Eating is essential for living. At the same time, many people do not pay much attention to the problem of food consumption or, to put it more precisely, to the quality of food they eat regularly. In actuality, an average consumer does not really know what he actually it. Moreover, consumers have a vague idea about the process of production of food and where food actually comes from. Instead, their attitude to food is determined by the dominating stereotypes and biases, which are basically created and promoted by major producers of processed and fast food. In such a way, the contemporary society has lost the traditional culture of food consumption, which was replaced by the contemporary fast food culture where people get used to consume prepared food or fast food paying little attention to the quality of food. In fact, nowadays food became one of the least valuable commodities people take for granted, while in the past it was the most valuable source that determined the survival of human society and human species at large. At the same time, the actual significance of food has never been lost since it is still produces a profound impact on human health and life. Consequently, it is extremely important to eat reasonably and form healthy food habits in order to minimize the risk of the consumption of unnatural and even dangerous food. In such a context, the problem of children obesity is one of the major challenges to the national health because obesity increases the risk of various diseases. Therefore, the understanding of the background of children obesity is very important and the major cause of the current spread of children obesity is likely to be found in the lifestyle and food culture of children and their families.
Childhood obesity: current situation and diagnosing
Today, the problem of the childhood obesity has become one of the major challenges to the national health system and it is a real threat to the public health. The childhood obesity is the problem that emerged in the second half of the 20th century and, today, the number of children suffering from overweight is increasing steadily. In this respect, it is possible to refer to Table 1, which shows the rapid growth of the share of children with obesity in the second half of the 20th century – the early 2000s.
Source: Ogden, C.L., Carroll, M.D., and Flegal, K.M. (May 2008). “High body mass index for age among US children and adolescents, 2003-2006”. JAMA 299 (20): 2401–5
The understanding of causes of the problem and the diagnosing of childhood obesity are very important because they will help to define effective strategies and approaches to prevention childhood obesity.
The early diagnosing is important because it helps to prevent the development of numerous health problems which can be provoked or aggravated by obesity. For the diagnosing of childhood obesity, specialists (Duenwald, 34) normally use the analysis of children’s weight to define whether they have any problems, such as overweight or underweight, or not. The following table shows the standard measurement defining different weight categories among children.
|Weight Status Category||Percentile Range|
|Underweight||Less than the 5th percentile|
|Healthy weight||5th percentile up to the 85th percentile|
|At risk of overweight||85th to less than the 95th percentile|
|Overweight||Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile|
The diagnosing of childhood obesity is the first step toward the solution of this problem but it is necessary to understand causes of children obesity to tackle this problem.
At the same time, it is necessary to remember that the development of obesity in children increases the risk of the development of other diseases. In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that obesity can provoke the development of cardio-vascular disease. This risk is particularly dangerous for children. The early obesity increases the risk of the development of cardio-vascular diseases which are normally attributed to elderly people. However, childhood obesity, especially if this health problem develops at the age of 5-12, increases the risk of the development of serious cardio-vascular diseases in young age. This means that people, who have suffered from obesity since the age of 5-12, are in the risk group which is vulnerable to the development of cardio-vascular diseases to the extent that the first manifestation of cardio-vascular diseases may appear at the age of 20-30. The reasons are obvious:
- cardio-vascular diseases emerge in the result of the hormonal changes in the body of children suffering from obesity
- childhood obesity contributes to the sedative lifestyle of children because they cannot afford long-lasting physical activities
- the food they consume is unhealthy and increases the amount of fat that affects negatively blood vessels and blood flow
In addition, childhood obesity increases the risk of the development of other diseases, including diabetes. In this respect, it should be said that obesity is provoked by the consumptions of large amount of trans fats which have a negative impact on children’s health. At the same time, obesity leads to the increase of the level of sugar in blood, which becomes dangerous for the health of children and contributes to the development of diabetes. The high level of sugar cannot be decreased by the body without the external assistance and patients suffering from diabetes need to take insulin to balance the level of sugar in the blood.
Furthermore, children obesity affects the formation of skeleton of children. The excessive weight increases the pressure on the spinal colon that may lead to the development of diseases related to the spinal cord development. Childhood obesity can lead the development of such diseases as osteochondrosis and other diseases related to the negative impact of excessive weight on the bones and skeleton formation in children.
Hence, the development of obesity in children at the age of 5-12 increase the risk of development of other diseases, including cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes, diseases related to the skeleton formation in children, and other serious health problems, which may be provoked by the excessive weight, unhealthy nutrition and lifestyle of children suffering from obesity. In such a situation, the prevention of childhood obesity is of the utmost importance because the treatment of this health problem faces numerous challenges which children are the patients. What is meant here is the fact that the medication is not recommended to be applied in the treatment of children with obesity because there are no medications currently approved for the treatment of obesity in children. As for the surgery, it is also a risky treatment and this treatment is not always effective. In addition, surgery can hardly have any positive, long-lasting effect on children. In this respect, specialists (Berry, 124) stress the importance of the change of the lifestyle of children and their food culture as the major and the most effective methods of treatment of obesity in children. To put it more precisely, physical exercises and physical activity along with healthy food consumption are major conditions of the prevention and treatment of obesity in children. In fact, the problem is that children’s body is in the process of formation and medication or surgery can be ineffective or even dangerous because it is difficult to foresee the response of the body on such treatments. At the same time, physical activities lead to the natural decrease of the body weight and strengthen children’s body and improve their health at large.
Causes of childhood obesity
Today, it is obvious that causes of obesity are diverse. This dangerous health problem is mainly provoked by the existing food culture and sedative lifestyle. This is why it is impossible to either justify or condemn the contemporary food culture, or justify or condemn obesity. Instead, it is necessary to understand that obesity is a serious problem, which, though, does not make overweighed children worse or better (Colburn, 234). In fact, obesity breeds multiple health problems and, therefore, whether an overweighed person takes obesity for granted or suffers from depression and accuses his parents who contributed the formation of wrong food habits, he needs to change his lifestyle and diet. In fact, childhood obesity is provoked by multiple factors. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that specialists (Ogden et al., 2402) distinguish a number of key factors that determine or influence consistently the development of obesity in children:
- Emotional eating
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling lonely
- Feeling stressed
- Feeling unhappy
- Past history of emotional abuse
- Past history of sexual abuse
- Comfort eating
- Eating habits and food knowledge
- Unbalanced diet
- Family eating habits
- Eating lots of fatty foods
- Eating lots of sugary foods
- Poor parental supervision of diet
- Lack of discipline by parents
- Lack of nutritional knowledge by parent
- Lack of self-control
- Lack of nutritional knowledge by child
- Environmental dysfunction
- Dysfunctional family environment
- Long periods of being awake
- Past history of physical abuse
- Cultural environment
- Parental or family break up
- Abundance of Contemporary Lifestyle
- Too much time playing computer games
- Too much time watching TV
- Too much time using computer
- Easy access to fast food
- Too many snack choices
- Children driven everywhere
- Cost of contemporary lifestyle
- High cost of healthy foods
- Working parents do not have time to prepare healthy meals
- The cost of organized sport is too high
- Streets are no longer safe for children to play in
- Family’s socio-economic status
- Number of siblings in family
- Bad community role models
First of all, it should be said that the food consumption is dramatically affected by the contemporary socioeconomic and socio-cultural development of society. Profound socioeconomic changes led to the mass migration of the population from agricultural areas to urban areas. As a result, the link of people with farming and agriculture, which actually supply people with food, has been lost. Hence, nowadays people do not really know what food they consume. In this respect, Berry argues that urban consumers have practically no information about the food they eat (405). In actuality, their knowledge is limited by the idea that food is produced on farm, but consumers do not know what kind of farms the food is produced in, how fresh the food is and what the quality of the food is (Berry, 405). The passive consumers will only buy foods that they see on the shelves of grocery stores, without even thinking about what their body will be consuming. They don’t question the fact that some foods have been altered, have added chemicals or even the freshness of the food. The passive consumer is blinded from the true story of the “food processing” or what happens on the farm. The urban consumer has no idea how the farmers do what they do and only know the obvious- that food comes from farms and therefore blinded about the “food process”
In such a way, the food consumption is extremely underdeveloped. Moreover, Berry estimates that it is not just underdeveloped but, instead, it is conditioned by the major producers of food. He argues that consumers do not really have a free choice of food to eat, but their choices are determined by advertising and stereotypes imposed on them by food producers (Berry, 405). In addition, the choice of food is really limited because contemporary consumers do have a very limited access to products of organic farming, i.e. products that were cultivated or produced without the use of any artificial supplements, such as herbicides, for instance (Schlosser, 213). Consequently, consumers readily buy the food they can get and this food is properly prepared for consumers to sell (Berry, 406). The food industry is changing peoples’ habits by promoting already prepared meals. The consumers are losing their individuality in some way and are becoming brainwashed. Berry demonstrates how consumers are being controlled by the food industry, when it comes to prepared foods: “they have not yet offer to insert it, prechewed into your mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so. We rest assured that they would be glad to find such a way” (Berry, 18). Berry afirms that consumers hurry and rush through meals to get to or through work faster, so that they can enjoy their evenings, weekends and time off. However, rushing through meals only triggers more hunger for the consumer, who then go eat at fast food restaurants, where Berry claims “food wears as much makeup as the actors” (18) – this meaning artificial, processed and unhealthy food.
Such a situation led to considerably changes in consumers’ preferences and food consumption. In this respect, Berry argues that “the food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared” (406), even though they do not have any idea whether this food is really fresh, when, how and by whom it was produced. Moreover, the consumption of prepared food is associated with the consumption of good and healthy food, while, in actuality, prepared food and healthy food are not absolutely identical. In fact, prepared food has been already processed and often it may contain elements that consumers would have never consumed if they bought a fresh food and cooked it themselves.
Nevertheless, under the impact of the food industrialists and contemporary food culture, consumers prefer prepared food and they practically do not cook food themselves. However, it is obvious that people could use fresh, unprocessed food if they cooked themselves. But such a change seems to be too radical for the contemporary society which kitchens transformed into storages for bought food but not for cooking (Berry 407). At the same time, it proves beyond a doubt that the food consumers buy contains unnatural elements and it is artificially processed to get an attractive form, color, taste, etc. in order to make consumers buy the particular food item. In this regard, the remark of Berry that the food industry’s overriding concerns are not quality and health, but volume and price (409) is quite noteworthy (Klepper, 1). In actuality, this means that food became a commodity which does not have any value but market value. As a result, the quality and effect of food on consumers’ health are secondary while sale rates and profitability of food companies are above all to the extent that food is conditioned as an ordinary product that should be sold at possibly higher price and larger volumes. Naturally, such a disregard in relation to human health and quality of food is very dangerous and threaten to the health and life of consumers.
Effects of childhood obesity
In fact, among the major problems of obese children is their physical health. Children with obesity face a higher risk of the development of atherosclerosis, cardio-vascular diseases, high blood pressure and many other health problems (See Table 3). In addition, the author is very skeptical about numerous diets which are extremely popular in the modern culture. In fact, the author argues that numerous diets can have a disastrous effect on the health of individuals suffering from obesity since diets often misbalance the nutrition and consumption of vitally important elements. As a result, human body is likely to grow exhausted than to become slim.
In actuality, specialists (Ogden et al., 2404) distinguish a number of dangerous effects of childhood obesity which may have a negative impact on their health and psychology:
- Known consequences of obesity
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Back problems
- Adulthood obesity
- Lower physical activity
- High blood pressure
- Lower physical capability
- Low energy levels
- Early death
- Increased food and medical costs
- Difficulty breathing
- Low self-esteem
- Behavioural consequences
- Learning difficulties
- A lower intelligence
- Under achieving
- Becoming a bully
- Poor concentration
- Be abused by parents
- Teased by adults
- Sleep problems
- Discriminated against when eating out
- Social Consequences
- Not being chosen for school games
At the same time, the author underlines the significance of a huge psychological pressure on individuals with obesity. In actuality, children with obesity often have a very low self-esteem, they are dissatisfied with their appearance and poor physical shape. As a result, the risk of a depression increases dramatically. In such a situation, the suggestion of the author to accept obesity as it is and find some internal balance, shape a positive image of an individual’s self is important for the normal life of children with obesity. In other words, these children should reshape their view on themselves and on obesity and view themselves and overweight positively.
Recommendations concerning the solution of the problem of childhood obesity
The solution of the problem of childhood obesity is complex and should involve consistent changes in the lifestyle of children, their nutrition and their environment. Specialists (Ogden et al., 2405) provide the following recommendations concerning the solution of the problem of childhood obesity:
- Parental actions
- Parents provide healthy food choices
- Greater family involvement in healthy life styles
- Educate parents about healthy eating for children
- Educate child about healthy eating
- Parents provide more positive role models for healthy life styles
- Parents to teach children to take responsibility for their eating habits
- Involve school in assisting children in healthy life styles
- More physical exercise
- Monitor child’s eating
- Use meal replacements to control children’s weight
- Professional assistance
- Seek counseling
- Consult acupuncturist
- Consult hypnotist
- Join weight loss programs
- Consult dieticians
- Consult nutritionists
- Use chemical appetite suppressants
- Consult doctors
- Limiting behavior
- Limit children’s time spent playing on computer
- Limit children’s time spent watching TV and playing on computer
- Reduce amount of takeaway foods
In such a way, the prevention and solution of the problem of childhood obesity is highly dependent on parents of children and their food habits. In fact, parents should teach children healthy food habits and shape a healthy food culture.
Children need to change their life style and parents should help them in this regard, as well as they should develop healthy food culture in family to develop healthy habits in children’s nutrition and food culture. Obviously, changing the view of children on their self seems to be logical in terms of the improvement of the psychological state of children with obesity since the formation of a positive view is important for them since it helps to increase their self-esteem. Moreover, potentially, this may be the consistent step forward to the total change of their lifestyle. If children with obesity will positively perceive themselves they will attempt to lead the life other people.
Children with obesity will not be able to cope with their health problem, if they perceive obesity as a norm. Obesity is a serious problem, which originates not form the wrong self-perception of individuals with obesity, but it is rather the result of a totally wrong food culture imposed on children by their social environment, including their own parents. In such a context, behaviors leading to obesity are the major factors contributing to the rapid spread of this problem in society. Obesity spreads very fast and the reason is the wrong food habits of people. In fact, the existing food culture does not contribute to the formation of health food habits and the author very skeptical about recommendations concerning diets for children. The development of healthy food culture and parents, above all, should be concerned with food habits their children develop. In such a way, it is parents who are responsible for the food culture of their children and, therefore, it is parents and social environment of an individual that are responsible for the development of obesity.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the modern food culture, sedative lifestyle, fast food and rhythm of the modern life are major factors that provoke the development of obesity in children. As a result, the number of children suffering from obesity increases. The development of childhood obesity may provoke the development of other health problems, such as cardio-vascular diseases. The major cause of childhood obesity is the sedative lifestyle and poor food culture. In such a situation, it is important to diagnose childhood obesity at early stages and eliminate causes of its development to tackle the problem effectively. Therefore, it is important to underline that eating reasonably is the major condition of the positive change of food culture. This change is vitally important because the less information people have about the food they eat the more dangerous this food becomes. In fact, to eat reasonably means to get informed about the food consumers eat.
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