The promotion of a healthy and active lifestyle among children is an issue that communities and healthcare providers of the twenty-first century have been encountering frequently. Children’s BMI and the time they spend outdoors have changed dramatically. As found by Ansari, Pettit, and Gershoff (2015), children play outdoors (at school) around thirty-fice minutes per day; the more they played outdoors, the more their BMI decreased and the less likely they were to become obese.
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The efforts of just one entity are not enough to make a real change, as time has proven; rather, change can be accomplished through a coordinated effort to involve stakeholders, such as schools or urban design agencies, who can facilitate the improvement of the issue through education, nutritional strategies, and the upgrading of neighborhood infrastructure. In this way, promoting a healthy lifestyle among rising generations through improving community infrastructure can contribute to solving the problem of poor childhood health.
The prevention of obesity and other health problems associated with unhealthy lifestyles in children is high on the agenda not only for healthcare but also for community establishments such as schools. According to the report “Make a Difference at Your School” prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013), obesity has been increasing rapidly, affecting all segments of the population regardless of age, gender, ethnic background, or level of household income.
Obesity has also been reported to promote the development of other health problems such as pediatric and type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and several types of cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Researchers have also linked the replacement of physical activities in schools with academic activities to poor health outcomes for the rising generation (Hills, Dengel, & Lubans, 2015).
As children are encouraged more and more to focus on their studies and pay less attention to the physical aspect of their development, their health deteriorates, leading to such issues as diabetes, obesity, and other complications. It is the duty of parents, teachers, community stakeholders, and healthcare professionals not only to recognize the persistence of obesity as a healthcare threat but also to find possibilities for its elimination. After all, the poor health of children shows that the communities where they live do not pay enough attention to promoting active lifestyles among their growing population.
One major solution to the problem of unhealthy children relies on schools encouraging students in becoming invested in their own lifestyle choices. Therefore, the lack of community resources and infrastructure enhancement is a problem that needs addressing when it comes to promoting a healthy lifestyle for children. Without efforts to improve what communities have to offer their children for enhanced well-being, it is impossible to ensure that they will develop as well-rounded individuals with stable emotional and physical health. Both school and non-school related community efforts should be currently focused on promoting physical activities among children and improving the facilities available to them that may encourage increased activity.
Specific strategies and overall attitudes towards the improvement of health among the rising generation can be effective. As mentioned in documents published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013), there are several strategies that schools could put into practice to benefit children. Among such strategies are Coordinated School Health Programs (CSHP) for addressing nutrition and physical activity, maintaining an active schools council, strengthening policies, the development of a new improvement plan, leading study courses on health education, increasing opportunities for students to be physically active, and implementing a program for high-quality meals at schools (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013).
Healthy eating and increased physical activity can be considered as pillars of improving health and well-being among students, as schools predominantly focus on academic achievements rather than addressing children’s diet and exercise needs. Through combining healthy diet plans with physical activities within schools, school stakeholders will improve students’ awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles and will provide them with a solid educational and habitual basis to replicate such positive behaviors outside of school.
As the environment has been shown to have a significant influence on children’s health and well-being, it is worth discussing the role of outside-school facilities in promoting a healthy lifestyle among children. As found by Astell-Burt, Feng, and Kolt (2014), such amenities as neighborhood green spaces were associated with lower risks of children and adults developing type 2 diabetes due to an increase in healthy behavior in communities that live near green areas.
The sooner schools introduce health-related programs, the more effective the efforts to improve children’s well-being will be. Starting from primary school, children should experience a wide range of physical activities to discover the benefits of healthier lifestyles. A balanced nutrition should not only be introduced in school dining halls but also taught to children and their parents to ensure that the diet and lifestyle practices at home will not disrupt schools’ efforts to enhance children’s health. Such small improvements as providing play equipment for children to use on their break times or serving them a portion of fruit every day can also make a difference.
Apart from strategies to facilitate well-being among children at school, local communities can also make a change. Critical community-based solutions include efforts to address the problem through education, upgrading the infrastructure of neighborhoods, and spreading awareness of health-related issues. It is essential to understand that many members of communities do not possess enough resources for maintaining their health or are not living in areas with well-developed infrastructures. Moreover, as businesses leave some areas, many communities become subject to cuts in municipal funding and thus face a decreased quality of life.
Focusing infrastructure improvements on underserved communities is a strategy that may help in establishing balance and making sure that children of all incomes and backgrounds have opportunities to stay active both in their neighborhoods and at school. Infrastructure improvements include creating green spaces, restoring bike lanes or establishing them where they do not exist, and improving the overall condition of neighborhoods (e.g., landscapes, lighting, etc.).
Based on research findings by Astell-Burt et al. (2014) and Goenka and Andersen (2016), and efficient urban design belongs to the critical methods for promoting healthy living among communities. If planning for urbanization and improvements in infrastructure is insufficient, communities are more likely to have limited access to vital services, face issues with housing, and subsequently, show decreased levels of well-being.
Urban areas should be designed and implemented in ways that will reduce barriers to healthy development and facilitate beneficial aspects of community development such as job creation, sustainability, better security, and enhanced healthcare services. If these community aspects are developed efficiently, younger generations will participate in more physical activities and thus reduce the risk of developing such conditions are obesity or diabetes (Astell-Burt et al., 2014).
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To accompany school-based interventions and urban improvement practices, it is proposed to implement community-based education as an essential tool for enhancing the efforts of stakeholders to improve the health of younger generations. Educational programs can reach people through available social structures (including healthcare facilities, worksites, and schools) and therefore maximize the effect of resources that are necessary for the successful development of healthy communities.
Disseminating knowledge with the help of different structures is the most effective solution with regards to community education because it allows for reaching community members of various incomes, outlooks on life, and professions. The goal of community-based education is to unite as many people as possible and bring them together to improve the health of children and educate them on the importance of health awareness.
To conclude, ineffective planning of community facilities, the lack of schools’ attention to healthy lifestyle choices for students, and insufficient education of the public all contribute to the development of severe health problems such as obesity and diabetes.
To deal with this issue, there should be a unified effort on the part of stakeholders (educators, policymakers, urban designers, etc.) to raise awareness of the health problems that younger generations face and develop effective solutions such as diet plans, green spaces, urban facilities, and other factors that facilitate well-being. As shown in the analysis of the problem and the proposed solutions, the combination of school-based and community-based efforts has been identified as the most effective strategy for promoting healthy lifestyles among children due to the necessity of addressing their needs on different institutional levels.
Ansari, A., Pettit, K., & Gershoff, E. (2015). Combating obesity in head start: Outdoor play and change in children’s body mass index. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatry, 36(8), 605-612.
Astell-Burt, T., Feng, X., & Kolt, G. (2014). Is neighborhood green space associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes? Evidence from 267,072 Australians. Diabetes Care, 37(1), 197-201.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Make a difference at your school. Web.
Goenka, S., & Andersen, L. (2016). Urban design and transport to promote healthy lives. The Lancet, 388(10062), 2851-2853.
Hills, A., Dengel, D., & Lubans, D. (2015). Supporting public health priorities: Recommendations for physical education and physical activity promotion in schools. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 57(4), 368-374.