Our nation’s obesity epidemic has by no means skipped over our children. Childhood obesity has become one of the biggest health concerns our county faces today. Childhood obesity not only creates a multitude of risk factors and health concerns for children, but it also affects their psychological health and well-being Physical complications include Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders, and hormonal imbalances (1). No longer are these types of complications and risk factors use to be fairly restricted to adults. Social and emotional complications include low self-esteem and increased risk of bullying, increased anxiety and poorer social skills, and depression (1). These issues can have an enormous effect on a child’s development and can lead to lifelong social and emotional issues. As it is very clear, this epidemic is and should be an important topic in nutrition policies, but where are most of the interventions focused?
Through policy changes, such as school lunch reform, we have used schools to target this epidemic. Many intervention programs at the community level are also targeted at schools. This is all fine and dandy and I believe can be very helpful, because establishing that knowledge of healthy lifestyles in children will hopefully give them the tools to create healthy lifestyles in their adulthood. However, who is providing food to a third grade student? Children have limited control over what is available to eat at home, which is where most food is consumed. Parents assume the bulk responsibility of what foods their children are exposed to and consume. Yes, it is very important to provide healthy food to children while they are at school, but habits are formed in the home. Having one or more obese parents significantly increases the risk of childhood obesity (2). Parental obesity more than doubles a child’s risk of becoming an obese adult (2). Interventions should be more focused at the parent level, as parents have the most control over the lifestyles of their children.
Addressing childhood obesity is a tricky task. With children (and adults) the focus of the intervention must be on health and not too focused on appearances. In my opinion it is just as risky to have a six year old concerned about counting calories. That creates a prime environment for developing an eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa. Parents need to create a healthy environment at home, focusing on balanced nutrition and physical activity. Parents need to expose their children to a variety of foods from an early age to reduce the prevalence of “picky eaters.” The bulk of the responsibility of a child’s eating habits is on parents, and therefore we should be addressing this epidemic at the source through family and parent based interventions.
Percentage of high school students who were obese* — selected U.S. states, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2011
Percentage of high school students who were obese* — selected U.S. states, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2003