Child obesity is an issue for public health that has a long term economic and social cost and threatens the health of the nation. In the modern scientific literature, it is determined as a specific medical condition of a child characterized by the high body mass index (BMI) or the existence of an excess weight that has a negative impact on the state of his/her health (Brazier, 2018). The primary causes for the appearance of the disease include genetic factors and an unhealthy lifestyle that presupposes poor dietary habits and the lack of physical activity (Brazier, 2018). For the modern world, the problem of childhood obesity acquires the top priority because of the shift in people’s mentalities, high level of comfort preconditioned by technologies, and the availability of fast food or other unhealthy products. For this reason, the given literature review is devoted to the in-depth investigation of the problem along with the primary causes for obesity, ways to struggle it, and economic and social factors associated with the problem.
Causes of Child Obesity
The existing body of evidence outlines several primary causes for the appearance and development of obesity among children. Thus, Mu et al. (2017) unhealthy lifestyle that is peculiar to the modern youth is one of the central reasons for the emergence of extra weight in children. It presupposes inappropriate dietary habits and poor choice of products. A similar idea is offered by Kuzbicka and Rachon (2013), who are sure that the absence of schedule, skipping breakfast, and sugar-sweetened products increase the risk of obesity among children and contribute to the appearance of health issues. In general, researchers outline products that might significantly increase BMI:
- Fast food
- Processed meats
- Dairy products
- Products with added sugar
- Sweetened juices and sodas
- High crab food (Brazier, 2018)
Consuming these products, children acquire more calories than they use, and their bodies start to store these excessive amounts. It preconditions the appearance of the first signs of obesity and other health issues.
In such a way, the majority of scientists agree in the opinion that adherence to the unhealthy lifestyle promotes the appearance of adverse effects, including obesity. Tee et al. (2018) emphasize the fact that the executive function of adolescents also suffers from poor dietary habits, wrong choice of products, and irregular food intakes. The given factors contribute to the significant reduction of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and cultivate the rise of inappropriate behavioral patterns (Tee et al., 2018). The research conducted by Tee et al. (2018) also highlights the fact that children who have a strict schedule, planned meals, and regular physical activities have a lower risk of acquiring obesity. The negative impact of an unhealthy lifestyle on the state of children’s health is also evidenced by the survey done by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (2019), which shows that about 71% of adult respondents have a high risk of heart disease because. Obesity and the absence of physical activity were among the most common factors (21% and 35% correspondingly) that increased the given risk (Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, 2019). For this reason, un unhealthy lifestyle becomes the leading cause of obesity in children, which also preconditions the emergence of health concerns in adulthood.
Analyzing the problem of child obesity, scientists also devote much attention to the daily activities of adolescents and their habits. Thus, Gavin (2018) states that today the youth spends time watching TV, playing video games, chatting using smartphones, or playing with tablets. Even educational activities require less effort because of the spread of technologies and the limitless access to information provided by the Internet (Gavin, 2018). All these habits do not require moving or additional physical activities, which means that individuals spend the larger amount of their time sitting at home or occupied with activities that do not presuppose the hard work of muscles. Gavin (2018) assumes that the majority of children are affected by technologies that are available for them since the first years of their life and lead a sedentary lifestyle resulting in the emergence of overweight and other health problems associated with this risk factor.
Another factor that promotes a sedentary lifestyle and contributes to the lack of physical activity is the environment. Gavin (2018) emphasizes the strong impact of this aspect on children and their habits and the existence of the direct correlation between the level of income and obesity. Thus, for states characterized by high revenues, the problem of obesity becomes more topical. For instance, surveys show that more than 36% of children in the UAE are obese, and the World Obesity Federation predicts a further increase (All Zaln, 2018). It is mainly associated with the fact that adolescents have limitless access to technologies such as smartphones, computers, and the Internet, which preconditions the lack of physical activity and development of obesity. Moreover, children acquire the false idea that playing video games, reading a book, or watching football is related to physical exercises (24% of respondents), while only 31% know that obesity can evolve from 6 years (All Zaln, 2018). These misconceptions also promote the development of the discussed problem.
Role of Friends and Close People
Speaking about factors related to obesity and its development, the existing literature devoted to the issue admits the role of people who surround a child. According to Augustine and Kimbro (2017), friends of a person play an essential role in the establishment of his/her lifestyle and habits. However, they might cause both positive and negative effects on an individual. The problem comes from the evolution of so-called virtual friendship, or relations supported by videogames and social networks that provide an opportunity to communicate using the Internet (Augustine and Kimbro, 2017). In such a case, a child will engage in unhealthy behaviors as staying at home and using devices will be the only way to spend time with friends. Moreover, statistics show that game sessions are often followed by unhealthy snacks, as there is no time for an appropriate dinner (Kim and Lee, 2019). For this reason, the combination of these factors preconditions the development of obesity.
On the other hand, there is also a positive influence caused by friends if they are engaged in healthy lifestyles. Kim and Lee (2019) state that they can inspire a child to perform physical activities by their own examples or offer him/her an opportunity to play active games together, which is always interesting and fun for adolescents. Moreover, the attitude to healthy food in collectives is also vital as the snacks such as chocolate bars, candies, or chips popular among other children will also make a certain child follow their habits. In such a way, friends play a significant role in the evolution of obesity or struggle with it.
Discussing the problem of obesity and its negative on children, researchers emphasize the vital role parents play in monitoring their states and reducing the risk of acquiring extra weight. Thus, Sjunnestrand et al. (2019) champion the idea that family holds the main responsibility for engaging children in healthy lifestyles as adults are the ones who provide children with food and can create their diets. Parents can select among good and bad products and determine their impact on the health of a child. They should also act as educators as in the majority of cases it is not enough to provide adolescents with appropriate food. Still, it is vital to guarantee that they will understand why some products are unhealthy and the importance of healthy dietary habits (Sjunnestrand et al., 2019). Parents can also contribute to the formation of a child’s mentality and the emergence of the idea that health is the basic value that should be protected by following the current recommendations.
At the same time, adults can also provide children with the appropriate levels of physical activity by planning their days. For instance, Sjunnestrand et al. (2019) state that since the first years of life, parents can demonstrate children the importance of exercises by their own examples or by specific education. Regular sports activities will contribute to the development of habit and reduce the risk of obesity. Unfortunately, Sjunnestrand et al. (2019) admit that in many cases, parents either play a passive role or, on the contrary, promote the development of unhealthy patterns among children because of the lack of awareness about obesity or their inability to provide the correct information. For this reason, the role of families regarding the issue of child obesity remains significant.
Schools also play a significant role in the development of child obesity as adolescents spend a larger amount of time there. For this reason, schools are demanded to create the environment beneficial for children and their health. Koplan, Liverman and Kraak (2005) state that all products provided to children in should meet nutritional standards to avoid the appearance of obese children. Moreover, schools might promote different physical activities by engaging pupils in sports and emphasizing the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Finally, because of the educational function of the given establishment, they should provide children with the basic information about obesity as one of the most topical problems of the modern world and ways to struggle it (Koplan, Liverman and Kraak, 2005). The given institution possesses all the needed tools and opportunities to contribute to the positive change and reduce the number of children suffering from obesity (Koplan, Liverman and Kraak, 2005). The government should also support schools in their attempts to improve the health of children by sponsoring specific programs aimed at the increase in children’s awareness about extra weight and the harmful impact of junk food that deteriorates the state of their health and promote the emergence of extra weight. The combined effort of parents, schools, and local authorities is expected to cultivate a positive environment that will help children to avoid health problems in the future.
Effect on Economy and Society
The scope of the discussed problem evidences that today it is a significant concern for the society and economy. Tremmel et al. (2017) are sure that nowadays, obesity should be considered a threat to the national and global public health regarding its incidence and the economic burden associated with it. The study shows that about 30% of the global population, or 2.1 billion people, are obese, and 5% of deaths worldwide are also caused by obesity (Tremmel et al., 2017). Extra weight causes multiple illnesses and preconditions the appearance of complications that should be treated. The introduction and provision of care for patients with multiple chronic conditions triggered by this factor presuppose significant investment and specific planning of the budged (Woetzel et al., 2014). It preconditions the need for additional financing and extra spending.
Another problem is linked to the transition to adulthood and the future of children with obesity. Augustine and Kimbro (2017) assume that their states might become worse, which will result in the deterioration of the health of the nation. Moreover, the next generations will also suffer from this problem because of their parents’ inability to lead and promote healthy lifestyles. In such a way, obesity becomes a serious social and economic concern that should be considered to avoid undesired outcomes.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Altogether, the existing literature devoted to the problem of obesity recognizes it as a serious challenge that should be faced to avoid further deterioration of the health of the nation. The primary causes of obesity include unhealthy lifestyles and sedentary lifestyles. The lack of activity contributes to the appearance of extra weight and the emergence of health problems. Children who face a high risk of being obese can be affected by parents, their friends, schools, and local authorities. One of the main recommendations to achieve success in struggling with obesity is to attain a shift in mentalities towards healthy behaviors. It can be achieved by increasing awareness levels among children and parents, the introduction of healthy nutrition in schools, and governmental support to avoid the emergence of similar problems in the future. Obesity causes a negative impact on the economy, society, and health of the nation, for this reason, it should be addressed by using effective interventions.
- All Zaln, A. (2018) ‘94% UAE kids aware of healthy living: Study’, Khaleej Times. Web.
- Augustine, J. M. and Kimbro, R. T. (2017) ‘Associations and intervening mechanisms between family structure and young children’s obesity’, Journal of Family Issues, 38(16), pp. 2277–2302. doi: 10.1177/0192513X15621344.
- Brazier, Y. (2018) ‘What is obesity and what causes it?’ Medical News Today. Web.
- Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (2019) Survey reveals high number of heart risk factors across UAE population.
- Gavin, M. (2018) Overweight and obesity. Web.
- Kim, K. and Lee, Y. (2019) ‘Family-based child weight management intervention in early childhood in low-income families: a systematic review’, Journal of Child Health Care. doi: 10.1177/1367493519847036.
- Koplan, J., Liverman, C. and Kraak, V. (eds.) (2005). Preventing childhood obesity: health in the balance. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
- Kuzbicka, K. and Rachon, D. (2013) ‘Bad eating habits as the main cause of obesity among children’, Pediatric Endocrinology, 19(3), pp. 106-110.
- Mu, M. et al. (2017) ‘Dietary patterns and overweight/obesity: a review article’, Iranian Journal of Public Health, 46(7), pp. 869-876. Web.
- Sjunnestrand, M. et al. (2019). ‘Planting a seed – child health care nurses’ perceptions of speaking to parents about overweight and obesity: a qualitative study within the STOP project’, BMC Public Health, 19, p. 1494. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-7852-4
- Tee, J. et al. (2018) “Obesity and unhealthy lifestyle associated with poor executive function among Malaysian adolescents’, PLOS One, 13(4), e0195934. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0195934
- Tremmel, M. et al. (2017) ‘Economic burden of obesity: a systematic literature review’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(4), p. 435. doi:10.3390/ijerph14040435
- Woetzel, J. et al. (2014) ‘Overcoming obesity: an initial economic analysis’, Science Open. Web.