During the past decade, the world witnessed not only a rise in the incidence of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart problems, stroke, and cancer, but also increased deaths resulting from these diseases. But as if these grim statistics are not yet daunting, the trend also is that these diseases which used to be listed as among the diseases of older people (those in their late forty’s and up), are now being diagnosed among people as early as in their thirty’s.
There are many factors that are being pinpointed as important factors that lead to these unhappy trends, among them, the increasing trend of childhood obesity, which, in turn is also caused by genetic as well as lifestyle factors.
Worldwide, childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic, especially now that children stay glued on television sets and in front of their computers, getting very little physical activity or none at all.
During the past 20 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity has dramatically increased: from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 17.6 percent in 2006 for children aged 6 to 11; whereas for older children, aged 12 to 19, the increase was triple, from 5 percent to 17.6 percent (Ogden CL et. al, 2008).
Obesity is the result of imbalance of calorie in the body. In obese children, far too few calories are used up or burned as compared to the amount of calories consumed or taken in. Obesity is both genetically inherited as well as caused by unhealthy lifestyle, such as inactivity or lack of exercise and poor eating habits (Daniels SR, et. al, 2005).
Overweight and obesity is diagnosed using a simple measurement called the body mass index (BMI). It is measured by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) his height or her height (in meters) squared (kg/m 2), according to the American Public Health Association (2008).
Among adults, overweight means having a BMI of 25 to 30. A BMI that is higher than 30 already means that one is obese. Among children, on the other hand, obese means having a BMI that is at 95th percentile or higher, whereas overweight means having a BMI that is at the 85th to 95th percentiles (American Public Health Association, 2008).
There are a lot of factors that lead to today’s children becoming overweight, or worse, obese. Besides not getting enough exercise through outdoor plays, poor nutrition also plays a major role in the increase of obese children. Junk foods and drinks like sausages, spasm, pizza, and softdrinks are flooding the market, and children are consuming them with gusto. Moreso because families are now too busy to prepare home-cooked, nutritious meals; so often, they just order from fast food chains.
A lot of people consider slightly overweight toddlers as cute, but the truth is that being overweight as a toddler may result in childhood obesity if not immediately corrected. Childhood obesity, in turn, has a tremendous negative impact on the life of the obese child, not only in terms of appearance in today’s society which puts so much value on thinness and looks down on fat people, but especially so in the obese person’s health. Studies say that obesity puts a child at risk of major health diseases as well as social and psychological problems.
The negative implications of obesity on health are far and wide, as being obese puts a child at risk of major health problems. One of the health problems of which obesity is a great contributing risk factor is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). From the Greek word ‘apnea’ is the breathing stoppage while one is asleep, sometimes uncountable times during the night, each lasting several seconds, a minute, or even longer. It happens when there is a blockage or obstruction in the airway. When breathing stoppage happens, the brain arouses the OSA patient so he or she could resume breathing. As a consequence, the OSA patient’s sleep is poor and fragmented; resulting in mood swings, headaches, and other problems related with poor and fragmented sleep.
Another problem associated with childhood obesity is that obese children tend to become obese as adults, thus increasing their risk of developing major health problems later in life, including stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and some types of cancer. These diseases, once considered to be adult diseases, are now being seen on young adults, and even among children.
Citing a 2002 Framingham study, Dr. Fogoros, (2003) says that obesity alone can lead to heart failure, and that even people who are fat even though not yet considered obese have a significantly increased likelihood of developing heart failure. According to Dr. Fogoros, obesity can cause left ventricular hypertrophy or thickening of the left ventricular wall of the heart. If left undiagnosed and untreated, this thickening eventually develops into heart failure.
Obesity is likewise a precursor of stroke. Also called brain attack, stroke is caused by either too little blood in the brain (ischemic) or too much blood in the skull (hemorraghic). In ischemic stroke, there are too much fatty deposits in the arteries, clogging them. There are many factors that lead to stroke, and one of them is obesity, mainly because the main causes of clogged arteries are fatty deposits in the blood. Stroke used to be a disease of adults in their fifty’s, although there were those diagnosed of the condition in their forty’s. However, the past decade had seen people as young as their early thirty’s having stroke. This is expected to rise with the rapid increase of obese children, not only in developed countries, but worldwide (American Stroke Association, n.d).
Type 2 diabetes is another disease that is associated with obesity. Characterized by high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood, diabetes results from defective production of insulin, defective insulin action, or both. The development of type 2 diabetes usually starts with insulin resistance, such that the body demands increased amount of insulin from the pancreas. At first, the pancreas produces more insulin. Through the years, however, the pancreas gets tired, slows down in the production of insulin, and diabetes eventually ensues (NDEP, 2008).
Just like stroke, diabetes used to occur only in older people, typically those who are in their forty’s and are overweight. But as more and more adolescents are becoming overweight or obese, there are now young people developing the condition.
The rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes among young people is considered to be the first consequence of the obesity epidemic that is being observed among the youth (Fagot-Campana, 1999 quoted in NDEP, 2008).
Being overweight and obese likewise puts one at great risk of developing some kinds of cancer. According to the NDEP website, being overweight, having a poor diet, and being physically inactive — all of which are characteristics of obese people — are strongly associated with cancers of the breast, colon, cervix, kidney, prostate, endometrium, ovary, , gallbladder, potentially liver, pancreas, esophagus and rectum (NDEP 2008). Additionally, obese children are at increased risk of developing such conditions as hypertension, dyslipidemia and atherosclerosis (NDEP, 2008). Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries, caused by clogs and blockages in the arterial wall.
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a condition known as a silent killer, meaning, it is there present in the body, wreaking havoc to body systems with or without symptoms, and may remain undiagnosed until attack ensues. High blood pressure is caused by many factors, the leading of which are obesity as a result of inactivity, high fat diet, a diet that is high in sodium but low in fiber, excessive intake of alcohol, and stress. Among the consequences of high blood pressure include stroke, heart failure, atherosclerosis, and eye and kidney problems (WebMd, n.d).
Besides its numerous negative effects on the physical health of an obese child, several of which are discussed above, obesity likewise has tremendous negative effects on the mental and psychological makeup of the obese child. Researches show that obesity is associated with depression in children. Depressed children find it hard to associate with other children; hence they stay at home more often (Fagot-Campagna, 1999; US Surgeon General, 2002; NDEP, 2008).
This, in turn, may make the problem worse because children will tend to get stuck in front of their television set or computer games. Another reason that depression aggravates obesity is that, left with nothing much to do alone, a depressed child may tend to eat more often, or more than they actually need. They will also tend to take in unhealthy foods like chips and cookies.
Obesity may also stigmatize obese children, hence making them withdraw from any form of socializing with their peers (American Public Health Association, n.d.). As previously mentioned, the present society values thinness and looks down on overweight and obese people despite the ironic fact that more and more people are becoming overweight and obese.
Additionally, children tend to bully their overweight and obese peers, which may lead to the bullied being stigmatized. As a result, the obese child may develop very poor or, worse, negative view of themselves, thus harboring the feeling of being unliked on unloved. Obese and stigmatized children tend to become loners, thus hampering their creative thinking and expression (American Public Health Association, 2008). And because they tend to feel that they are not liked, they will also tend to question their worth and get into self-pity. Feeling insecure, they may feel angry about many things.
Having outlined the commonly known negative effects of childhood obesity on the obese child’s physical and mental health, it is therefore important to end this essay with a reminder that parents should do their best to control the weight of their children. Immediate and serious lifestyle modifications are needed, especially among those who are already at risk of being obese, and those who are currently living unhealthy lifestyles, which include being sedentary or physically inactive and eating easy-to-prepare but non-nutritious foods, among others.
The health consequences of childhood obesity, as discussed in this essay, are far-reaching, affecting not just the child’s present, but more so his or her future, especially when his body functions start to slow down. Statistics show a very grim future for obese and overweight children. According to the American Public Health Website, overweight youths have a good chance of becoming obese adults, as much 70-80 percent (American Public Health Association, 2008 quoting data from American Obesity Association, 2002; and Torgan, 2002).
Additionally, overweight and obese children are found to be at higher risk of developing chronic diseases and, worse, premature death, in their adulthood (American Public Health Association quoting the US Department of Health and Social Services).
Moreover, obesity has a causal association with four of the 10 leading causes of deaths in the world, among them, coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer (American Public Health Association, 2008, quoting US Department of Health and Social Services, 2000).
These grim facts should scare enough parents to steer them into action to try every possible means to control the weight of their children, not only because the society demands that people should be skinny to be considered beautiful (often to the point that it drives some people to the other extreme), but to ensure that our children and their children will be healthy and far from developing deadly lifestyle diseases. This is true for parents whose children are already overweight or obese as well as every parent, even if their children are neither obese nor overweight.
As they say, prevention still remains the best cure there is to fight off this epidemic of obesity as well as the rising epidemic of killer diseases. Moreover, early intervention (for those who are already considered obese or overweight) goes a long way in the reduction of the negative effects of obesity.
After all, no parent would want to see any of their children growing with a myriad of diseases causing them to tumble down. No parent would want to live with the fear that any moment, their child could be diagnosed of a killer disease. And no parent would also want to see their children unhappy and depressed, just because they failed to do their part — that is, to ensure that their children are healthy and happy.
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Fogoros, Richard M.D. 2003. Obesity and Heart Failure. Web.
National Diabetes Educational Program. 2008. Overview of Diabetes in Children and Adolescents. Web.
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National Center for Health Statistics (2002). Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents: United States, 1999-2000.
Torgan, C. (2002). Childhood obesity on the rise. The NIH Word on Health. Web.
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