As a part of the Public Health Minor offered through the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, students in the Introduction to Public Health class, taught by Dr. Kelly Kamm, were tasked with putting together a public service announcement. In this blog post, Ambarish Rao, an undergraduate student pursuing a major in Management Information Systems along with a minor in Public Health, describes the problems associated with childhood obesity.
According to the World Health Organization, ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ are described as ”abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.” In the United States, obesity affects approximately 15 million children and adolescents. Childhood obesity increases the difficulty of daily living as it is linked to poor sleep, breathing problems, discomfort, low levels of physical activity, and reduced quality of life. There is also a clear link between childhood obesity and anxiety and depression and other mental health issues in children. Compared to children in the general population, children who are obese have a three-times higher chance of dying in their early 20s. High blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis are other common diseases associated with obesity.
The major risk factors for childhood obesity include a lack of physical activity, high calorie diet with low nutrients, inadequate amounts of high-quality sleep, high amounts of screen time, and adverse amounts of stress. So what guidance is there for a child that is obese and how can they be helped? The first is encourage and help them work towards achieving the recommended amount of 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This can be promoted through activities that are “fun” and enjoyable for the child. Some activities could be walking, biking, or scootering to and from school, playing with a pet, dancing to music, and organized sports activities. Promoting healthy eating behaviors to the child, which include high-nutrient meals with balanced macronutrients is also important. Some other habits that can be adopted are setting consistent family mealtimes, involving the child in meal planning by taking them to the grocery store, educating them about nutrition labels, and setting limits on snacks. Consulting a dietician for the child can be helpful as well. Good quality sleep has also shown to combat obesity. Children 6 to 12 years of age should receive 9-12 hours of sleep and teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should receive 8-10 hours of sleep. Two of the lesser-known causes of obesity are stressful environments and increased screen time.
Obesity in childhood can give rise to several major health issues, some of which can be fatal. Importantly, childhood obesity can be prevented and treated through various methods and resources. With the combined efforts from parents, family members, teachers, and clinicians all working together to provide a supportive environment for children, the obesity epidemic can be better controlled.