The 21st century has been punctuated by sudden spikes in epidemiological transitions that have, more often than not, been the bane of human existence. Concomitantly, obesity is presently progressing in prevalence with a wide range of causative factors being blamed for this particular state of affairs. Even more shocking, is the rise in cases of childhood obesity which had hitherto been virtually unheard of in modern societies. General practitioners have time and again underscored the seriousness of this public health challenge that is now a becoming a common feature of many low and middle income nations around the globe.
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It is estimated that roughly 43 million children under the age of six harbor excess body fat with their body mass index (BMI) determining their morbid obesity (“4.5 Childhood obesity going up,” n.d., p. 78). Health pundits have often made it their life’s work to put this particular issue into perspective, especially when most health agencies are openly nonchalant when dealing with this debacle or offering viable solutions. Children residing in urban settings are more likely to exhibit morphological compositions that are characteristic of childhood obesity, an indication of a deep seated problem. It is for this reason that this research paper seeks to analyze issues related to childhood obesity with a primary focus on its causes, effects on health and possible intervention options that may aid in managing the condition.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
- Consumption of fast foods: In recent years, parents and children alike have adopted bad eating habits that have been blamed for the steady rise in obesity amongst children. Consumption of junk foods and fast foods has now become the norm with many paying little or no attention to the cumulative effects that would result from their dietary choice. The spread of fast food chains such as a Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Hardees’s and KFC, families in urban settings now make up a regular clientele. This phenomenon has been blamed on busy work schedules that leave parents with limited time to prepare meals for their families. Moreover, these foods are inexpensive and the reason why teenagers are more likely to consume them on a regular basis. Nonetheless, it is vital to acknowledge that these foods are only rich in fats and carbohydrates with high calories while devoid of any nutritional value.
- Limited physical activity: Lack of physical activity in children is now becoming a cause for concern for many general practitioners since it has been directly linked to childhood obesity. Children are spending less time outdoors, preferring instead to remain indoors leading a sedentary life in front of modern conveniences such as television and gaming consoles. The immediate result of this lifestyle is an extension of their adipose tissue, an indication of extra pounds added (“4.5 Childhood obesity going up,”). Additionally, the addictive nature of these video games and television programs usually means that they would spend a large chunk of their time staring at their screens as opposed to engaging in activities that are physically tasking. Similarly, they are more likely to be exposed to commercials promoting junk foods which may subsequently influence them to increase their consumption of sweetened beverages, sweets and other salty snacks.
- Genetic Factors: Ground-breaking research into factors promoting childhood obesity has recently revealed that genetics also play part in increasing susceptibility. Coupled with behavioral and environmental factors, children with obese parents are likely to follow a similar route albeit sooner rather than expected. This is because the genetic make-up of such individuals consists of genes that are associated with a lower basal metabolic rate. The expenditure of energy while in sedentary state is therefore quite low which becomes a contributing factor in as far as weight gain is concerned.
- Socio-economic factors: The fiscal environment that a child or family find themselves in has also been a contributing factor in childhood obesity. The common culprits blamed for this eventuality are parents from middle-class families since they are usually in a position to provide their children with such luxuries. A common trend that is typical in such households is that of children snacking between meals. It is this purchasing power that ultimately ends up impacting the children negatively, especially if the parents do no set rules and regulations poised at limiting such habits. Children from middle-class families that are fairly well-off therefore are at a higher risk of becoming obese in comparison to their counterparts from poor households.
Effects on Health
- The development of type 2 diabetes: One of the most surprising developments in health care in the past four decades has been the permeation of diabetes among children. Nevertheless, an analysis of nearly all these cases have one common denominator; obesity. It did not take scientist long before concluding that obesity in children also led to development of diabetes. More specifically, the said individuals would develop Type 2 diabetes, making it next to impossible for the body to effectively metabolize glucose (Ahima, 2014). Consequences of developing this condition are that sufferers may end up developing various forms of eye infections or kidney failure.
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- Cardiovascular diseases: As mentioned earlier, children who become obese are more likely to adopt an unhealthy lifestyle lacking any form of physical activity. They adopt such an approach, even when constantly ingesting foods that have been prepared using unsaturated fats. As a result, cholesterol levels shoot up to an alarming level, clogging the blood vessels thus making the pumping of blood an uphill task. In addition to this, the blood pressure also shoots up, leading to hypertension and increasing the risk of developing heart disease (Bagchi, 2015, p. 90). Obese children are therefore at a very high risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack due to a cholesterol level which is abnormally high.
- An increase in asthma afflictions: As co-morbidity, asthma has often been directly linked to obesity. The main reason why this is the case has to do with the chronic inflammation of the subject’s lungs which becomes a predisposing factor, especially if the persons in question are obese children. Breathing ends up becoming a major challenge for such individuals who may later on suffer from increased bouts of breathlessness. Researchers are categorical in stating that there is a direct correlation between developing severe asthma and childhood obesity. It is for this reason that they caution parents against allowing this condition to deteriorate often due to the residual effects that it may have in future.
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- Sleeping disorders and joint pains: Obesity in children takes a toll on their weak and nascent bodies since they are largely unprepared to handle the body weight that they are forced to contend with. It is for this very reason that such may have difficulty sleeping often as a result of a myriad of disorders. Snoring now becomes an issue of great concern with others developing disorders that are more severe such as sleep apnea. Their usually regimen is now disturbed by the extra weight forming around the neck area and being responsible for the blockage of airways. Moreover, the frail bones of such individuals struggle to support their body weight resulting in severe joint pain.
Possible Management Approaches
- Transforming eating habits: The main contributing factor promoting obesity in children are the eating habits that they have been accustomed to all their life. A large majority of obese children are in their present predicament due to the unhealthy lifestyle choices practiced within their family units. In other scenarios, it is the parents who influence the children to indulge in such practices that ultimately end up affecting them negatively. Since children are under their care, parents should take the first step in changing these destructive eating habits and introducing changes for posterity. This can be done by either limiting or having a total ban on junk foods at home and during family outings. It is this same consciousness that will allow the parents to invest in vegetables, fresh fruits and, lean proteins, non-fat milk and whole grains.
- Increasing physical activity: The introduction of physical activity is one of the surest ways of ensuring that a child sheds excess weight. Regular work-outs for children at this particular stage in life may seem less interesting and in extreme cases even loathed. An alternative in such a case would be to make the physical activity more fun by encouraging the child to join a sport of their liking. For instance, an overweight child may take an interest in football and lose a considerable amount of weight while in the process of engaging in the sport. An increase in family activities may also be a step in the right direction. Incorporating activities such as swimming and hiking into the family routine is not only a superb chance to bond but an opportunity for all members to become active. Parents are also obligated to limit the time that their children spend before screens and switching this with a timetable that ensures that they lead a healthy lifestyle. They are now able to lead a life that is more balanced in all aspects.
- The use of medications and even surgery: It is vital to note that there are certain instances during which drastic measures may be required to aid such a child shed weight. The use of a wide range of medication and surgery, when necessary, are effective methods that can be used to keep a child’s weight in check. Prescription medication such Xenical is effective in aiding children shed excess weight with no side effects on the individuals (“Global Childhood Obesity Update,” 2011, p. 337). Consulting a physician is, however, an important step since they are better placed when it comes to recommending the correct medication and its dosage. Extreme cases call for drastic measures to help a child lose excess weight. This is often when other methods have borne no fruit. Surgery is an effective method that has aided many in their weight loss journey.
Childhood obesity is a modern day health challenge that has been steadily rising. The consumption of fast foods, limited physical activity, genetic and socio-economic factors are the most common reason why this is the case. This condition has been blamed for an increase in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, sleeping disorders, asthma and joint pains among children. Though tasking, this condition can be managed by transforming eating habits, increasing physical activities, the use of medications and surgery which would enable children lead lives that are more fulfilling.