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Previous studies on child obesity have revealed serious prevalence of overweight as well as obesity among children in both countries. National Health and Nutrition Examination 2007-2008 data indicates that 16.9% of children in the US aged 2-19 years suffer from obesity. The data also shows that there was an increase of 6.5%-19.6% among children aged 6-11 years and an increase of 5.0%-18.1% of children aged 12-19 years during the same period (Carroll, Curtin, Flegal, Lamb, & Ogden 2010, 243).
The data revealed significant sex and racial disparities of obesity in children with a greater percentage of non-Hispanic blacks more likely to suffer from obesity. On the other hand, a research done by International Obesity Task Force in the period of 1990-2007 showed that children in Saudi Arabia have had an average obesity prevalence of 6.7% among boys and 6.0% among girls aged 1-18 years (Aziz, Jalali-Farahani, Mirmiran, & Sherafat-Kazemzadeh 2010, 247).
Survey results of the National Center for Health Statistics done in 2000, showed that child obesity in Saudi Arabia averages at about 15.8% for the same age. It is estimated that about 14% of children in Saudi Arabia who are below age 6 are obese (Madani 2000, 1).
The child obesity data among all the age groups in the US show that there has been a year-on-year increases in the rates of prevalence (Barnes 2011). The data presented shows a higher prevalence in the US than in Saudi Arabia. There were particular high increases in 1999-2000 and 2003-2004 in the US showing significant and sudden changes in lifestyle. Both countries experience higher levels of prevalence on boys than girls.
The trends in both countries are highly associated with socioeconomic status. However, as opposed to the US where children of lower socio-economic and urban classes seem to be more likely to be affected, children of high socioeconomic status in Saudi Arabia are the most vulnerable to child obesity.
Data that was collected from medical and healthcare institutions also showed that child obesity prevalence is higher among US children than the Saudi Arabian children. It revealed that about 15-17% of children aged 6-11 years and 12-19 years in the US suffered from obesity while about 10.7% of children aged 5-18 years in Saudi Arabia suffered from the same. The survey data revealed that about 18% of children in the US are obese with higher prevalence among boys.
On the other hand, the same survey data revealed that Saudi Arabian children had a prevalence rate of about 11.8%. The boys were more likely to be affected by obesity as compared to girls. This implies that there is a high child obesity prevalence rate especially among the children in the US. Besides, the data showed that obesity rate does not decrease with increase in age.
Causes of obesity among children
Statistics show that obesity in children in the US is more prevalent among low-income children especially those aged 2-4 years with about 5%-20% of this group being affected. Previous studies also indicate that most of child obesity is the result of caloric imbalance as children tend to eat foods containing more than 1000 calories. Besides, these children live in environments which do not encourage physical activity. This means that calories are not burnt off. Childhood inactivity is highly associated with obesity.
Preschool study carried out in 2009 showed that 89% of preschoolers in the US lead a sedentary lifestyle ((Dietz & Stern 1999, 23). Childhood obesity results from an interaction between genetic and other factors. 80% of children born from both obese parents are also more likely to be obese as compared to 10% of children born from non-obese parents (Kopelman 2005, 82). Psychological problems such as low self-esteem can influence eating habits of those affected.
Early introduction of solid food to infants is the major cause of obesity among children below the age of five years. According to Ferry (2011) children are also introduced to high-fat snacks as well as sugary junk food which results to high calories consumption. In addition, most children especially those in urban towns are not trained to develop healthy exercise habits. They spend much time watching television or playing video games.
According to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011), just a third of school going children in the US get daily physical education. Low socioeconomic status could lead to poor nutrition as most families tend to eat high calorie foods to cater for their high activity level. Genetic factors could also cause obesity although the chances are very minimal unless the child eats more food.
The survey carried out showed that poor nutrition causes about 34% of the child obesity. 38% of children reported less consumption of vegetables and fruits. Low socioeconomic status highly contributed to poor nutrition among obese children. It also showed that children who watch television or play video games for more than four hours a day are 22% more likely to suffer from obesity.
When asked about how often they did exercise, most children responded negatively. However, about 36% said they suffered from obesity because their parents were also obese.
How child obesity affect children’s social life
Previous studies have discovered that obesity is highly associated with low self-esteem. Decreased self-esteem causes sadness in about 19% of children suffering from obesity. Low self-esteem also causes 21% of them to feel nervous (Strauss 2000, 15). Low self-esteem makes children less confident and therefore they are not able to interact with their peers. They are therefore condemned to loneliness. Feelings of depression could make a child to overeat (Goodman & Whitaker 2002, 498).
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Childhood obesity causes several social problems to the affected children. Obesity could lead to psychosocial problems such as low self-esteem as well as reduced social networking (Gardner 2009). Such children may also suffer from depression due to discrimination and harassment from their peers and family members (Ferry 2011). This could possible cause loneliness in children who are obese. They are therefore likely to develop poor social skills.
About 8.2% of obese adolescents said they were feeling depressed. 31% said that they were teased by their peers while 19% said that they were accepted by their peers. Majority of the children said that they suffered from loneliness. It is assumed that they are not able to do most physical activities. This has led to low self-esteem among obese children. Between 24% and 38% said that they suffered from low self-esteem.
Prevention of obesity in children
Exclusive breast-feeding of newborn infants is highly recommended for nutritional benefits (Dietz & Stern 1999, 12). It is likely to help protect the child against obesity that could occur in later life. Major priority should be given to teaching children and parents about nutrition and healthy diet.
Children should also be provided with healthy food choices. They should be provided with snacks that contain low sodium, fat as well as sugar content (Shield & Mullen 2002, 123). Children should also be taught on the need to maintain a health activity level. Sedentary lifestyle should be discouraged and television viewing time should be limited. Physical education in schools should also be enhanced.
Aziz, F., Jalali-Farahani, S., Mirmiran, p., & Sherafat-Kazemzadeh, R., 2010, Childhood obesity in the Middle East: A review. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, 16(9). Nasr City, Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean: World Health Organization.
Barnes, J., 2011, Childhood obesity: Statistics and trends. Web.
Carroll, M., D., Curtin, L., R., Flegal, K., M., Lamb, M., M., & Ogden, C., L., 2010, Prevalence of high body mass index in U.S: children and adolescents, 2007- 2008. JAMA 303(3):242-9. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011, Overweight and obesity. Web.
Dietz, W., H., & Stern, L., 1999, The official complete home reference guide to your child’s nutrition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. pp.12, 23.
Ferry, R., J., 2011, Obesity in children. Web.
Gardner, T., 2009, The 5 problems caused by childhood obesity. Web.
Goodman, E., & Whitaker, R., C., 2002,. A prospective study of the role of depression in the development and persistence of adolescent obesity. Pediatrics 110 (3): 497–504. San Diego: US American Psychological Association.
Kopelman, P., G., 2005, Clinical obesity in adults and children: In Adults and Children. Blackwell Publishing. P. 82.
Madani, K., A., 2000, Obesity in Saudi Arabia. Bahrain Medical Buletin, 22(3): 1-9. Bahrain: Bahrain Medical Association.
Shield, J., & Mullen, M. C. (2002). The American Dietetic Association guide to healthy eating for kids: How your children can eat smart from five to twelve. New York: Wiley. p. 123.
Strauss, R., S., 2000, Childhood obesity and self-esteem. Pediatrics 105 (1). San Diego: US American Psychological Association. P. 15.