Causes, Effects, & Intervention
In the United States 19.6% of children from ages 6–11 years are obese. Another 18% of children from ages 12–19 years are obese and childhood obesity has nearly tripled in the last twenty years (Donatelle, 2011). Despite these alarming figures, childhood obesity is preventable (Center for Disease Control, 2008) (Mitchell, et al., 2009). The causes of childhood obesity are the direct result of poor food choices and food education, sedentary activity choices over physical activity choices, and lack of adult intervention.
Poor nutrition and childhood obesity have a very strong relationship. Children today are at risk of obesity primarily because of poor bad food choices and lack of education in nutrition. There is a tremendous lack of education in nutrition in elementary, middle, and high schools. The CDC recognized this problem in an article promoting a coordinated approach to educating children to health eating and nutrition:
Reversing the obesity epidemic requires a long-term, well-coordinated approach to reach young people where they live, learn, and play, and schools have an important role. Working with other public, voluntary, and private sector organizations, schools can play a critical role in reshaping social and physical environments and providing information, tools, and practical strategies to help students adopt healthy lifestyles (Center for Disease Control, 2008).
The government also recognizes that lack of education is a leading cause of obesity and has been promoting education through websites such as MyPlate.com. The World Health Organization also recognizes education as a major contributing factor to obesity. The problem begins at an early age because children and teens are incapable of understanding the long-term impacts of eating decisions. The WHO reported this finding:
…children and adolescents cannot choose the environment in which they live or the food they eat. They also have a limited ability to understand the long-term consequences of their behaviour. They therefore require special attention when fighting the obesity epidemic. (World Health Organization, 2010).
Even with education, there are other causal factors which are impacting the obesity epidemic. Sedentary activity choices over physical activity choices also increase obesity rates. According to the World Health Organization (2010), the consumption of energy dense, low nutrient foods, combined with large amounts of sugar and saturated food have tripled obesity rates since 1980. The studies by the World Health Organization show that the increase in obesity is a global problem which can be correlated with decreased physical activity (World Health Organization, 2010). Some of the major reasons for reduced physical activity have been associated with technology such as video games and computers. While video games and computers are not causal to obesity, the sedentary nature of these activities invites obesity risk. This factor combined with reduced physical education increases the likelihood of childhood obesity for many children.
Balinsky and Sargent, in their 1996 survey of 22,000 high school students and athletes confirmed the relationship between reduced physical activity and increases in childhood obesity. The authors studied the relationship between athletes and non-athletes looking to see how students with varying levels of physical education were impacted. The researchers also surveyed these two groups to measure physical activity during leisure time as well as during school time. The results of the survey showed that 20% of the students were obese, played no sports, and spent the majority of their leisure time playing video games and watching TV (Balinski, Sargent, & Jackson, 1996).
Researchers Drake, Beach, Longacre, MacKenzie, Titus, Rundle & Dalton (2012), conducted a longitudinal survey-based study of students and found that individuals participating in three or more sports per year reduced the risk of becoming overweight or obese by 27% compared with no participation (Drake, et al., 2011). This research observed a variety of activities from biking to walking as well as team sports. The findings of the research further showed that number of obese students would decrease by 22% if all students were to walk or bike to school four to five days per week rather than drive (Drake, et al., 2011).
The one unifying factor that is causal to childhood obesity is lack of adult intervention. Longer workdays and other factors such as unsafe neighborhoods have significantly increased the time spent in sedentary behavior after school hours (Sothern, Gordon, & Almen, 2006). Due to lack of supervision, children choose to watch television, play video games, or watch movies on DVD. This factor is extremely significant because school based physical and nutrition education will not be enough to offset long periods of inactivity and poor eating in the home.
The causes of childhood obesity unlike adult obesity require an implementation of strategies which promote nutrition and physical education as well as better lifestyle choices. The fact that children are incapable of understanding the long term impacts of these decisions means that both parents and schools will need to implement strategies which promote better lifelong decisions concerning lifestyle and nutrition. Through these measures, the causes of obesity can be greatly reduced in their risk.
Balinski, S., Sargent, R., & Jackson, K. (1996). The relationship of obesity to sitting sedentary leisure time and health behaviors. South Carolina Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 28(1), 15–19.
Center for Disease Control. (2008, January). Make a Difference at Your School. Retrieved from Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/keystrategies/pdf/make-a-difference.pdf
Donatelle, R. J. (2011). Health: The basics (Green ed.). Boston, MA: Benjamin Cummings.
Drake, K. M., Beach, M. L., Longacre, M. R., MacKenzie, T., Titus, L. J., Rundle, A. G., & Dalton, M. A. (2011). Influence of sports, physical education, and active commuting to school on adolescent weight status. Pediatrics, 2898.
Mitchell, J. A., Mattocks, C., Ness, A. R., Leary, S. D., Pate, R. R., Dowda, M., . . . Riddoch, C. (2009, August). Sedentary behaviour and obesity in a large cohort of children. Retrieved from National Institute of Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746930/
Sothern, M. S., Gordon, S. T., & Almen, T. K. (2006). Handbook of Pediatric Obesity: Clinical Management. Boca Raton, FL.: CRC Press.
World Health Organization. (2010). Childhood overweight and obesity. Retrieved from World Health Organization: http://who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/facts/obesity/en/