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Author: Cathleen Erin McGreal
Michigan State University
In this activity, you will look at the problem of childhood obesity and explore some of its possible causes as well as some of its remedies. During the activity, you also will view videos in which children who have struggled with obesity describe themselves and their experiences of being overweight.
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1.1 Overweight Children: A Health Issue “Bigger Than All of Us”
Sharron Dalton (2004), a professor specializing in food choice behavior and weight management, likes to quote a nurse’s provocative phrase. At a conference on childhood obesity, the nurse said, “It is bigger than all of us.” Sad but true, the problem of childhood obesity has been growing—not only in the United States but also around the world. Looking at U.S. statistics, Robert Cornette notes (2011) that 4% of baby boomers were overweight children, as compared to approximately one third of today’s youth who will be overweight before adulthood.
Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents, by age group—United States, 1963–2008
Graph retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6002a2.htm?s_cid=mm6002a2_w
In 1963, just fewer than 5 percent of 6–11-year-olds were obese. By 2008, almost 20 percent of 6–11-year-olds were obese.
1.2 Obesity: From a Child's Point of View
Childhood obesity poses life-long health threats for those who remain obese. Osteoarthritis and diabetes are just two health concerns noted by pediatricians, Allison Collis and Rebecka Peeble
Obese children are more susceptible to health problems throughout their lives if they remain obese. Unfortunately, issues related to long-term health, such as liver disease and cardiovascular problems, are often too far in the future for children to grasp. For a child of 10, getting a driver’s license feels like a lifetime away. What might matter most to an overweight child of 10 is being part of a particular group, feeling welcomed by peers at school, or getting invited to a birthday party. Once at a birthday party, an obese 10-year-old might wonder what it would be like to play with the other children who are crawling through the tubes in The Fun Zone. He/she might worry that other children in the tubes will comment on his/her “big bottom.” The obese child might then prefer to stay out of the tubes altogether. The fear of being teased can actually prevent obese children from enjoying their peers.
Relationship aggression (insults or social rejection) is directed at many overweight children. NBC Today Show star, Al Roker, felt self-doubt and emotional pain because of the taunts he suffered as a “husky” boy (Rimm & Rimm, 2004). Roker notes that movies and television shows ridicule those who are overweight, just to get a laugh. You might think that since there are more obese children today that the stigma toward obesity has diminished from the baby boomer days when fewer children were obese. Unfortunately, the emotional toll has grown worse for this century’s kids (Cornette, 2011).
1.3 Beyond Hunger: Humans in a Land of Plenty
Source: The Big Hurt by CWK Network/Connect with Kids (www.connectwithkids.com)]
It would be great to have a signal system that changed our taste preferences. A possible interior monologue would go something like this:
“Looks like there is plenty of food and there is going to be abundant food in the foreseeable future. The layer of fat in my body is at an optimal level. The regulatory system and the sensation/perception system regarding taste and smell will now change so that foods high in sweets and fats will be rejected as not very appealing foods.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Foods that are no longer beneficial are still appealing.
Play the video to listen to some older children and their parents discuss food choices and some problems that overweight children face.
Children and adults sometimes eat unhealthy foods as a reward after a stressful day or a special event. Foods may be associated with certain activities, such as popcorn or candy with watching a movie. Adults often feel time pressures and may settle for unhealthy food choices because these foods can be purchased and eaten quickly. Because adults have more control over food choices, they can decide to make a commitment to increase healthy foods and decrease fast foods. Unfortunately, a 10-year-old cannot do this without parental support!
1.4 Check Your Understanding
Many poisonous plants have bitter tastes. Those who ate them often died before reproducing. Babies scrunch up their faces in disgust when bitter tastes are placed on their tongues. Babies like sweets. All humans are born with a preference for sweet and salty tastes. Those who built up stores of fat survived during famines.
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[Center for Disease Control] CDC Grand Rounds: Childhood Obesity in the United States. URL: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6002a2.htm?s_cid=mm6002a2_w Retrieved 3/31/11
Collins, A. & Peebles, R. (2011). Pediatric obesity: A pediatrician’s viewpoint. In Debasis Bagchi (Editor) Global Perspectives on Childhood Obesity: Current Status, Consequences and Prevention. Pages 257-264.