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Childhood Obesity, Epidemic or Not?

Updated on February 29, 2016
8 Women with a BMI of 30
8 Women with a BMI of 30

Childhood obesity is undeniably on the rise –

the public constantly sees this through news broadcasts and television specials. For people who get their news through the written medium, it also brought up, ad nauseum, via magazines, newspapers, and free literature. However, what are the facts? What exactly do we know about this condition; is our society’s constant preoccupation with the physical self causing more problems than its curing?

To start with, what is obesity, especially pertaining to children? Is obesity the sweet faced child, with the chubby cheeks and dimpled smile? Obesity is defined as an excess proportion of total body fat … when [a person’s] weight is 20% or more above normal weight’. Furthermore, morbid obesity is when a person is between fifty percent and one-hundred percent over their normal weight. [1]Recent studies have shown that the number of children who are deemed ‘obese’ has risen 13.1 percent, while the numbers of adults who are considered obese have more than doubled since 1980.[2]

The above information brings to mind the question – what is a ‘normal’ weight? Often, normal weight is decided by figuring out your BMI, or Body Mass Index. However, more and more people are becoming dissatisfied with this as a way of determining obesity. BMI was originally developed by a Belgian mathematician by the name of Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet.[3] That is right, a mathematician , not a doctor, thought up BMI. Furthermore, BMI uses the whole body’s weight to figure out obesity, but completely ignores waist size, which is a much more accurate diagnostic of obesity.[3] Harvard studies show that people who are ‘thick in the middle’ are more likely to develop obesity related health concerns, like diabetes; this includes people who are in the ‘normal’ weight range. In fact, it is not how much you weigh, but where you carry your weight that is an indicator for diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.[4] In addition, BMI completely ignores things like muscle tone and body type – most serious athletes are considered obese by BMI standards. Why? Because muscle and bone weight more than fat. This is why when a person who has just begun to exercise will quite often gain weight, even as they are losing inches. Unfortunately, there is not any other easy ways to measure obesity, so the medical community continues to use BMI. However, the question to ask yourself is this – if the United States government is using BMI, which is so often incorrect, to measure obesity, how many people are really obese and how many are being mis-categorized?

Fed Up

What is causing this rise in obesity?

Doctors will tell you that the reason that childhood obesity is on the rise is because children are eating too much and/or not getting enough exercise; that overeating and lack of exercise can cause obesity is an inarguable fact. However, are we, perhaps, addressing the symptom and not the cause? Or, maybe, simplifying the issue?

Children are undeniably getting less exercise that they used to and quite a few are eating too much, too. Nevertheless, obesity is not just related to how much a child eats, but what they eat. A child who eats a 2000-calorie diet of candy, white flour, and fried foods is going to have more weight problems than a child who eats a 2200-calorie diet of healthy foods. Not to mention the evils of high fructose corn syrup, discussed in more depth further on in this paper.

As to the lack of exercise, are children just becoming lazy? Doubtful, children are naturally much more energetic as adults. It could be argued that the real reason children are getting less exercise can be traced to both electronics and parental paranoia, or the ‘helicopter parent’. Because of the increased ability to communicate in this world, parents hear more and more often about children who are kidnapped and brutalized, even though it is unlikely that a child will be kidnapped by a stranger. Only thirty-seven percent of the 800,000 children reported missing, annually, were kidnapped by a stranger – a child’s nearest and dearest are more likely to harm a child than dangerous stranger on the street. [5] The facts are beside the point, though. Because of this fear on the part of parents, children are kept inside more than they ever were before, historically. In our father and grandfathers time children spent their days outside playing, often not coming in until dark. Now they are more likely to stay inside, and what exercise they get is via organized sports. Sadly, an hour a day running around a soccer field does not equal the amount of exercise that children received when they felt safe playing outside. Unfortunately, there is not really any solution to this problem – it is better for a child to get that hour a day than nothing at all.

Related Health Problems

Obesity has been linked to many serious disorders including diabetes. Diabetes is ‘a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism, usually occurring in genetically predisposed individuals, characterized by inadequate production or utilization of insulin and resulting in excessive amounts of glucose in the blood and urine, in some cases progressive destruction of small blood vessels leading to such complications as infections and gangrene of the limbs or blindness’.[6] More than twenty-four million Americans are affected by diabetes, a rise of four percent since 1980, when only 7.5 million people had diabetes.[7] While diabetes can be linked to obesity, the numbers don’t correlate; if obesity, which has risen thirteen percent, is the cause of this increase, then why has diabetes only risen four percent?

It has been suggested that, as much as obesity is to blame, so is the use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS has replaced the use of cane sugar in the American diet, largely due to the American subsidization of corn growers. However, HFCS is very dangerous, largely because HFCS does not turn off your appetite. In fact, the rise of diabetes in Americans closely parallels the increased use of HFCS in American diets;[8] HFCS can even be linked to high cholesterol, another problem caused by obesity, because it increases the blood levels of triglycerides, one of the bad forms of cholesterol.

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Along with the growing concern for obese children, is a growing number of people, women mostly, who are developing eating disorders. In 2005, approximately seven million girls and women struggled with some form of eating disorder – that is right eating disorders are no longer just for adults, children are developing them. In fact, forty-two percent of children surveyed, grades one through three, said that they wanted to be thinner, and eighty percent of children ten years old are afraid of becoming fat. The favorite scapegoat for these statistics is the media – everyone knows that models are usually thinner than 98% of women[9] – but in truth it is more than that. While the media has its share in the blame, so do the families and peers of the self-conscious child. Children are like sponges – they pick up clues for who they are and how they should be everywhere; they notice their father making disparaging remarks about how fat Brittany Spears has gotten, and their mother avoiding mirrors because of her weight.

Food for thought – eating disorders can lead to lifelong health problems like malnourishment, cancer, paralysis, diabetes, kidney and liver failure, and seizures. If Americans are so worried about how obesity is affecting our health, then why not be just as worried about how anorexia and bulimia affect our health? It would lead you to wonder if, in truth, this growing concern for obesity is really based on how people look and now on how it affects their health.

Is there a solution?

Dieting is usually the first thing to come to mind when obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol are mentioned, but does dieting work? Studies show that ninety-five percent of dieters will regain the weight they have lost, and that thirty-five percent of dieters are considered ‘pathological dieters’. When asked, twenty-two percent of college age women said that they diet ‘often’ or ‘always’. More food for thought – the dieting industry is forty BILLION dollar industry[9] – they do not want you to succeed.

However, studies have shown that the lower your education level, the more likely you are to be obese; furthermore, people with college degrees are less likely to struggle with obesity. This would suggest that the key to ending obesity is through education. Education is important – knowledge is power and that is especially true in anything regarding health. It could be argued that it is not only lack of education that is causing the problem – it is poverty. Food that is full of HFCS is cheaper than healthy food, and people who are living in poverty are less likely to be able to afford the aforementioned organized sports.

Still, education on healthy eating, and the horrors of HFCS is important, but what about what else we have learned? Is it possible that by continuing to focus on obesity we, as American’s are shooting ourselves in the foot? It is obvious that this continued obsession with how we look is beginning to cause a different set of problems. In our quest to look ‘perfect’ and be the ‘perfect’ weight, are we just adding to the health burden already on the United States plate?

In truth, we need to not only educate people about healthy eating and exercise, but we also need to be careful about what we are telling our children. We need to teach our children about realistic expectations of their bodies. We need to be telling them the truth about what causes diabetes and high cholesterol; they need to know how to accurately measure their chances of developing these often-deadly diseases. We need to focus less on the symptoms of the problem (obesity) and more on the causes. We need to, as a society, completely change. But, hey, we are not asking for much, right?

[1] WebMD.com. (2011.) What is obesity? Retrieved 8 August 2011 fromhttp://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/what-is-obesity.

[2] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011.) Childhood Obesity. Retrieved 8 August 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov.

[3] Devlin, Keith. (2011.) Top 10 Reasons BMI is bogus. Retrieved 22 August 2011 from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439

[4] Parker-Pope, Tara. (2008.) Watch your girth. Retrieved 22 August 2011 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/13/health/13waist.html

[5] KidsFightingChange.com. (2011.) Kidnapping Statistics. Retrieved 22 August 2011 from http://kidsfightingchance.com/stats.php

[6] Dictionary.com. (2011.) Diabetes. Retrieved 8 August 2011 fromhttp://dictionary.reference.com/browse/diabetes

[7] American Diabetes Association. (2011.) Projection of Diabetes Burden Through 2050. Retrieved 22 August 2011 from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/24/11/1936.long

[8] Adams, Mike. (2009.) High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Diabetes: What the Experts Say. Retrieved 22 August 2011 from http://www.naturalnews.com/026468_sugar_Amazon_corn.html

[9] Katz, Nikki. (2005.) Body Image Statistics – Dieting Statistics – Body Type Statistics. Retrieved22 August 2011 fromhttp://childrencomefirst.com/cms/uploads/bodyimagefactvsfiction.pdf

[9] Devlin, Keith. (2011.) Top 10 Reasons BMI is bogus. Retrieved 22 August 2011 from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439

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    • Melindas Mind profile image
      Author

      Melinda 5 years ago from Oregon

      I agree, my oldest doesn't tend towards obesity, per se, but she tends to carry about five extra pounds around her waist if she's not regularly active.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      I have one child so tends to be obese and I have found that adding some exercise routines do help.

      Welcome to HubPages.

    • urmilashukla23 profile image

      Urmila 5 years ago from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA

      Very informative! Thanks for posting it. Voted up.