Childhood obesity has become a worldwide epidemic, and the condition is now obvious much earlier in life. Thirty years ago, less than five percent of children were considered obese. Today’s figures put the number of obese American children somewhere between 12 percent and 15 percent! That translates into millions of children, preteens, and teens suffering from very adult conditions like diabetes and depression related to weight gain (Tessmer, Beecher, & Hagen, 2006). Overweight and obesity in childhood are recognized to have significant impact on physical and psychological health. There are several causes that lead children to become obese. Childhood obesity is now considered a disease and is diagnosed by doctors. Not all children that watch television several hours a day or are inactive or just eat mal-nutritious foods develop obesity, many children get obese because of genes inherited from their parents. Some children become obese because of their lifestyle. For example, late-day or night eating, snacking and other behavioral behaviors have influence on the progress of obesity. Moreover, social and economic conditions are shown to have a significant relationship to nutrition and dietary intake. In addition, there are certain effects resulted from childhood obesity such as physical, mental, emotional, and social effects. Obesity in childhood is responsible of early development in girls and delayed development in boys. It’s also found to be associated with numerous medical problems related to physiological, metabolic, and structural changes. What is more is that obese children are more likely to develop psychological problems. Physical, social, and mental well-being is considered health related quality of life. Low self-esteem and social discrimination can be noted in obese children due to physical limitations, feelings of isolation or loneliness, and teasing from class mates.
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Causes and Effects of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity has become a worldwide epidemic, and the condition is now obvious much earlier in life. Thirty years ago, less than five percent of children were considered obese. Today’s figures put the number of obese American children somewhere between 12 percent and 15 percent! That translates into millions of children, preteens, and teens suffering from very adult conditions like diabetes and depression related to weight gain (Tessmer, Beecher, & Hagen, 2006). Obesity is defined as a disproportionate buildup of stored fat tissue when compared to other tissues. Childhood obesity is now considered a disease and is diagnosed by doctors. Children become overweight for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of these factors. Moreover, socio-economic factors have influence on children, which may cause a child to become obese. In addition, there are certain effects resulted from childhood obesity such as physical, mental, emotional, and social effects.
Diagnosis of Childhood Obesity
Only a doctor can diagnose children for obesity by evaluating adiposity, or “how much fat a person has.” Adiposity can be assessed using different ways, for example, by using an underwater scale, or by an MRI, but these methods are considered excessive and expensive. Another way of evaluating children for obesity is by measuring the distribution of body fat. Also, a chart called the body mass index (BMI) is used to optimally measure the amount of fat person carries most frequently to differentiate between just an overweight child and the one who is really obese. In addition to BMI and charting weight on the growth charts, the doctor also evaluates the family’s history of obesity and weight-related health problems, such as diabetes, the child’s eating habits and calorie intake, the child’s activity level, and any other health conditions the child may have.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
After the child gets diagnosed as obese, the doctor will start investigating the causes that lead this child to become overweight. To begin with, there are several causes that lead children to become obese. First of all, many children get obese because of heredity. Because of some genes inherited from parents, those children have higher risk of becoming overweight. For example, not all children that watch television several hours a day or are inactive or just eat mal-nutritious foods develop obesity. Therefore, heredity has been found to have effect on fatness, distribution of fat on body, and response to overfeeding. It has also been suggested that heredity does not only concern the genes but also resulting dietary habits, food intake, and lifestyle, including physical activity level and spontaneous interest in exercise (PaË‡rízková & Hills, 2004). Moreover, mothers whom are overweight are found to born neonates that are less active and gain more weight compared to neonates born of normal weight mothers, which suggest a preserving energy inborn drive. The information taken from genes can suggest that genetic factors can take role to determine the susceptibility of adding or losing fat in response to physical activity and diet. The life style of some children also plays a role in being obese. Some behaviors, present in certain children (late-day or night eating, snacking, etc.) ease the progress or persistence of obesity. Children spend several hours each day watching television, and eating lot of snacks that is high in calorie. Food is nothing more than easy to cook energy. The potential energy is measured by the calories that are contained in specific amount and type of food. A body needs a minimum amount of calories in order to perform its basic functions, and the recommended caloric intake for this purpose varies according to age, body frame, and activity level (Tessmer, Beecher, & Hagen, 2006). Obese children do not show excessive appetite for sweet foods. Children and adults simply enjoy foods high in fat. Ice cream, cakes, and biscuits are all examples of high fat foods which are very popular among obese and non-obese people alike. Physical activity is important for achieving proper energy balance, which is needed to prevent or reverse obesity (Flamenbaum, 2006). Moreover, distribution of body fat is affected independently by physical activity which affects body weight. Last but not least, social and economic conditions have a significant relationship to nutrition and dietary intake. For example, as income increases, the type of the diet is going more likely to change in a persistent manner. In particular, the sugar, protein and animal fat intake increases, while the intake of vegetable fat, complex carbohydrates and protein decreases. Also, if the family has a higher income, there might be an increase in take away readymade foods intake which is high in fat content or an increase in intake of meat. The lower social support in low social class is associated with a high food intake and higher weight of children. Another study showed that children from low-income families who were exposed to less cognitive stimulation and who had an obese mother showed an increased risk of obesity independent of other demographic factors (PaË‡rízková & Hills, 2004). However, the general effect of these changes in consumption behavior with the high intake of total fat is the increase in the occurrence of obesity.
Effects of Childhood Obesity
As a result of the above, there are certain effects that might result in children from being obese. To start with, the physical effects in childhood obesity include, for example, the increase adult morbidity in men for gout, and in women for arthritis. Obese children are usually above average height for age (Dietz, 1993). Obesity in childhood is responsible of early development in girls and delayed development in boys. For women, menstrual problems in middle age are found to be associated with childhood. Men whom are overweight during adolescence have three times more possibility to develop gout when compared with men whom where normal weight. Furthermore, Obesity in childhood is associated with numerous medical problems related to physiological, metabolic, and structural changes. It’s suggested that adult obesity developed from childhood may be more problematic than adult-onset obesity due to an increased risk of the metabolic syndrome (Vanhala, 1998). Obese children have a higher risk for developing hypertension, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Research shows that obesity in children, particularly during adolescence, persists into adulthood and is associated with an increased risk of many diseases including atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancers, respiratory disorders, gall bladder disease, infertility and several non-fatal but debilitating conditions (Flamenbaum, 2006). Obese children have approximately a threefold increased risk for hypertension compared to their normal-weight peers. The prevalence of obesity in children affected by diabetes was on average twofold from the age of 2 years onward compared to control children (PaË‡rízková & Hills, 2004). What is more is that obese children are more likely to develop psychological problems. Severely obese children recorded their quality of life with scores as low as children undergoing chemotherapy for cancer (Walker, 2005). Physical, social, and mental well-being is considered health related quality of life. Low self-esteem and social discrimination can be noted in obese children due to physical limitations, feelings of isolation or loneliness, and teasing from class mates, in example, which is frequent in young people who are obese. The age of onset of obesity, presence of emotional instability, and negative evaluation of obesity by others may predispose an obese person to a disturbed body image. These include during the formative years. Disturbances in adulthood are often commonplace in those who became obese during childhood or adolescence Depressed obese children are more likely to stay depressed all over adulthood.
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Prevention of Childhood Obesity
The technique used to prevent childhood obesity is by keeping the weight from coming back. Such technique requires great effort as overweight is not just a hit-and-run problem, where the child can simply drop the weight and be free from obesity the rest of his life. It’s always easy to get overweight than to lose weight. A child who lived a sedentary lifestyle with bad eating habits is at higher risk of getting back to such habits because such habits are just easy to follow. It’s so a lot easier for children to sit at home and watch TV rather than going outside with others or alone to play. This is why parents, physicians, and nutritionists should sit together and set a plan for the child. The plan should include the restriction of fast food and soft drinks, limitation of time allocated for watching television or computer, and promotion of physical activity. However, this plan must be monitored and supervised by parents and a physician to ensure the elimination of any side effects that might occur from the prevention plan.
To summarize, childhood obesity is now considered a global epidemic. There are multiple causes that lead certain children to become obese. Genetic factors and environmental conditions play a great role in the early development of childhood obesity, but the condition varies in different countries. In addition, it appears that there are dangerous effects that result from being obese which can continue till adulthood. Therefore, parents should be aware of their children life style and the food they consume to avoid such health problems in their later adulthood. Moreover, the picture of the obese child as unhealthy, unfriendly and fat is best to prevent as early as possible. As for prevention of childhood obesity, it is also recommended that parents, physicians and nutritionists set together to set the proper plan. Nevertheless, there must be raising in alertness, consideration, and public understanding for the matter of childhood obesity
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