Childhood Obesity as a Public Health Issue

Obesity is a growing epidemic, especially in the USA. It has a huge impact on the health of the population and can cause a wide variety of other health issues including diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, we are seeing obesity begin at younger ages, and childhood obesity is fast becoming a public health issue. It’s no surprise that obese children generally turn into obese adults who suffer many more health problems as a result.

If left unchecked, the obesity issue will continue to grow and more of our population will become obese. This puts a massive toll on national budgets for healthcare and in many cases removes people from the workforce.

Obesity in Children

Obesity is defined as a BMI of thirty or higher. In children, the metric is a bit different. If a child’s BMI falls between the 85th and 95th percentile for kids of the same age and sex, they would be considered overweight. Anything over the 95th percentile would be obese. However, these definitions are not globally accepted, which makes determining the number of obese children difficult.
Children who are obese are at risk for health problems that rarely appear until later in life. Sleep apnea, asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all health problems that may arise because of childhood obesity.

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is caused by a number of things. Fortunately, a lot of these issues are within a parent’s control, so have a look at common causes and what you can do about them.

1. Food at School

Your child most likely attends school during the day and will usually eat lunch there. Many school lunches are not very healthy and contain too much salt, sugar, and preservatives. However, schools usually offer vending machines as an alternative. Here, you can also find sugary sodas, candy, chips, and other not-very-healthy snacks that your child might decide to have for lunch.

While you can’t control exactly what your child eats when they are away from you, you can give them healthier options. Instead of buying lunch at school, prepare a healthy lunch for them to take. Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Fruit, veggie sticks and dip, and a wholegrain PB&J make a wholesome lunch. If your child wants snacks, cheese sticks, nuts, and apple slices will give them the nutrition they need without all the extra calories.

2. Fast Food

If you are a working parent, you know how difficult it can be to cook every night and make sure your family has healthy food on hand. It can be tempting to grab fast food on the way home from work instead. However, keep in mind that these foods are packed with calories, fat, and other unwanted ingredients.

Instead of stopping off for burgers and fries on your way home, spend a couple extra minutes and pop into the grocery store. Most larger stores will have a deli counter offering rotisserie chickens or other cooked meats and ready-made side dishes. These will only be a bit more expensive than fast food, and you still don’t have to spend any of your valuable time in the kitchen after a long day at work.

3. Drinking the Wrong Beverages

When a child says they are thirsty, they often want a tasty beverage with lots of flavor and sugar. And while it may seem perfectly healthy to give children juice – even pure juice – these beverages contain mostly sugar. All the vitamins and fiber are still left with the whole fruit. Flavored beverages like juice can also get your child into the habit of not being satisfied with water, which will encourage the use of more sugary drinks and can hurt digestion.

Make sure that your children are drinking enough water. It should always be the first and most plentiful option for thirst. Juices and sodas should be reserved for rarer occasions and energy drinks should never be given to children. If your child insists on fruit juice, offer a smoothie instead so they can benefit from the fiber and nutrients of the whole fruit.

4. Large Portions

Going out to a restaurant, you may have noticed that portion sizes are getting larger and larger, even for children. A single meal at a restaurant can be double or triple your daily calorie needs! Even popcorn at the movies comes in larger containers, and sodas are in larger bottles and cans than they used to be.

Once you recognize this, you can take steps to ensure your child is not overeating or drinking. If you go out to eat, ask for a to-go container for all meals and immediately put away half. This way you won’t be tempted to overeat and you’ll have food to take home with you. When you cook at home, give smaller portions. If your child is still hungry afterward, they can ask for more, but chances are they won’t need to.

Final Thoughts

As obesity sweeps the nation, it is vital that we take steps to curb the problem. As a nurse, you will have increased interactions with patients suffering from obesity and you have the responsibility to offer tactful, helpful ways parents can help their children. Raising awareness of childhood obesity as a public health issue is just the first step to put a stop to the problem altogether.