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Cultural Autobiography - Why Is Childhood Obesity High in the United States?

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Why is Childhood Obesity high in the United States?

Childhood obesity is a condition where excess body fat negatively affects a child's health and well-being. This occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her height and age. Children as young as ages four are diagnosed with this disease. Childhood obesity is a serious health problem that is rising at exceedingly extreme rates in the United States. The consequences of this devastating illness can lead to an early grave for many of its victims. These children of America are literally eating themselves to death. Childhood obesity is a prevalent disease in the United States. In order to eliminate childhood obesity, one must be well informed about the ways to prevent this devastating illness.

Not all children carrying extra pounds are overweight or obese. Some children have larger than average body frames and are normally carrying different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development. One cannot determine if a child's weight is a health concern by looking; a doctor has to calculate his or her body mass index (BMI). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that "Body mass index shows whether or not ones child is overweight for his or her age and height. Also, if a child's body mass index is greater than 95th percentile; that child is obese."[] In addition, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that a percentage of twenty two Mexican American children ages 6-11 are overweight, whereas 20 percent of African American children and 14 percent of non-Hispanic White children are overweight. [] There is not one single cause of childhood obesity; rather it is a complex interaction with many variables. Contributing factors include: genetics, behavior, environment and certain socio- demographics.

Certain genetic characteristics may increase an individual's exposure to excess body weight, however, there are likely to be many genes involved and a strong interaction between genetics and environment that influences the degree of excess body weight.[ Kopelman, Peter G] It has been shown that obesity tends to run in families; this can be referred to as a genetic link. In some cases, parental obesity is a stronger predictor of childhood obesity than the child's weight status alone. [Kopelman, Peter G] Weight gain occurs as a result of energy imbalance, specifically when a child consumes more calories than the child uses. Parents allow their children to consume fast foods, baked goods, vending machine snacks, desserts, candies and soft drinks on a regular basis. Also, more meals eaten away from home, fewer family meals, and greater portion sizes of food intake all contribute to childhood obesity. Many children's diets do not meet nutrition guidelines. For example, only 8 percent of children in Colorado eat vegetables three or more times per day as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[,] []

Decreased opportunities and participation in physical activities is another behavior that contributes to obese children. Being physically active not only has positive effects on body weight, but also on blood pressure and bone strength.[] In addition, The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that physically active children are more likely to remain physically active into adolescence and adulthood.[] Children may spend less time being physically active during school as well as at home. School physical education programs have decreased and children are walking to school and doing household chores less frequently.

While physical activity levels have decreased, inactive behaviors, such as watching television, web surfing and playing video games have increased. One study found that time spent watching television, videos, DVDs, and movies averaged slightly over three hours per day among children 8 to 18 years old.[] Several studies have found a positive association between time spent watching television and a frequency of obese children. These behaviors replace time children spend participating in physical activities. As a result, there is increased calorie consumption through excessive snacking and eating meals in front of the television, a greater risk of children choosing high-calorie meals, low-nutrient foods through exposure to food advertisements, and decrease in their metabolic rate. []

There is a variety of environmental factors that can potentially contribute to childhood obesity including home, childcare settings, school, and the community. The school and community settings are other environments where children learn about eating and physical activity habits. It is becoming increasingly important for all children to have access to healthy food choices and safe physical activity opportunities. Promoting ground-breaking school nutrition and physical activity programs as well as ensuring that there are well-lit sidewalks, bike paths, and parks in communities, can all help to shift towards healthier environments for children in the United States.

Certain ethnic minority and socioeconomic populations have increased rates of childhood obesity.[]Low-income families face numerous barriers including food insecurity, lack of safe places for physical activity, and lack of consistent access to healthy food choices, especially fruits and vegetables.[] It takes both time and resources



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