In the discussion on obesity, many people are quick to blame one single factor as the cause of childhood obesity. I disagree. There is no single factor that is to blame for causing childhood obesity; rather, it is a collection of factors, such as fast food, school lunch, lack of exercise, and the increasingly sedentary lifestyles that people choose to lead. Action needs to be taken by all those responsible for these factors influencing childhood obesity in order to change the obesity level and decrease the tremendous health risks associated with this epidemic. Because of convenience and time pressures, parents may cut out the healthy aspects of a good meal; however, they can make small changes to monitor what their children eat to ensure they receive the proper nutrition. Childhood obesity is often blamed on the fast food industry, but people need to look at the effects processed school lunch has on the children as well as consider the steps the parents can take to find alternative choices for their children. I believe that, rather than blaming the fast food corporations, the parents of young children should take responsibility for teaching them healthy eating habits. I hope to show that if parents take greater responsibility for their children and provide healthier food choices, as well as encourage a greater level of physical activity, then they can help reduce and eventually prevent childhood obesity.
The far-reaching health risks associated with obesity are well known. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past thirty years, and with this dramatic increase in children facing this epidemic, the health risks associated with obesity have become more common. Some of the common health problems associated with obesity are sleep apnea, asthma, hepatic steatosis, and Type 2 diabetes, which is increasingly being reported among children and adolescents who are obese. While diabetes and glucose intolerance are common health effects of adult obesity, in recent years, Type 2 diabetes has begun to emerge as a health-related problem among children. The Center for Disease Control also states that the onset of diabetes in children and adolescents can result in advanced complications such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and kidney failure. Obese children have been found to have risk factors for CVD, including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and abnormal glucose tolerance. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor while 39% of obese children had two or more CVD risk factors (“Childhood obesity” 2009). These serious health risks do not merely lessen the quality of life for children, but are also fatal and threaten the children’s lives with the possibility of death at any moment.
Along with health-related consequences, children face emotional and psychological problems brought on by obesity. Obese children are targets of early and systematic social discrimination; the psychological stress of social stigmatization can cause low self-esteem which, in turn, can hinder academic and social functioning. According to Southeastern Louisiana University, “in a study that compared obese boys and girls to non-obese boys and girls, obese girls were less likely to hang out with friends, more likely to have experienced a serious emotional problem and feelings of hopelessness, and more likely to have attempted suicide than non-obese girls. Obese boys reported being less likely to hang out with friends, and more likely to feel that their friends do not care about them. They also felt more hopeless, suicidal, and neglected by friends than their counterpart non-obese boys” (“The impact of childhood obesity upon academic, personal/social, and career”). These physical and psychological consequences are evident and will only continue to rise unless dramatic steps are taken to treat and reduce the obesity epidemic.
Many consumers have placed blame on fast food corporations for causing obesity among children, and they do so for several reason. Fast food restaurants serve food in large portion sizes that contain high saturated fats and high calories which all lead to weight gain. Along with that, fast foods also replace healthy eating habits because people who consume fast foods are less likely to eat fruits, vegetables, milk, etcetera. This change in eating habits can easily lead to obesity. The reasons as to why people choose to eat fast food vary; fast food outlets have greatly increased in number and the food is reasonably priced which makes fast food easy to buy and even more preferable for people. Another factor that leads consumers to choose fast food is heavy advertising; billions of dollars are spent to advertise fast food and these ads subconsciously encourage people to indulge in high calorie foods. According to research, if a person consumes fast food two times a week, said person’s obesity risk increases by 50% (“Future of children,” 2006). While fast food restaurants may be convenient, the food choices provided by these restaurants are unhealthy for the consumers. However it is not the responsibility of the fast food corporations to “look out” for the well-being of their consumers, their primary target is to succeed economically, not to act as a caretaker. The unhealthy nature of fast food is well known to parents yet they continue to make the conscious choice to eat fast food and feed it to their children.
I believe that it is the sole responsibility of the parents or guardians to teach their children healthy eating habits and help prevent childhood obesity. Parents are the sole caretakers of children, and it is their job to monitor their children and provide them with nutritious meals. If healthy eating habits are not taught at home when the children are young, then it is very hard for them to steer clear of unhealthy foods and make the right decisions as they grow older. One of the best ways to establish healthy eating habits is to lead by example. Children are easily influenced, and when they see adults, especially their parents, choose healthy meal choices over high fat and high calorie food they are more likely to follow and do the same. The parents are responsible for choosing the food that the children eat and there are several healthier alternatives available. The parents can easily replace carbonated drinks and fruit juices that are high in sugar with all natural fruit juice or water and cut back on processed food and buy more fruits and vegetables. Although these are not the most convenient and easiest alternatives, it is small steps like buying healthier food that can easily reduce the obesity level in children.
Some people tend to blame the sedentary lifestyle many children have become accustomed to as a leading cause of obesity; however this lifestyle can easily be changed by the parents. Parents need to engage their children in physical activity, whether they encourage them to join a sports team, take classes that involve physical activity, or simply play with their children. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that children receive 30 minutes of physical activity most days, if not every day. If the parents do not monitor the amount of physical activity their children get and limit the amount of time their children are allowed to sit and watch television or play video games then there is no way that we should expect a change in the obesity levels. According to an article in Parenting magazine, there are several simple steps that parents can take to promote more physical activity in their children, such as putting a family-wide emphasis on outdoor play and placing strict restrictions on time spent in front of a television or computer screen.
Others tend blame the government and claim that the government should take a more active role not only in the regulation of food production, but also in the regulation of fast food companies. I agree that the government should have some sort of regulation on food, mainly to ensure that it is healthy to eat, and in fact, the government has set up agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration to oversee the production of food. However the government has no business intervening on the level of individual choice. The information about health risks associated with over consuming foods that contain high levels of fat, sugar, and salt are very well known throughout society, yet people continue to choose to eat this sort of food rather than make healthy choices. The government can help to provide information about how to make better choices, but it cannot and should not try to persuade people to make better choices. As I have stated before, the parents are the primary caretakers for children. Parents are the ones who should take full responsibility and strictly regulate the types of food their children consume.
Several factors, such as high calorie processed foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, are involved in the rising obesity rates in children. All those involved in the factors that cause obesity should take on more responsibility and try to change their products to makes them healthier choices for children. However, in the end it is the duty of the parents to oversee what their children eat and how involved they are in physical activity in order to diminish the chance of obesity and reduce the epidemic as a whole.
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How much physical activity is needed?. (2009, April 6). Retrieved from http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/physical_activity_amount.html
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