Childhood obesity has become almost an uncontrollable problem in the USA. Every third child and adolescent is overweight or obese. Obesity rate has doubled in children and tripled in teenagers over the past three decades (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, Flegal, 2012). Poor diet and lack of physical exercises have led to enormous health problems connected with gaining weight. Excessive pounds cause harmful effect on every system of a growing body – heart, lungs, digestive apparatus, muscles, skeleton and blood. Moreover, overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults and have even more diseases unless they change their lifestyle. Since obesity, as well as its related diseases, has become a real threat to the children and society in general, preventive measures need high priority, and parent and communities have to make efforts to stop this increasing epidemic.
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To identify whether a person is overweight or obese, he or she has to measure a BMI, “which is calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared, [and] is used to express weight adjusted for height” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2010). Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] defines obesity as “a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children aged 2 to 19 years” and overweight as “a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex” (CDC, 2012).
The consequences of overweight and obesity in children can be destructive for a young organism and have effect on the health in adulthood. Obesity is responsible for an increase of asthma in children up 52% and in adolescents up 60% (National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research [NCCOR]). Excessive weight causes such health complications as high blood pressure and high level of cholesterol, which provoke heart problems and cardiovascular disease (CVD). According to Freedman 70 % obese children aged 5 to 17 years have one CVD risk factor and 39% had two or more (Freedman, Mei, Srinivasan, Berenso, Dietz, 2007). Furthermore, high glucose level, which is more common for overweight and obese people, can lead to the type 2 diabetes. (CDC, 2013). Fatty liver, bone and joint problems, trouble sleeping are the other consequences of obesity for the physical health (CDC, 2012). In addition, overweight and obese children can face different social and emotional problems, e.g. low self-esteem, stigmatization or depression (CDC, 2012). Obese 4-year-old children in 20% of cases become obese adults, and 8 out of 10 obese teenagers become obese adults ( Guo, Chumlea, 1999).
Such factors as genetic, biological, behavioral, cultural and economic can provoke children’s overweight and obesity. Researchers noted that Hispanic and African American boys and girls are more likely to gain extra pounds than white non-Hispanic. (Ogden, Carroll, Flegal, 2008). “If one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent chance that their children will also be obese. However, when both parents are obese, their children have an 80 percent chance of being obese” (The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2011). Among other causes of this problem are some medical illnesses, e.g. those connected with nervous and endocrine system, and taking such medications as steroids or some psychiatric medicaments. In low-income families children are more likely to be overweight or obese since they have fewer opportunities to have a healthy diet.
Yet the biggest reason of the obesity problem is consuming more calories than the body can burn. Overweight adolescents in the age group 12 through 17 take between 700 to 1,000 more calories per day than they need for a proper growth and health (NCCOR). Foods high in fat, salt and sugar are freely accessible for students throughout the day both at schools and out-of-school activities and at home. Such food is advertised in half of middle and high schools and through media, which help children make a wrong choice and prefer unhealthy foods and beverages. Moreover, portion sizes have become bigger in restaurants and grocery stores thus children continue eating even when they arre full (CDC, 2012).
In addition to inappropriate diet, most American children are not able to burn the received from food energy. Nowadays children are less physically active than few decades ago. Physical education programs at schools have decreased, and only one third of children attend daily physical education classes (CDC, 2012). Further, children rarely walk to school or play outside since fewer safe routs and playgrounds exist. One more problem is that children and teenagers spend much time watching TV or playing computer games. As researches show, children aged 8 to 18 years spend 7.5 hours on TV, computer, video games, cell phones, instead of physical activities. Besides that, sedentary behavior helps to increase consumption of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods because of exposure to food advertisements (Zimmerman, Bell, 2010).
Both parents and communities must participate in solving the problem of children’s overweight and obesity. Firstly, they have to encourage healthy eating habits by providing children and adolescents with foods law in fat, salt and sugar. It would be helpful to replace sodas with water, energy dance foods and fast food with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. States have to establish wellness and nutrition policies in schools. Moreover, support breastfeeding programs must be promoted (DHHS, 2010). Secondly, parents as well as communities must increase opportunities for children be active throughout the day and have at least one hour of intensive physical exercises every day. Thirdly, parents have to limit TV and video games time as much as possible (CDC, 2013).
To conclude, childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the USA, and it still continues damaging life and health of youth. If nothing changes, the country for the first time will have the generation of children who are sicker than generations before them. Still a lot of precautionary measures can be taken, which will help the situation. Less unhealthy food and more physical activity will give the opportunity for the children live a long, healthy and happy life.