Fighting Obesity in ChildrenA Definition of the Problem
“For the first time in nearly 100 years the lifespan of children is declining due to the increase in overweight and this may be the first generation of parents to outlive their children.” (Brownell & Horgan, 2004). In addition, researchers have labeled the phenomenon of overweight in children with a higher rate of depression (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2005; Schumacher & Queen, 2006) and lower self-esteem (USDHHS, 2005) and discrimination (Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer, and Story, 2003; Schwimmer, Burwinkle, and Varni, 2003; Strauss and Pollack, 2003; USDHHS, 2006). If current trends continue, one out of every three children born in the year 2000 will become a type 2 diabetic by the age of 18. Type 2 diabetes can decrease lifespan by 17 – 27 years.
How did we get here?
According to the President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sport in a report released in 2006, “The essential cause of the increase in overweight among children and adolescents is caloric imbalance, which results from inadequate physical activity, poor dietary choices, or both. These behaviors are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, community organizations, health care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and schools. None of these sectors can solve the childhood obesity epidemic on its own; however, it is unlikely to be solved without strong school-based policies and programs.” With the recent legislation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the pressure of performance on educators regarding high stakes testing has become overwhelming. As a result, nearly 40% of America’s elementary schools have eliminated recess to provide additional time for academics . Additionally almost 75% of high school students in the nation’s schools are not enrolled in any physical education classes (PTA, 2006; Haskins, Paxson, & Donahue, 2006; Daniels, 2006). While the intended outcome of NCLB is to undue years of failure to educate the underprivileged and inner city children of our nation (Noddings, 2005), the focus has moved from the education of the whole child to the production of an academic test score. If obesity rates continue unabated the future of the United States will be one involving out of control health care expenditure, devastating human loss, and potentially diminished national security.
Where do we go from here?
The United States Surgeon General, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, and The Institute of Medicine and Healthy People 2010 issued a call to action to reduce childhood obesity and increase the prevalence of healthy habits in America’s youth (Drive2Fitness, 2006). In a 2006 study commissioned by BeActive North Carolina, Chenoworth and Associates determined that If every North Carolina citizen were to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity by 5%, the decrease in Type II diabetes and overweight could produce cost saving benefits of $1.54 billion a year, including the possibility of an increase of lifespan by between 17-27 years.