Over the years childhood obesity has become an epidemic. Working as a medical assistant in family practice for the past ten years, I have witnessed a lot of children struggling with being overweight and obese. Many children now in days lack whole foods that contain proper macronutrients for their bodies to use as energy adequately. Processed foods and sugary beverages can cause more complications over time when overconsumed. Along with lack of proper nutrition, a lot of children seem to be more sedentary. They are overconsuming calories but not properly burning their caloric intake which can lead to weight gain. There are many health risk factors associated with overweight and obese children. Some of the diseases associated with obesity are: Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, sleep apnea, and orthopedic problems. Children and teens who are overweight don’t only suffer from physical conditions but also mental and self-esteem issues. Many believe that childhood obesity tends to be a genetic predisposition but there is a higher correlation showing that easy, affordable, and fast unhealthy foods along with inactive lifestyles can lead to many health issues for children over time.
People incline to say that genetics play a large role into a child’s weight. They believe that if the parents are overweight then the children will also follow this trend due to genetic predisposition. Studies have been conducted to try and find a link between genetic factors and childhood obesity. Not only are these studies factoring in parents current weight status but also the families environmental status. They have found very minimal correlations between the two. The genetic factor accounts for less than 5% of cases of childhood obesity. Therefore, while genetics can play a role in the development of obesity, it is not the cause of the dramatic increase in childhood obesity (Sahoo et all, 2005).
Developing a healthy lifestyle at a young age is known to be very beneficial for children to make smarter food choices in their daily food consumptions throughout their lives. Studies have shown that high intake of fruits and vegetables should be introduced when infants begin to eat solids. Lack of diet variety can lead to neophobia, defined as reluctance to eat or avoidance of new foods (Helland et all, 2016). Although it can be stress-free to go out and buy fast food as a dinner option, it can grow into bad habits and affect the family’s overall health over a period of time. Many fast food restaurants provide some healthier food options to complete a meal but the drinks alone contain high amounts of processed sugars which can become addicting. Studies have shown that families who eat together at dinner tend to eat healthier. While eating out or watching TV while eating has been linked to unhealthy food choices.
Excessive consumption of sugary drinks and junk food is a leading cause for many health issues. Beverages such as: soda, juice, and sweetened drinks contain high sugar contents. Sugary drinks are less filling than food and can be consumed quicker, which results in a higher caloric intake (Sahoo et all, 2015). Another thing to factor in are portion sizes that are being consumed. Serving sizes have increased drastically over time along with the amount of snacking. When it comes to snacking the most typical foods are: chips, baked goods and candy. A single snack item could supply 6-14% of a day’s recommended calories, fat, sugar, and sodium on average (or 56-169% at the extreme) for a “typical” child (Lucan et all, 2010).
A sedentary lifestyle has been known as a contributor to childhood obesity. In years past, children would spend their time playing outdoors. Not as many high tech electronics were available as they are today. Many children these days spend a lot more time playing with electronics also known as screen time versus engaging in physical activity. Screen time is known as playing video games, watching TV, or playing on computers. Each additional hour of television per day increased the prevalence of obesity by 2%.Television viewing among young children and adolescents has increased dramatically in recent years (Sahoo et all, 2015). Studies also reported that children who watched more television consumed higher fat foods and more fast food and soft drinks while watching TV compared to healthier options like fruits and vegetables (Wachira et all, 2018).
There are many non-profit programs that are helpful to children as well as the family to transition them towards a healthier life. While working at Denver Health I learned about a very beneficial program called MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do it!). MEND was founded outside of the United States. Colorado currently offers two locations and soon to be three of which families can enroll or be referred to. Many primary care providers can refer families with overweight and obese children to this program for intervention. MEND focuses on children from 7 to 13 years of age, but other countries have also incorporated children as young as 2 years of age and have found it successful. It does require a commitment on the families part but can be very beneficial in the long run to help not only the child but the family as a whole to make healthier lifestyle changes.
It can be very intimidating to change the way we choose to live our day to day life. But if it can be a beneficial way of living longer and healthier, it is worth the time and effort to learn how to go about it. Making healthier food choices can lead to more efficient ways of producing the necessary fuel our bodies need. Eating a balanced diet can help you have a clearer mind, sleep better, and to not get sick as often. Adding in regular physical activity is also beneficial to maintain good weight and cardiovascular health. We are human and we do crave sweets or junk food here and there, but as long it doesn’t become a habit that can become more expensive in the long run. Not only financially but also for your overall health.