Childhood Obesity Policy Prioritization

Introduction

Cases of childhood obesity have been on the rise in the contemporary world, thus necessitating policies that seek to address the issue. This medical condition specifically affects children and adolescents implying that their health status is at risk of standard functionality due to the accumulation of weight that is not proportional to the height of counterparts in the same age category and sex (Dawes, 2014). Childhood obesity can be described as an important medical condition that is depicted by extra weight above the standard considering the height of children and adolescents of the same age and sex. This paper analyzes the empirical evidence on childhood obesity and identifies the importance of the policy issue to the field of nursing.

Critique of empirical evidence

The empirical evidence portraying the alarming rates of obesity among children and adolescents provides a rationale for prioritizing the public health issue. Obese children and adolescents record a BMI that exceeds the 95th percentile considering counterparts of the same sex and age (Karnik & Kanekarl, 2012). In this regard, the legislation of policies is expected to consider the facts presented from scientific studies aimed at exposing the features of childhood obesity comprehensively.

A study involving ten prospective cohorts, five experimental, and 15 cross-sectional depicted the impact of sweetened drinks to weight gain issues involving children. All the studies illustrated that there is a positive correlation between the intake of soft drinks and childhood obesity. The high intake rate of soda among children and adolescents, which averages 1.6 cans in a day, attributes to the over 30% obesity cases in the US and it should be addressed to alleviate the problem (Wilson & Temple, 2010). Data shows that the consumption of soft drinks among teens contributes to 13% of caloric intake, which is a significant proportion (Wilson & Temple, 2010). Additionally, children that engaged in the regular consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks recorded weight gain that was depicted by an average of 0.18 BMI (Wilson & Temple, 2010). Research results have shown that children that take an extra can of a sugary drink are at a 60% risk of obesity (Wilson & Temple, 2010). Therefore, a critical analysis of the information regarding childhood obesity would initiate the policy prioritization considerations.

Childhood obesity facts

Research results indicate that in the last 30 years, obesity cases among children and adults have doubled and quadrupled respectively, thus posing serious health concerns. Between 1980 and 2012, children between the age of 6 and 11 years recorded an increase in obesity cases from 7% to nearly 18% (Voigt, Nicholls, & Williams, 2014). During the same period, adolescents between the age of 11 and 19 years reported an increase in obesity cases from 5% to almost 21% (Voigt et al., 2014). The figures evidence that the children and adolescent cohort are facing challenges regarding their body weight.

The weight of the childhood obesity problem in the US as a public health issue reached startling records as one-third of the children, and the adolescent population was affected by obesity in 2012. Therefore, over 30% of the children and adolescents in the US society are at risk of developing other disorders that are associated with the already critical health problem of childhood obesity. Cardiovascular diseases like high cholesterol levels have been reported in 70% of the obese adolescents. Health issues like joint problems, sleeping disorders, and social and psychological issues including poor self-esteem are also common among children and adolescents affected by obesity (Voigt et al., 2014). Therefore, alleviating the primary causes of caloric imbalances caused by different genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors is essential for successful implementation of the public health policy.

Genetic, Behavioral, and Environmental Factors that Trigger Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity emanates from various factors that need to be considered for the policy to be strategic. The parental aspect is a genetic factor that determines the potentiality of a child developing obesity. The issues of parental care concerning breastfeeding, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco use, and the relationship between diabetes and weight gain are also inducers of childhood obesity (Cunningham, Kramer, & Narayan, 2014). Therefore, the policy should strategize on managing weight gain during pregnancy and promoting education and outreach on healthy parental care using technological communication platforms.

Environmental factors associated with chemical exposure are believed to cause childhood obesity. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) or “obesogens” should be considered in the policy. This assertion holds because apart from nutrition issues, the environment could induce the development of childhood obesity (Wilson & Temple, 2010). For instance, microwaving bottles and plastic containers that have no manufacturer’s statement if the product is safe when subjected to heat is considered unhealthy, and it could cause childhood obesity.

Behavioral factors associated with screen time are also associated with childhood obesity due to reduced physical activity and increased food intake. Early care and education also play a significant role in the childhood obesity issue. Children that do not engage in physical activities while at school are at a high risk of developing obesity. Besides, poor dieting habits at school is also a cause for the up surging childhood obesity rates. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) encourage children to prefer healthier food provided by the USDA instead of carrying snacks and meals from home (Dawes, 2014).

Childhood Obesity Legislations

The national and federal governments have showed efforts to fight the childhood obesity menace in the US. Various policies have been formulated and implemented to solve the public health problem, but the results have shown small changes in reducing the increasing childhood obesity cases. Policies like the School Nutrition Legislation, School BMI Screening and Fitness, Insurance Coverage for Obesity Prevention and Treatment, and the Physical Activity or Physical Education in Schools, and School Recess Legislation have been ineffective due to various barriers (Cunningham et al., 2014). Therefore, the policy needs to focus on getting rid of the obstacles for the successful alleviation of childhood obesity in the US.

The barriers include the presence of influential lobbyists that safeguard the interests of the manufacturers of certain unhealthy foods and beverages, misinformed constituents, and the lack of caregivers’ commitment to healthy caregiving practices. Additionally, legislating school foods and vending machines alterations have created misconceptions regarding the policies. For instance, vending machines still dispense high-calorie sodas, which are detrimental to the health of children and adolescents. In this regard, the prioritization of the policy is based on the view that the prior policies have faced challenges in fostering healthy parenting, dieting habits, physical activity, screening time, and getting rid of obesogenic chemicals (Karnik & Kanekarl, 2012). Therefore, childhood obesity cases would be reduced if the barriers were removed.

Importance and impact of the policy on nursing practice

The childhood obesity issues are both significant and impactful to nursing practitioners in various ways. Personally, the obesity policy issue is significant to me since it reflects the roles I could play as a stakeholder in the health sector. I could enhance my professional development and facilitate the attainment of a healthier society as a formulator and implementer of the policy.

Collectively, in the nursing fraternity, the policy implies that nurses can play significant roles in fostering healthy dietary habits, prevention interventions, and encouraging community support and participation in mitigating the problem. The policy would also influence the development of various skills that include advocacy, social marketing, and collaborative leadership, which is effective in intervention endeavors (Rabbitt & Coyne, 2012).

Nurses especially those situated in schools can assist in the reinforcement of evidence-based nutrition along with physical activity behaviors. Besides, the policy implementation implies that nurses can engage in research and empirical evidence guidelines in facilitating the development of school-based policy strategies. The significance of the policy is also impactful to nursing practice since it provides a platform for advocacy that seeks to alter policies that surround nutrition education, vending machines, physical activity, lunch menus, and other health-related issues concerning children (Rabbitt & Coyne, 2012).

Nurses should ensure that children at risk of obesity are screened according to the specifications and guidelines of the CDC as part of the surveillance strategies. In this case, nurses can identify resources for prevention within the community and the children and adults affected by obesity can be referred for treatment. Furthermore, nurses can promote a healthy environment and culture at the household and school set-ups for children to adopt behaviors that minimize their odds of being at risk of obesity (Voigt et al., 2014).

Conclusion

The problem of childhood obesity should be taken as a public health policy issue that should be prioritized. Based on empirical findings, more than a third of children and adolescents between 2 and 19 years are obese, which underscores the seriousness of the problem. Factors associated with parenting, physical activity, exposure to chemicals, and dieting habits have been identified as key triggers of the issue. The policy affects the field of nursing as its relevance is portrayed in the nurses’ intervention strategies and the development of skills.

References

Cunningham, A., Kramer, R., & Narayan, M. (2014). Incidence of Childhood Obesity in the United States. The New England Journal of Medicine, 370(1), 403-411.

Dawes, L. (2014). Childhood Obesity in America: Biography of an Epidemic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Karnik, S., & Kanekar, A. (2012). Childhood Obesity: A Global Public Health Crisis. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3(1), 1–7.

Rabbitt, A., & Coyne, I. (2012). Childhood obesity: nurses’ role in addressing the epidemic. British Journal of Nursing, 21(12), 731-35.

Voigt, K., Nicholls, G., & Williams, G. (2014). Childhood Obesity: Ethical and Policy Issues. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, T., & Temple, N. (2010). Beverages in Nutrition and Health. New York, NY: Humana Press.

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