The prevalence of childhood obesity in schools can be compared to an epidemic of a virulent disease on a global scale. Research statistics have shown that on average 15.5% of children aged between five to fifteen in school have body mass indexes reaching 30 or higher, far above the norm of 25 or below. In total, nearly 25 million children around the world can be considered overweight, obese or morbidly obese.
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In the U.S. and U.K. populations alone the sheer rate of childhood obesity has caused an upsurge in cases associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and other maladies associated with being overweight. The source of these problems is threefold namely: eating habits, the sedentary lifestyle of children in the modern era and the lack of proper education on the future problems associated with being overweight.
Reduction in Eating Junk Food
The current problem with current approaches in creating an effective intervention in reducing childhood obesity in schools is that there is actually no effective method to prevent a child from eating unhealthy foods. Various interventions enacted in the past have included healthy food options to be utilized in school cafeterias, the addition of caloric and nutritional guidelines on various types of food, restricting certain types of food marketing to children as well as the reduction of ingredients multinational corporations use in the types of food they create which have been connected to obesity.
Unfortunately though these intervention initiatives were enacted years ago in various school districts, the fact remains that the prevalence of childhood obesity continues to grow. At a national level there is a distinct lack of regular monitoring and, as a result, childhood obesity has been allowed to run rampant.
An examination of various obesity prevention programs enacted on the local level within various schools have shown relatively limited success in actually sustaining an effective program that curbs the growing rate of childhood obesity in local and urban areas. It must be noted though that the reason such efforts are failing is due to the fact that commercial influences in the form of popular culture and the media are just more popular among children and adults as compared to the policies enacted by school directors.
The problem really is not due to ineffective intervention policies but rather a cultural one where commercial influences and convenience have created the problem that various schools in the U.S. now face. Various studies on the prevalence of childhood obesity state that effective policy making for this particular problem is still in its infancy and that given time an adequate solution will present itself.
What these initiatives fail to take note of is that society is currently in the “junk food era” where the convenience and prevalence of fast food establishments, grocery stores and mini marts have made the availability of calorie rich easy to eat food all too prevalent. The fact is there is no policy that can be effectively enacted that can prevent a manufacturer from selling a type of food that is safe for consumption, albeit high in calories, to the general public.
Companies such as Hershey’s, McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Coca Cola and various other companies are all clear evidence of the ineffectiveness of policies aimed at preventing childhood obesity when the products that cause them cannot be prevented from going on the market.
The manufacturer is not at fault should a consumer eat more than what is necessary, there is always the defense that it was the consumers fault for eating so much and that the manufacturer did not force them to eat such large amounts. Continued policy initiatives to prevent childhood obesity will continue to fail unless the cultural aspect of the causes behind obesity is taken into consideration when creating methods of intervention.
Goal Setting and Goal Striving
When students enter into the camp they will all be asked to join a competition that the camp holds every time the camp has a brand new batch of students. This pledge involves setting a series of goals for the children during the 3 week period. This exercise is an extrinsic activity with the end goal of students reaching a particular plateau being eligible to win a prize such as a Nintendo Wii, a Sony PS3 or other prizes of similar worth.
When they are in camp junk food will be prominently placed in numerous areas within the camp and students are free to get them, however, if they try to get junk food they are immediately ineligible to win a prize. This activity also encompasses goals related to amount of weight lost, the number of physical activities joined and the types of healthy food that a particular child eats.
By utilizing an extrinsic goal, such as an expensive toy that children really want to get, this encourages them to stick to particular goals so that they can win the prize. Even if in they do not win the prize in the end the attitudes they developed during the goal setting stage of the exercise should enable them to resist the temptation of junk food and thus result in continued weight loss in the years to come.
Resolving the Issue of an Unhealthy Diet
Based on the research of Rick (2009) it was seen that children tend to have a habit of unconscious mimicry in social situations which can take the form of either physical forms of mimicry (i.e. using the same gestures, moving in the same manner and other forms of physical imitation) or verbal mimicry (i.e. pronouncing words in the same manner and with the same intonation or other such similar methods of verbal communication (Rick, 2009).
It is assumed by Stephanie & Brent (2008) that this type of behavior is a form of internalized psychological response mechanism that developed over time in order to enable better cooperation among individuals within a social or community setting due to the level of familiarity in visual and verbal responses that are recognized (Stephanie & Brent, 2008). Such a facet of human behavior can be utilized in order to directly change the behavior of children at the camp in order for them to adapt better eating habits.
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Explaining the Mimicry Mechanism
Studies such as those by Sanchez-Burks (2002) show that people tend to be more comfortable around the familiar and are more inclined towards cooperative behavior under such circumstances as compared to instances where they are confronted with something which is totally unfamiliar (Sanchez-Burks, 2002).
Thus, this would explain why this particular type of “mimicry mechanism” developed in the first place since it acts as a means of facilitating cooperation which is an important aspect of most forms societal development (Sims et al., 2012).
Implementation within the Camp Setting
During the 3 week camp period councilors, facilitators and other camp personnel that interact with the children on a daily basis will display eating behaviors that advocate healthy eating in the form of carrot sticks, fresh green salad, beans, fruits and an assortment of other healthy foods. The purpose of this intervention is that aside from having the children eat the healthy meals provided for at the cafeteria, they will constantly see that eating healthy foods is not only advocated by the adults they admire but it is actually rather enjoyable.
By depicting healthy eating behavior on a daily basis this should bring about the mimicry behavior explained by Rick (2009) and Sanchez-Burks (2002) wherein the children at the camp will begin to eat healthy foods and actually enjoy eating them.
The difference between this method and forcefully changing the diets of the children is that it should result in lasting behavioral changes on their part which they will bring back home with them. The main goal of this particular method of intervention is the establishment of the psychological mimicry mechanism so as to ensure that they continue to keep eating healthy food.
Studies examining the eating behaviors of various children showed that the amount of food consumed is directly affected by outside environmental food cues which trigger a response which causes the feeling of hunger which in turn causes a child to eat more than they should (Hepworth et al, 2010). Not only that, the amount of food consumed has been shown to marginally increase depending on the type and level of the environmental attribute attempting to influence an individual (Cohen, 2008).
This can come in the form of appearance, smell or even personal preference towards a particular food type which triggers the response for the body to get hungry (Van der Laan et al., 2011) (Radnitz et al., 2009). It must be noted that food cues can be considered a form of conditioned stimuli for the body wherein after a certain degree of exposure the body reacts through the production of increased salivation and changes in blood glucose levels in order to prepare the body for the intake of food (Hou et al., 2011).
Such a reaction is similar to what is seen in various Pavlovian conditioning mechanisms wherein after a certain time the body reacts in a predetermined fashion after continuous environmental cues which creates the behavior (Boggiano et al., 2009). In this particular case, it is the exposure to food cues which in turn causes the body to react as a result of an inherent conditioning mechanism.
It can even be assumed that the sudden feeling of hunger individuals experience after being exposed to a food cue can thus be attributed to the body’s inherent Pavlovian conditioning mechanism wherein in expectation of the consumption of food the body reacts in a predetermined fashion such as changes in blood glucose levels, the increased release of stomach acids and greater degrees of salivation (Galarce et al., 2010).
As such, this reaction is attributed to the condition of being hungry when in fact it was the result of a food cue and not a denial of earlier sustenance that caused the reaction. On the other hand, such a reaction does not happen on a continuous case to case basis, in fact in some cases wherein despite the level of exposure involved the desire to eat does not manifest itself as readily in some children compared to others (Polivy et al., 2008).
This lack of desire or rather behavioral resistance to the compulsion of eating is thus attributed to the concept of restraint which refers to a child’s concern over their food intake versus the amount their body actually needs (Geyskens et al, 2010) (Cornier et al., 2009). It must be noted that the concept of restraint varies per child as evidenced by the rising rates of obese children within the U.S., Europe and various other countries (Hollitt et al., 2010) (Ouwehand & Papies, 2010).
It has been shown by various studies that distinct behavioral traits, of which restraint is included, directly factor in to the caloric intake of a child however various studies have been inconclusive as to how a factor such as restraint adequately develops in a child so as to resist the compulsion to eat when presented with a food cue (Loxton et al., 2011).
Implementation with the Camp Setting
Within the camp setting methods of self-restraint will be developed among the children present. This will involve teaching them how to delay gratification in the face of a “better” prize later on. Such an activity will utilize intrinsic methods of motivation focusing on helping the children build up their confidence by creating a series of presentations involving the future dangers of obesity and how this could lead to them being socially ostracized.
This can come in the form of showing how continued weight gain will not only prevent them from joining in a large percentage of social activity but will actually impact they manner in which they develop short to long term social relationships. By implementing this method of intervention, this plays upon a child’s intrinsic desire to be part of a group, to get along and to be wanted.
Building upon this strategy, camp councilors will give children numerous choices as to whether they would prefer eating alone or joining other groups of children in fun physical activities. It is usually the case that the children would choose the fun physical activity and, as such, this method of correlation between resistance to food equating into fun will help to develop their overall resistance to environmental food cues, whether visual or olfactory in nature.
Development of the Self
When examining the concept of perception, it is interesting to note that it is a “relative” concept in that it is inherently limited by the knowledge one has in being able to interpret external events through honed internal processes. For example, the study of Orlandi (2010) clearly shows a distinct difference in the way in which babies, adolescents, pre-adolescents, teenagers and adults perceive the world (Orlandi, 2010).
The main difference, as explained by Orlandi (2010), is the internal processes and knowledge within that individual that enables a progressive and better understanding of external environments and situations (Orlandi, 2010). Changes in the way in which people perceive events, actions and behaviors is, and always will be, based on their internal changes (Overgaard, Rote, Mouridsen & Ramsøy, 2006).
The external environmental that is internalized by one’s perception of the world does not change since the world itself in an unchangeable environment (relatively speaking), rather, it is the way in which knowledge is internalized and adapted for use in examination that enables a broader understanding of the world around them that changes in perception occur (Overgaard, Rote, Mouridsen & Ramsøy, 2006).
Implementation with the Camp Setting
In this particular case what must be understood is that children at times do not view the concept of obesity under the same lens that most adults view it as. They have yet to develop the internal processes necessary to perceive the external environment under the basis of being considered obese and, as such, do not have the necessary inclination towards self improvement.
It is due to this that further interventions are necessary in the form of enabling the children to internalize the concept that being obese is not alright. This will come in the form of implementing a variety of presentations showcasing how different they are from regular children and what steps do they need to take in order to become more normal. It is expected that through this method of intervention, the necessary internal perceptions of the external environment can be developed resulting in a form of behavior more inclined towards weight loss and healthy eating habits.
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