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The New Age of Child Obesity

By Amanda Pham

Back in the day, when our moms told us to go play outside, they literally meant stop eyeing the TV and go outside, play in the sandbox, swing on the swings or connect with the great outdoors. At dinner, she would always tells us to finish the vegetables on our plate before we could eat dessert or go play in the living room. Nowadays, when mom tells us to go outside, we interpret that as “let me take my phone outside and play on it.” As a result, we end up not getting the physical activity we need. Instead we tend to give most of our attention to our phone screens rather than enjoying our surroundings. For dinner, mom or dad would ask, “Could you bring me that take-out menu?,” foregoing a more traditional and healthy homemade meal. Times have changed, and we’re living in a more advanced world, but also a more unhealthy one.

Today, children are developing and dying of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers, and hypertension

Throughout the last few decades, a new epidemic has made its presence known among the youth – child obesity. Child obesity has received much attention because children are suffering from it at a very early age. According to Li’s study (2010) on surveying children’s weight percentage, he found that “the percentage of obese children aged 6 to 11 [has] more than doubled in the past two decades, increasing from 6.5% in 1980 to 17% in 2006.” As we continue to live on in this advanced technological world of busy white and blue collars, young adolescents are struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle. How does it feel to hear that children and adolescents in the United States and other countries today are most likely to have shorter life spans than their parents?

One of the reasons for this shocking possibility is living in a modern era of technology. Over 9 million children are overweight today as 1 in 3 children born in 2000 and later will have diabetes (2008) Instead of asking for a new bike, children want the latest phone, tablet or gaming system – all activities that keep them indoors and in place. These electronic replacements end up promoting, “sedentary behavior and increase consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages that are low in nutritional value” (Calvert, et al.,, 2013). Today, children are developing and dying of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers, and hypertension (2014) Things that were unheard of among children, are now prominent in their lives. Children can spend hours and hours a day on their phones and video games without even moving an inch. With excessive amounts of exposure, “children’s problem behavior and obesity dramatically increase” (Hiromatsu, et al., 2014). As a result, our youth are experiencing a difficult transition to adulthood where their quality of life is full of health risks that ultimately reflect on poor self-images that can lead to emotional, physical and mental disorders. Because of what we have today, we are investing more money into research and treatment for obesity as the problem continues to worsen.

Would they rather pay $30 for groceries to prepare a healthy dinner that could last them to the next day? Or would they rather spend $30 on items that may last them an entire week, even though they may just be frozen tv dinners?

Not only is technology a risk factor for child obesity, but also the fact that we live in a community where there is easy access to high fattening and energy-dense foods and beverages is concerning as well. For example, there are plenty of vending machines in buildings across the country – even schools. According to the CDC (2014), 80% of children and adolescents drink sweetened beverages – the largest source of unnecessary sugar and calories. How is this possible? Children are the primary targets for junk food advertisements, and, as a result, their diet is heavily  impacted. Some might suggest having parents simply pack healthier lunches for their children.Unfortunately, families in this economy may have trouble being able to afford healthy foods, often much more expensive than cheaper, more filling and more unhealthy alternatives. Families who have lower incomes want to get the most out of their hard-earned money.

Among families with lower incomes, the prevalence of child obesity are among African American, Hispanic, and Native American families (2008). Would they rather pay $30 for groceries to prepare a healthy dinner that could last them to the next day? Or would they rather spend $30 on items that may last them an entire week, even though they may just be frozen tv dinners? On a budget, maximizing portion sizes with as little money as possible is a priority.There are also plenty of fast food joints in the suburbs. With affordable, yet extremely unhealthy, food from the dollar menu, it’s easier to feed families on a tight budget with items that are higher in sodium and fat content. Along with that, it is easier in today’s fast paced society to just pick up something through a drive-thru than to take the effort and time to cook a nutritious meal. As a tradeoff, children are overeating thousands of calories a year. Based on research, children who live in a close proximity of a fast food restaurant are 3.9 times more likely to become more obese (Mellor, et al., 2011). Rather than focusing on the quality of foods, we’re focusing on quantity.

Obesity is a problem that has dug its roots deep into the world, and it will take time to reduce the already prominent impact.

Considering that we are living in an era of constant change, there is bound to be a solution to this growing problem. There is one way – work harder and be smarter about our choices and learning more about our health. Of course, this solution isn’t easy. Obesity is a problem that has dug its roots deep into the world, and it will take time to reduce the already prominent impact. We can start with putting in the effort to educate ourselves about obesity and prevent the later generations from being affected. We should start with the community such as community centers, hospitals, and schools especially, based on information provided by the CDC.

Schools are where children spend the majority of their lives as they develop into adulthood and are the prime location to develop their knowledge about health, thus shaping them into healthier adults. As a result from school involvement such as getting rid of vending machines, changing school menu options, encouraging physical activity and promoting a healthier diet, there has beena difference – subtle, but it has shown improvement in children’s behavior and activity (2010). These are just the first steps into resolving this serious issue. However, with everyone’s effort, we can make America healthy again. Things just don’t happen overnight. It will take a tremendous amount of effort to get everyone involved; but with small changes, it will eventually add up into a healthier nation for our own children.

References

Childhood Obesity Facts. (2014, December 11). Retrieved July 1, 2015.

Wieting, M. (2008, October 1). Cause and Effect in Childhood Obesity: Solutions for a National Epidemic. Retrieved July 11, 2015.

Li, J., & Hooker, N. (2010). Childhood Obesity And Schools: Evidence From The National Survey Of Children’s Health. Journal Of School Health, 80(2), 96-103. Retrieved July 1, 2015.

Mellor, J. M., Dolan, C. B., & Rapoport, R. B. (2011). Child body mass index, obesity, and proximity to fast food restaurants. International Journal Of Pediatric Obesity, 6(1), 60-68

Nakamuro, M., Inui, T., Senoh, W., & Hiromatsu, T. (2015). ARE TELEVISION AND VIDEO GAMES REALLY HARMFUL FOR KIDS?Contemporary Economic Policy, 33(1), 29-43. Retrieved July 1, 2015.