also details that obesity contributes to at least 2.8 million deaths in adults. Not only do we put ourselves at risk of death, but we place ourselves in the direct sights to be targeted by disease. Additionally WHO breaks down that 44% of those with diabetes, 23% of people suffering from heart disease and between 7% and 41% of cancer patients are attributable to obesity. What can we do to protect children from going down this grave path and contributing to these negative statistics? A study done by A.A. Hedley found that “overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.” The first step to preventing this disease is to not only to get ourselves moving in the right direction of wanting to make a positive impact, but it is to just move more in general and get the children of our nation to join us in being active.
More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth according to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Our own personal physical activity is one of the easiest things we can control. This is as simple as deciding to take a walk to the park instead of driving there or maybe even taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Every little bit can and will help us, but what can we do for kids? Children’s activity levels might be trickier to manipulate as we don’t want a sudden change in increased activity to come off as negative or punishment. We want to increase the activity level of kids in a fun way so that it can be maintained even without an adult present. Something to start with could be limiting time spent in front of the television or time spent with video game systems and turning physical activity, such as a bike ride, into a family hobby done weekly. Volunteering with children’s programs such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters is a great way for anyone without their own children to put effort into helping kids get more active. Many cities have recreational centers that offer youth and adult athletic programs involving sports such as baseball, football, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, and cheerleading for people to take part in. The more adults that invest in their own activity and the activity of children around them then the bigger dent we place as a nation on curbing the childhood obesity rate.
Becoming more active will help, but there is no amount of activity that can fix a poor diet. A study, by Mahshid Dehghan et al, found that “it takes 1-2 hours of extremely vigorous activity to counteract a single large-size children’s meal at a fast food restaurant.” (3) It does not matter how active children are it is only one part of the issue to fix in order to slow down the rising epidemic of childhood obesity. The poor nutrition that children are receiving is also crucial to this problem, but again just like their activity level this is something that we can help change. The first step is not the avoidance of fast food restaurants, but the understanding that overconsumption of food is what leads to an upward trend in unwanted weight gain. However, attempting to eat more meals prepared at home, as opposed to fast food restaurants, would lead to the ability to control the nutritional intake of meals as well as the proportions. Substitutions play a major role in the realms of consuming less overall and getting a more nutritionally balanced meal. Simple fixes in a child’s school lunch such as replacing potato chips with vegetable chips or carrots, substituting skim milk or water for soda, and using whole grain bread instead of white bread are things that would create a more balanced and nutritious meal.
However, there is something else to consider in looking at the obesity epidemic in children and that is to understand what we are born with, or more plainly put, our genetics. A study by Claude Bouchard in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “most childhood obesity cases appear to result from a genetic predisposition that results from the presence of risk alleles at many genes that may act synergistically in response to obesogenic environmental conditions. The best example to date of such genes is the FTO gene.” (6) The study also goes on to show that there are certain single-gene defects such as the Mendelian disorder or the birth weight of an individual that can determine an outcome of obesity in the future. Bouchard does make note that an increase in obesity due to the presence of risk genetic predisposition “is exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle.” (7) This leads you to believe that through exercise and more activity one could possibly bypass the possibility of suffering from obesity if it is encoded into their genes. Genetics may play a part in obesity at the beginning, but it is not an excuse to let it condemn a child’s health for life. We can’t leave it up to the predisposition of genetics to decide whether a child falls victim to obesity or not when we’ve been given the ability to make a positive difference by taking part in getting children active and getting them a proper nutritional intake.
It is hard to ignore the signs when they all point in the same direction. We can stop this if we put in a conscious effort to get children more active and eating a better diet. During the Childhood Obesity Summit speaker and First Lady Michelle Obama said, “…our kids didn’t do this to themselves. They don’t decide the sugar content in soda or the advertising content of a television show. Kids don’t choose what’s served to them for lunch at school, and shouldn’t be deciding what’s served to them for dinner at home. And they don’t decide whether there’s time in the day or room in the budget to learn about healthy eating or to spend time playing outside.” We are all dealt a hand of cards that we can’t control in life through our genetics. What we can control is the way we play our cards throughout our lives. The simplest way we can get the upper hand to combat childhood obesity is to take the time to put in an effort in making a small change in the right direction of the activity and nutrition of a child’s life. Who wouldn’t love spending a few days a week playing at the park and enjoying a nice healthy lunch afterwards? Taking responsibility to help our nation’s children fight this epidemic doesn’t sound so bad.
- Bouchard, Claude. “Childhood obesity: are genetic differences involved?” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Dehghan, Mahshid et al. “Childhood Obesity, Prevalence and Prevention.” Nutrition Journal.
- Hedley, A.A. et al. “Overweight and Obesity Among US Children, Adolescents, and Adults, 1999-2002.” Journal of the American Medical Association.
- President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. “Facts & Statistics.”
- World Health Organization. “Obesity and overweight.”
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