Childhood obesity is increasingly becoming a major problem not only for parents and the affected children but also on the healthcare systems of many countries. Obesity is a serious medical problem because it puts individuals at risk of contracting diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Initially, some of diseases such as heart attack and high blood pressure were preserved for the middle aged and the old. However, recent studies have established that more and more young people are being diagnosed by these diseases and the major culprit is obesity.
Childhood obesity has been identified in the US as a major health risk and other countries are slowly becoming conscious of the significant number of children whose health are at risk due to obesity. The major observation is that the children are not always aware of the health risks that they put themselves in when they fail to eat healthy food and instead rush for unhealthy fast foods.
Currently the blame is being directed towards careless parents who prefer to watch their children grow weight exponentially and instead blame it on such aspects as gene pool. There are also myths surrounding proper food nutrition that have prevented effective interventions on the issue of childhood obesity. Obesity is a stigmatizing condition that condemns children to a life characterized by limited engagement in activities compounded by low esteem issues. Initially, childhood obesity was only though to affect children in developed countries but emerging studies are indicating that children in developing countries are continuously becoming prone to the condition. There are many factors that have been pointed out as being contributory but very few healthcare systems have been able to deal with the issue effectively. (Waters)
The most prudent way to approach the issue is for parents and communities to be sensitized on the dangers of letting children grow overweight and the various intervention strategies that can be employed especially in situations where the children at a higher risk due to inheritance. However, defining obesity provides a better way of understanding the problem and identifying the persons that are at risk and the ones that are not.
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There are a number of definitions of childhood obesity and the general objective is usually to come up with a proper diagnostic method. With regard to the accumulation of fat in the adipose tissue, one definition outlines that childhood obesity is the excessive accumulation of fat in the adipose tissue to the level that it poses a health risk. The major drawback with this definition is that the diagnostic method requires complex medical techniques and equipments. One technique involves the measurement of underwater density and fat in the adipose tissue using an instrument called “dual energy X-ray absorptiometer (DEXA).” Although other simpler methods have been discovered such as the use of “Magnetic Imaging Resonance (MRI)” have made the diagnosis much easier, it creates limitations for persons who would want to know whether their children are overweight or not but are not willing to visit health institutions.
The second approach to defining and identifying obesity in children has been the use of the Body Mass Index (BMI) method. The essence of the approach is that for every height there is a particular weight interval that is considered safe in terms of health. The BMI method has for a long time been used to determine obesity in adults. However, when it comes to children there is a general observation that the BMI method tends to categorize some healthy children as obese and some obese children as healthy. The method is only applicable by looking at the extremities that are usually observable visually.
However, in instances where the obesity is not obvious and further confirmation is required the BMI method does not offer much of a solution. Another challenge with using BMI is that very few countries have BMI charts that effectively cover the age variations.
Another approach in the definition of obesity with regard to adipose tissue is the measurement of the skinfold. The approach involves masuring skinfolds at various points within the body to determine whether the fat deposits in the adipose tissue are in excess. All of the three methods of measuring adipose tissue as a way of defining childhood obesity have been used extensively for a long time. However, the major challenge has been to identify a single method that provides a clearly defined point at which a person should either be considered obese or not. In addition, non of the methods put the diversity in age aspect into perspective. Currently WHO reccomends the use of “weight for height Z-scores for children 10 years or less.”
Dangers of Childhood Obesity
Obesity has many serious risks to children. The risks can be categorized into health physical and psychological risks. Health risks are by far the most researched and well understood of the condition and most interventions target at the mitigation or elimination of health risks. According to (Waters) children with obesity are at higher risk of developing Type-2 diabetes as compared to chidlren who are of norma weight. The major irony in this case is that previosly the disease was only known to occur in adults and this provides more proof of the health risks that obesity places children in. Studies conducted in the US have shown that close to 3% of obese children develop Type-2 diabetes without even knowing that they have the disease.
The major reason for the correlation between obesity and Type-2 diabetes was established through studies where it was realized that children who developed Type-2 diabetes showed liver inflammation. However, on the menagement and reduction of their weights the liver inflammation reduced significantly. Studies conducted in Israel, Germany and the US have established that there could be a correlation between asthma prevalence and obesity. Although there was a somewhat cross relationship, the fact that obese children were twice as much to develop asthma and that 37% to 94% of children with asthma had obesity cannot be ignored. In addition, overweight children are at risk of having imnpaired one development due to the additional pressure on the undeveloped bones that retard the process of ossification.
The most enveloping problem with childhood obesity is the psychological probems it causes to children. The issue has been compounded by stereotypes that have been fed in the mind of children. Cases of bullying and stigmatization which usually have negative effects on the management sttrategies. According to studies, the psychological effect have been known to significantly affect children even younger than six years old. (Poskitt)
Prevention, Treatment and Management
In all known diseases, prevention is usually the best and cheapest strategy. Prevention of childhood obesity has been targeted as a major area of approach after the realization of the difficulties faced during treatment and management. After failures in various prevention strategies there has been a realization that the strategies needs to involve all stakeholders within communities. There is a general realization that lifestyle is a major contributory factor in childhood obesity. Studies in the US, Europe and Japan indicate that children are continuously avoiding outdoor sporting activities and are more and more being involved in activities that are less involving physically such as playing of video games and watching TV and movies. Accumulation of fat in the adipose tissue and around organs is due to fact that the body has excess in terms of calories and stores the rest as fat deposits. (Committee on Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity)
Therefore, children who consume more calories than they burn are obviously at risk of developing obesity. The major prevention approach has been to educate parents and children on the need to engage in regular exercises as a way of avoiding obesity and staying healthy in general. In Japan there has been a strong move towards the prevention of obesity where children are being discouraged to play computer games for long periods of time without engaging in exercises. (World Health Organization) Other prevention strategies have involved the establishment of lobby groups that target fast foods. Various cases have been filed against fast food outlets that knowingly sell foods that are very high in calories. However, due to the reluctance by the government to adopt legislations that can prevent the selling of unhealthy food perhaps due to the economic implications that approach has not been significantly successful.
Treatment of obesity in children has also been challenging for most healthcare systems in countries. Trials for drugs that treat obesity have been under research for long but the general drawback has always been the diverse side effects experienced by patients and the possible adverse effects of the drugs. Such drugs include Phentermine and Sibutramine. The observation after extensive studies is that there is also the possibility of the drugs being abused by individuals who want to avoid the conventional method that involves exercising. In situations where the obesity pause serious and urgent health risk, the only possible alternative is usually surgery to remove the excess fat. Gastric surgery is currently the most widely used form of surgery for severe cases of obesity. Surgery also has some disadvantages which include: micronutrient deficiencies, postoperative complications and late postoperative depression.” (World Health Organization) Other methods that have been found to be effective in reducing weight include Yoga treatment and acupuncture.
Management of obesity in chioldren usually requires a diiferent approach in comparison to management in adults. Aspects that need to be put into consideration in children include physical develoopment and intellectual development. The major point of emphasis during management is that children are aware of the fact that they have a problem and that they have the support of people around them especially their parents to deal with the problem. In addition, there should be emphasis on strategies that are effective especially in taching children to make informed decisions concerning their health such as excercising and and eating heathy food. (Institute of Medicine)
Obesity is a real problem and has already been declared by World Health Organization as an epidemic. The fact that children are still not able to make informed decisions cocnerning their lives puts the responsibility of ensuring that there are not obese on parents. Although studies have established that some children are genetically prone develop obesity, environmental and nutritional factors also lay significant roles. Therefore, any strategy towards the reduction of obesity among children should be geared towards addressing these issues effectively. Education and sensitization of communities on the health and psychological risks of obesity has proven to be the most effective and sustainable approach in the prevention and management of obesity. In addition the realization that treatment methods available for obesity are risky and may have diverse effects leaves very limited options for most healthcare systems.