Childhood obesity is the ongoing epidemic of the future and a problem for our present families and all affected children. Unfortunately, this problem has worse consequences for the affected children than society or their families can ever imagine. What some individuals initially characterize as baby fat suddenly grows out of proportion and becomes a lifestyle, health status and appearance label that threaten to affect the youngster both today and in the future. Obese children usually turn into obese adults, fighting the same challenges entering into adulthood which challenged them as their younger selves, from not being able to find appropriate clothing to not being able to portray themselves as assured individuals with a healthy sense of self.
Childhood Obesity in America
The presence of obesity in America has escalated to unforeseen heights. What starts out as a chubby childhood often compounds itself into an awkward adolescence and then to an uncomfortable adulthood. Individuals with weight issues often face discrimination socially and later in the job market, as appearance is often incorrectly tied in people’s mindsets with inability to produce and lack of self-control. While any shift in weight and body size should be carefully moderated to ascertain whether there is an unknown physical condition behind the change, the lifestyle and eating habits of the individual must also be considered to arrive at an understanding of the reason behind the change.
Childhood obesity has a potent impact on the affected child as well as the entire family. When a child is obese, it can have a profound effect on the relational dynamic of that child’s family. That is especially true if the obesity is directly related to family dysfunction. If a family situation is such that the child resorts to eating for comfort or security, that eating behavior then becomes a problem for that child and the family as a whole.
The impact of the label “obese” can have a negative effect on the child, her relationships with everyone in her life, family or otherwise; the family unit as a whole; and most critically, with her own self image and self esteem. Being given the label “obese” by teachers, coaches, and medical professionals puts an unnecessary label on that child which she must then attempt to refute in order to keep her playing field “level.” Because kids typically want to belong and fit into their “tribes,” being singled out and stuck with this pejorative label changes the perception others have about the child.
Saddest of all, having the label and using the label of obese is hardest on the affected child, impacting the way she sees herself, her self-talk, the way she perceives herself fitting in groups, and even the size of her dreams and the lengths to which she will go to attain those dreams. Fitting in and excelling at something take on entirely different meanings for the child who is mal-adapted because of a poor self image. His self-expectations become more limited. He cannot visualize an atmosphere where being accepted is easy or natural although much of his imaginary role-playing reflects his intense need to belong, when ordinarily he does not feel wanted or accepted.
Fortunately, there is a chance to fix painful damage an obese child can endure from being unnecessarily labeled. While weight loss appears to be an obvious solution, anyone working with the obese child or one who is recovering from the effects of having been obese soon learns that body size is not the only problem that must be overcome. More vicious monsters such as self-doubt, self-loathing, inappropriate shyness, inappropriate self-aggrandizement, loneliness, distrust of others. . . the list of monsters is endless and can grow or shrink at any time without warning or cause.
Current obesity statistics reflect that the problem of childhood obesity is only getting worse. It is now being referred to as an epidemic. Healthcare professionals and childhood educators no longer refer to it solely as the product of lack of self control, poor eating habits, poor nutrition, poverty, or other demographic or scientific factors. While all of those factors may have an impact on a child’s eating behavior, there is now recognition that there is not one single factor responsible for the whole bag of tricks that childhood obesity represents. Rather, all of those factors must be accounted for and studied together in the life of a child to get to the bottom of that child’s obesity problem and any solution to the situation.
Along with being classified as obese, there is also a classification known as morbid obesity. Morbid obesity is a condition reflecting the degree of obesity present in an individual, and what that obesity can possibly do to that individual’s health factors in the long run. Morbid obesity is defined by one health source as being when an individual’s extra body fat becomes a threat to their bodily health. Morbid obesity is described by another source as obesity being 100% or 100 pounds above a person’s ideal weight. Those are not precise descriptions for the condition; but give professionals and family members a starting place for identifying the condition.
Morbid obesity can refer to adult obesity or childhood obesity. The condition is not confined to an adult sports fan who consumes more than the usual number of hot dogs at a sports event or a young child who eats a package of cookies after school rather than a handful of cookies, or even a full plate of cookies. Rather, obesity is an equal opportunity demon which plagues its victims without regard to age, life situation, or consequences. The repeated over-consumption of hot dogs, cookies, or other favorites may cause tight clothes and heart burn, but the long-term effects of the behavior can be more discouraging, rising above weight gain to social problems, including the making or keeping of friends, getting and losing jobs, and staying healthy or heading for chronic health problems due to size and inappropriate eating behavior.
The Wrong Solutions
Current obesity statistics, show that the problem of obesity is growing, at least in North America, in unfathomable numbers. In a society purporting to be fitness-oriented and health savvy, our fitness statistics and physiques do not reflect this trend. While svelte models fill the pages of fashion magazines at every checkout line at the local grocery store, our actual health statistics do not reflect widespread adherence to that health and lifestyle trend. Instead, statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control reflect that an obesity problem is escalating among all races, both genders, and all age groups. There is not one clear solution to this problem for any affected segment of the population; at least the solution is not in merely displaying advertisement depicting beautiful people in the grocery checkout magazines, as though that image is the one to be identified with.
Role models for children should not present an ideal which is unattainable and which could do more harm than good. Another example of unhelpful images is making available in our society images which do not depict exercise as it really is, with glamour magazines showing exercise which appears to be perspiration free and not strenuous. A further culprit which glorifies image and body size is the much-maligned Matel Toy company’s toy couple of Barbie and Ken posing for young children as creatures to be emulated, regardless of the fact that they are not actual people. While the career persona of each is marginally helpful to inspire kids to want to grow up to be something neat like a pilot or doctor, the beauty model aspects give children an impossible position to assume. It is possible to teach about careers, beauty and fitness without creating a hard plastic model incapable of replication by most humans in their natural state.
A young girl fighting with childhood obesity issues can’t possibly see herself as growing up to be Barbie without some magical or divine intervention. Society must become more aware of the messages that become part of popular culture and thus turn into ideals sought after by young and impressionable individuals. Society needs to encourage its young and impressionable individuals at an early age by de-emphasizing attractive glitz and stressing instead that all good things must be worked for; that beauty is more than skin deep, and that just because a girl does not look like one of the many skinny Barbie dolls, she is still more than O.K. and has worth in her own right.
Articles about obesity, especially childhood obesity, and studies confirming the problems posed by the conditions are not conclusive about the prevention or cure of obesity situations. Because one single factor is not responsible for its cause, there cannot be a single solution to the problem. While various causes have been cited throughout history, from excess sugary foods in children’s cereals to use of antidepressants by pregnant women, there is no proof of there being one single culprit available for blame or requiring change. Rather than trying to focus on one quick fix, medical professionals and social scientists must come up with palatable resolutions that do not solely focus on eating behavior, grapefruit diets and aerobic exercise. While all of those are valuable components of a healthy lifestyle, they are not the only possible ways to live better. Individuals should be encouraged instead to find a balance of nutrition, exercise, and sensible living inspired by talented, healthy role models capable and worthy of emulation. The facts about the condition must be used to define a workable remedy which all affected individuals can live with.
Dealing with the Problem
Simply because there is not one known cause for the condition known as obesity, there are several factors deserving attention in the attempt to reverse the trend toward increasing childhood obesity in the United States. While in the past in society it was considered good and prosperous for men to appear well-fed and sturdy, the same has not been the case for women and girls. But peer pressure and pressure from medical science have not lessened the effects of too much weight on a female’s body size and self-image. Perhaps a change in the use of food from an unacknowledged comfort source to satisfying a merely nutritional requirement would be a start to alleviating the problem of childhood obesity in our culture.,
Behavioral and nutritional studies must be undertaken to discover what is the potential for modifying individuals’ eating behavior in a society where, for the most part, food is a given and people can afford to indulge in excessive amounts beyond what the body requires. Food is not scarce for most of the U.S., and imposing conditions of scarcity is not the answer. Simply cutting the food supply or its easy accessibility is not the answer to America’s growing waistlines, whatever their age.
Perhaps revising the definition of nutrition is another answer to this dilemma. Rather than looking to food for comfort or entertainment or to satisfy an unspecified emotion, the mindset of nutrition could become more practical. Instead of using food in its many capacities of providing emotional satisfaction, it should be viewed as fuel just as gas is to power cars and electricity is used to powers lights. Changing the mindset of why people eat is a good aspiration, but making it work to help children understand why they eat is easier said than done.
Nutritional programs are available to teach individuals how to prepare nutritious food and “how to eat properly and sensibly.” While humans seem to understand the basic mechanics of eating, topics such as portion control and proper nutrition should be emphasized. These subjects are no longer taught to either gender in public schools. While Home Economics and Shop classes are gender specific and therefore inappropriate as a way to instruct young people in our modern society, the benefits of those classes can be seen in the healthy meals and talented woodwork of those individuals forced to endure those classes.
If the way individuals eat can be channeled into a more intentional process, the epidemic of obesity in all age groups could be changed. Our population would then be growing in numbers rather than body size. Ideally, chronic illnesses tied to the overconsumption of foods would decrease. Solutions for obesity in children would become more available. The perception and practice of eating would change to provide cultural help and support for healthy eating and proper nutrition.
Childhood obesity is a force that is very much with us and is here to stay. How society handles it and makes it into a positive force remains to be seen. It must be harnessed for the good of everyone, but especially for the benefit of the children it affects before they turn into a generation of obese adults with unresolved food issues that have turned into grown-up coping issues of other varieties. One source of guidance and techniques for dealing with childhood obesity is the growing body of journal articles and research papers dealing with the topic and arising out of new research on nutritional needs and behavioral challenges posed by our modern society. This is too important an issue to allow to slip between the cracks of other societal issues. The next generation of leaders must grow up possessed of healthy self esteem and self awareness.