This paper focuses on one of the most acute topics in the US national health policy and regulation, which is childhood obesity in the United States. Childhood obesity is a challenging issue for US society. Childhood obesity should be controlled and prevented at the earliest stages with the aim to stop obesity epidemic in the United States. Parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals in cooperation with a wise regulation of a Government should turn the existing negative trend in the opposite direction.
It is crucial to underline that childhood obesity in the United States evolved from an oppressive problem to the epidemic in scale issue. This problem cannot be ignored, and society should radically fight it. This paper focuses on the main causes of the existing worsening of a situation such as poor diet, inactivity, combined with watching television and reluctance to change. In addition, this paper describes the relationship between poverty, neighboring environment, and the level of childhood obesity presenting statistical data of obesity prevalence among various races and social classes. The role of parents in the development of this problem is discussed as well. It is emphasized that targeted training, comprehensive information, and lifestyle changes should be applied to prevent the decline of national health.
Ogden et al. (486) highlight that more than 30 percent of school-age children and approximately 15 percent of 2-5 year olds and are diagnosed overweight or obese in the US. Moreover, children from low-income families have higher risk of being diagnosed obese or overweight. Statistics for children from such families evidence there are 31 percent overweight or obese preschoolers.
According to Stegerin (8), there are two main modifiable causes, so called critical areas, of development of childhood obesity. These are factors related to nutrition, environment based on psychological aspects of upbringing, family lifestyle, or the level of physical activity. Non-modifiable cause of childhood obesity is genetics. It is important to for everyone beginning from parents, teachers, healthcare specialists, and representatives of US Government to understand that it is easier and more essential to pay attention to early detection and prevention of the obesity epidemic than to deal with its negative consequences.
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Stegerin (8) underlines that “behaviors involving physical activity and nutrition are the cornerstone of preventing obesity in children and adolescents”. Families and schools are the main and the most influential factors. Responsibility should be taken upon being a well-informed people who invest in the happy future of their generations. The author also highlights that in early childhood, obesity is caused by emotional factors (stress, feeling unsafe, etc.), hereditary factors (ethnic differences and rates of metabolism), low level of physical activity, and lifestyle (eating “on the run”) (Stegerin 10).
The main causes of childhood obesity except genetic predispositions are unconscious consumption of energy-rich food in quantities that exceed the daily norm of a child, lack of movement, physical activities, and useless pastimes in front of TV with a mass advertising attack. It is argued that the figure indicating childhood obesity almost tripled in the last 30 years. It raised a concern about emotional and physical health of future generations. Moreover, African-American children were affected the most. The level of obesity among European American girls was twice lower than among African-American girls (Boero 43).
It is important to recognize that families are the best educators and teachers for their children in all questions, especially those related to lifestyle or right nutrition habits. Spending time at work is not an excuse for the fact that most families eat at fast food restaurants and consume sugary drinks and snacks, do not think or do not pay much attention to the dangers and consequences of such a diet. Of course, much time is needed to break existing habits and change lifestyle. But, it is the question of health not only for the modern generation but American future. Naturally, it is easier to buy semi-finished meals or give some extra money to the child to visit fast-food chain to have less problems in the evening after the busy and stressful working day (Stegerin 10).
Campbell (n. p.) argues that increase of the price of food containing high level of fat after implementation of fatty foods taxing would decrease consumption of high-calorie foods. Consumers will search for healthier alternatives. Moreover, the emphasis should be put on health consequences of the obesity epidemic. According to the Food Research and Action Centre (n. p.) these are high blood pressure, kidney failure, reproductive complications, and heart disease.
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Naturally, this health issue is so evident that each person with high level of consciousness will agree with it. However, in our modern world honesty and desire to create a happy and healthy nation do not prevail in Government regulations. Money solves everything. Lobbyists of big food corporations do not allow the Government to increase, for instance, taxes for fatty food or restrict access for the representatives of the big FMCG companies and fast foods retailers to schools and pre-schools. They state that their production is not so harmful, and that it is not their fault that their revenue grows. Moreover, great power of advertising converts a growing number of consumers into their fans.
Taxation of food containing high level of fat and advertisement regulation of fast-food chains and similar products are regarded to be effective measures that can be used by the Government. However, regardless the fact that childhood obesity is placed among the most crucial health problems in the USA, representatives of huge beverage holdings and fast-food chains giants succeed in lobbying their interests in the Government. The main reason for not increasing taxes on their production is that fact that they are confident that fast-food is the cultural issue in America, and it is useless to regulate such an issue in a price-related realm. The situation will be the same because visiting fast-food restaurants is a ritual for the majority of ordinary American families, and it is impossible to stamp it out. Moreover, even after the increase in taxes, healthy food will remain more expensive for families with the low level of income.
It is essential to underline that it is a position of limited persons who care only about their wallets and current welfare. With the aim to make the fight against childhood obesity more effective, the Government should conduct educational programs and nutrition trainings, which will promote active lifestyle with definite steps that should be taken by parents and their children. Moreover, practical support will be provided to families, who will be chosen as further examples for the future advertising campaign that will show ordinary citizens that everything is possible in the fight with fat and bad eating habits. More drastic measures should be applied as well. Campbell (n. p.) states that imposing a 10 percent tax on food and drinks that contains high level of fat and sugar will help stop the development of the childhood obesity in geometric progression. Similar action should be taken regarding fast food chains regulations. Aggressive advertising campaigns that influence children minds should be regulated, and their number should be reduced to a minimum.
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Blasi (321) emphasized the fact that deprived by attention of hard working parents, half of 8-16 aged children spend 3-5 hours in front of the TV-set consuming enormous amounts of Colas, chips, and other not useful sweets. Purposeless surfing of the Internet and playing video games are driving children to trance-like state and replace sports or even playing in the yard.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (n. p.), obesity rate among children aged 2 and younger is approximately 9.5 percent. It is stated that socioeconomic and environmental factors that facilitate obesity are limited access to fresh and low-calorie healthy foods, lack of time to prepare healthy food, and its replacement with high fat content ready-made food, poor districts or areas of high-crime neighborhoods with no parks, gyms, or community centers, conscious choice not to walk to school or lack of desire to be involved in recreation activities, particularly due to safety concerns. Moreover, it is highlighted that sweetened drinks, fast foods, and high-fat snacks that accompany young children at home, during classes, and in their spare time are also crucial factors that determine the increasing rate of childhood obesity.
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The American Academy of Family Physicians (n. p.) recommends parents to pay their attention to controlling children's appetite, do not force children to clean off their plates, whenever possible prepare a simple meal from natural and fresh ingredients, “to provide ample fiber in the child's diet”, do not turn food and sweets in incentives for good academic performance results and other awards, try reduce access to harmful food at least at home, encourage physical activity, joint family outdoor activities, and limit the possibility to watch television to 2 hours a day.
All numerical facts mentioned above and numerous preventive measures should be implemented in the nearest future. At the same time, great attention and help should be provided to children, who already suffer from this disease. To prevent future health problems in the most complicated cases, bariatric surgery for children is considered a radical and last resort help for such patients.
Davis & Carpenter (267) argue that the growth of the number of children eating at fast food restaurants increased 5-fold during the period from 1977 and 1995. The authors underline that the proximity of fast-food restaurants to schools affect the growth of the obesity rate among children. The authors urge parents to express discontent with such facts and influence adoption of legislative acts that would forbid fast foods restaurants to be located near schools.
Olfman (148) also supports the above mentioned position and points that billions of dollars were spent on advertising and marketing campaigns influencing eating habits of children in fast food industry. It is incomprehensible, but over 30 percent of the daily diet of children aged 8-18 years composed of low-nutrient snacks. It is the impact of 10, 000 advertisements per year that promote unhealthy food focusing on children audience. The author argues that such irresponsible behavior of American manufacturers was more aggressively regulated in other countries. Norway and Sweden, for instance, do not allow advertising food products to target children audience under twelve. In Quebec, Canada, it is not allowed to advertise to children who are younger than 13 years. In Belgium, advertising is forbidden 5 minutes before and after children’s programs. These are only few facts that prove the care of children’s health that should be taken as an example in the United States.
Aggressiveness of media that influences the easy-to-influence minds of children greatly affects their behavior and buying preferences of their parents. Such passiveness and vulnerability are used by manufacturers of obesity causing products to increase their profits at the expense of children's health. Sedentary and low-activity lifestyle combined with high availability of harmful products and poor diet became the norm in American society (Rothblum & Solovay 243).
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Furthermore, the emphasis of school curriculum on the development of disciplines other than physical education is a well-known trend. Another alarming fact is that inactive preschoolers have the risk to be diagnosed with obesity four times more often than their peers, who are physically active at least 60 minutes per day. Moreover, numerous studies highlight the correlation between improved performance at school and physical activity. Therefore, it is recommended to implement such school model where there will be a balance between mental and physical exercise (Olfman 112).
Lack of awareness and understanding the existing obesity situation among parents is gaining a greater scale. It is vital for the American society, in particular for responsible parents, to protect their children from media and environmental influences that are beyond children’s conscious understanding and ability to realize the truth. It is a right time to stop obesity epidemics by giving the opportunity to children to eat healthy food, spend more time being involved in outdoor activities rather than in front of the TV. Children should not be slaves of the society that does not value health and future or does not want to see the root of the problem hiding behind being busy at work and money earning. Basic limitations in food preferences, change in the way of life, and regulation of advertising campaigns manipulating eating habits of children are right tools on the way to nation’s recovery.
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It is crucial for the US nation to decide whether we should be so concerned about such health problem as childhood obesity. The answer is clear. Existing psychological and medical statistics indicates that this problem is gaining uncontrollable speed, and ignoring it may have irreparable consequences. It is important to control weight problems beginning from early childhood for the sake of future generations.