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Statement of the Problem
Childhood obesity has been on a steady increase in the US resulting in a decline in child health since children who are obese are at increased risk of physical as well as psychosocial health consequences. Dehghan, Danesh and Merchant observe that childhood obesity has reached catastrophic levels in the US with 11% of children being classified as obese (2).
Considering the fact that 70% of obese adolescents grow into obese adults, this rise in childhood obesity is cause for alarm. Research further indicates that the prevalence rate of obesity has risen over the past couple of years and statistics by the Center for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) show that according to the 2007 national youth risk behavior survey, 23% of US high school students were overweight.
This was a notable rise from the 5% level in the 1980’s. Owing to the fact that obesity reduces the quality of life and shortens the lifespan of the person, it is of importance that solutions be developed to deal with this problem in children.
Figure 1. Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents aged 6-19
Source: Pekruhnk, C. Childhood Obesity: A school Health Policy Guide. National Association of State Boards of Education, 2009.
Causes of prevalence in obesity
While obesity can be attributed to a number of causes, the condition is mostly limited to people who overindulge in unhealthy food and exhibit limited activity. In the US, childhood obesity levels are closely linked to the lifestyle adopted by the children. Andreacci et al affirm that the increase in sedentary behaviors and decrease in physical activity have been related to the rise of obesity in children (36).
Unhealthy dietary habits by children have also led to the prevalence of obesity among students. In the school environment, many elements such as vending machines and the fast foods offered at cafeterias encourage unhealthy eating habits. According to the CDC , 20% of schools in the US offer brand-name fast foods such as McDonalds to the children during the school day.
Solution and its Implementation
Having highlighted the magnitude of the obesity problem, it is obvious that a feasible solution is not only desirable but is the only way in which we can restore the health of the children and avoid future repercussions that may spring as a result of Obesity.
As has been articulated, most of the problems are as a result of the eating habits exhibited by the school children and the lack of physical education programs in the schools. As such, for any solution to yield favorable results, it must set out to tackle this two core issues of nutrition and physical education.
It has been extensively documented that the quality of food available in schools is of low nutritional value and unhealthy as it is mostly made up of snacks, fast foods and sodas. Key to solving the obesity problem is an overhaul of the school nutrition program. For this plan to work, the support of the parents, policy makers and especially the staff at school would be most crucial.
This is because the funding of healthy eating programs is both expensive and would incur some resistance from supporters of vending machines and fast foods. A significant approach would be for the school to participate in the Federal Meal program.
These programs adhere to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) thus providing students with nutritious meals. These meals are reimbursable by the state thus greatly decreasing the price per meal making them much more affordable.
The overreliance to corporate sponsors by schools also poses a significant threat to the success of the health food since most students will be inclined to go for the junk foods and sodas which are more attractive to the youth. Schools are in most cases forced to rely on the revenue they get from the large corporate sponsors due to poor funding by the federal government.
However, the health of the students must take precedence over this money making schemes. As such, sale of unhealthy foods in school must be all together stopped or else provisions must be put in place to set nutritional standards for these products. A study by Krukowski et al shows that in the state of Arkansas, measures such as removal of vending machines in public schools has had an impact on the childhood obesity (937).
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Andreacci et al declare that physical activity by children is beneficial in the fight against obesity (41). This being the case, continued advocacy for schools and parents alike to improve on the physical activity opportunities for the children should be one of the goals in order to reduce obesity.
As it currently stands, physical education has taken a back seat due to either lack of funding, time or both. Relevant stakeholders should advocate for a physical education curriculum all through the grades since research indicates that physically active students are not only healthier but also more likely to be motivated, attentive and successful academically (Pekruhnk 34)
This paper set out to highlight the plight of childhood obesity in the US. The discussions forwarded have indicated that obesity is mostly as a result of the lifestyle choices we make. The school setting has been observed to mostly favor an unhealthy lifestyle with the lack of emphasis on physical education programs and the large-scale embrace of fast foods.
In order to recover from this problem, the paper has made some proposals which include adoption of healthy eating programs, education on nutrition and an enhancement of physical activity levels especially through Physical education.
While it is conceivable that this changes will come at a cost, the solutions will result in the improved health of the students which will be beneficial to their educational efforts on the short run and improve the quality of their lives in the long run.
Andreacci, JL et at. Validation of Sensewear Pro Armband to Assess Energy Expenditure during Treadmill Exercise in Children 7-10 Years of Age. Journal of Exercise Physiology. Vol. 10 no. 4 August 2007.
Dehghan, Mahshid Danesh, Noori and Merchant, Anwar. Childhood Obesity, Prevalence and Prevention. Nutrition Journal 2005, 4:24.
Krukowski, Rebecca et al. No Change in Weight-Based Teasing When School-Based Obesity Policies Are Implemented. Arch Pediatric Adolesc Med. 2008;162(10):936-942.
Pekruhnk, C. Childhood Obesity: A school Health Policy Guide. National Association of State Boards of Education, 2009.