Childhood Obesity - a growing problem

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Childhood obesity – a growing problem

Think of your eight best friends, or of your eight closest relatives. Statistically one of them will die as a consequence of obesity. According to Dr. Richard Carmona at www.surgeongeneral.gov one out of every eight deaths in America is caused by illness directly related to overweight or obesity. That number concerns today’s older generation, a generation which grew up with almost no obesity problems at all. In the generation now growing up, the TV and the internet generation, obesity is a huge problem even in younger ages. Dr. Richard Carmona also states that in New York City’s public elementary schools, almost twenty-five percent of the children are overweight. Those numbers are representative for America as a whole. Further Dr. Richard Carmona says that three out of every four overweight children becomes overweight as an adult.

“Svenska Dagbladet” presented on the first of June 2004 an article about obesity, and diseases caused by obesity. The article says that diseases that used to be common for people in their sixties today are common for people in their thirties. It is conditions such as heart attack and kidney failure, and diseases such as diabetes type two. Diabetes type two, also called age diabetes, has increased enormously among children in recent years. Today for the first time age diabetes is more common than type one diabetes among children. Since the possibility of other effects increases with age, it is a huge problem that children are getting diabetes. Damages to the eyes or to the nerves are quite common effects, and reduced blood circulation is another. It becomes sometimes necessary to amputate limbs when the blood circulation is too weak to provide enough energy. Apart from the mentioned diseases, overweight is a big strain to the whole body, especially the kidneys, the hormonal-system, the heart, the lunges and the digestion. The annual cost of obesity for the American society was in year 2000 117 billions dollars and the diabetes cost was 132 billion dollars according to Dr. Richard Carmona (www.surgeongeneral.gov).

In the 1960’s about four percent of the American children in ages 6 to 17 were overweight. Today it is over 15 percent! Why has childhood obesity grown to this level? Why has children’s obesity more than tripled during the past 40 years? According to both Dr. Richard Carmona and the Institute of medicine, the cause of the increase in overweight children is interplay between less time spent on physical activity, and the food which has become unhealthier. It is not the food itself that is unhealthy, but the snacks, the fast food and the greater portions. Further both Dr. Richard Carmona and the Institute of medicine says that one of the reasons for the decrease in physical activities among children is the technological equipment that has developed during the last 20 years. Children in the American society are watching TV and playing computer games more and more. The number one problem is the TV. Playing a computer game requires concentration, sometimes great enough too make it as hard as an easy physical activity, and it stops the user from eating at the same time. While watching TV on the other hand, the concentration is far too low to make it as hard as a physical activity, and we all know that the amount of snacks had in front of the TV is large. Actually children in America spend almost nineteen hours a week watching TV (www.smh.com.au)! In a year that makes about 1000 hours in front of the TV compared to the 900 spent in school. Of the 1000 hours a year spent watching TV, the average child views about 40 000 commercials according to the Institute of medicine. More than half of these commercials are promoting high-calorie foods, such as candies fast food and soft drinks. A research, presented by scientists from Harvard University, shown in “Aftonbladet” the tenth of April this year says that children watching food commercials are having more unhealthy food. In a year the commercials added six kilo to the average children’s weight according to “Aftonbladet”.
I think it is time to act! Obesity is already today the fastest growing cause of death (www.surgeongeneral.gov) so what is the world going to look like in the future? Is the most common cause of death going to be obesity? I do not know and honestly, I do not want to find out. It is time to do something radical about this problem. During the last twenty-five years childhood obesity has tripled (www.eurekalert.org) and since it is still growing we have not done enough to stop it. Even though it would cost a lot, and even though it probably would meet great resistance, I think that it is necessary to introduce a new subject in schools; health and physical education. It should be a subject were children learn to take care of their own bodies, and were they get a chance to be physical active. Children should have this class for half an hour every day. They should sometimes learn about the importance of food, what the body needs and other things that effect your health. Sometimes the class should be a complement to P.E. lessons where the children should get a chance to try different sports.

Even though the American parents can make a huge difference, it is always the children who make their own choices in the end. When a thirsty ten year old is going into the grocery store after school he has the choice between buying a coke or a bottle of water. He probably chooses the coke without spending a second thinking about what effects it will have to his body. Why not? He does not know enough, he does not know how much sugar a coke contains. We need to make him choose the water by educating him. We need to make every child aware of the importance of food.

Why should we aim for our children? Why not provide grownups with information about nutrition, and why not spend our money trying to stimulate overweight grownups physically instead? Because our children are our future. If we reduce obesity and provide knowledge about health among children, the next generation could be the first generation in a very long time where the problem of obesity is falling. We have already come to that point when it comes to smoking. By teaching children about the risks of smoking we have taken a step closer to a non smoking generation. Between 1965 and 1987 smoking occurrence in America decreased from 40 percent to 29 percent. This drop was made thanks the increased information about the risks with smoking and the abandon of smoking commercials (http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov). I am not saying we should forbid ads for unhealthy food, but we could at least restrict it. For example we could abandon food commercials aiming for children and we could teach our children to be critical towards food commercials. If we start to see obesity today like we started to see smoking 40 years ago, we will reduce the obesity problem.

There are economical benefits to be made as well. Even though it would cost America in short term to start this education America would make huge long term benefits. As mentioned the annual obesity cost together with the cost for treatment of diabetics is about 250 billion dollars. By preventing obesity America will save enormous amounts of money every year.

There are people who advocate that parents should restrict the time their children spend in front of the TV. Is that the way to go? Should we forbid our children from watching TV and force them to play in the garden? No. Personally, I think the TV is great. It is a very good tool in education and today’s children are learning a lot by the TV. The English among young people here in Sweden has never been better and I think that the understanding of other cultures and religions is better than ever. Still I think it is necessary to make children spend less time watching TV, but I do not think the way to go is to forbid TV watching. Instead we need to make our children choose a physical activity. One way to do this is to let them try different sports during the health and physical education classes, but that is not enough. We need to create opportunities for our children to play. The government has to play a huge part in this; by building more playgrounds, by giving our children more football fields and by giving our sport clubs greater opportunities of reaching our children. But the problem is not just in the hands of our government. Every parent can stimulate their children to physical activity. Sometimes all you have to do is to give your daughter a plank, a hammer and some nails, after that she will build a tree house by herself. Other times you might have to build the floor before she is stimulated enough, and sometimes you might have to help her build the whole tree house. This is the responsibility of a parent. In the same way as every parent has to keep their children fre...

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  • Shahad Zaki 2008-02-26

    jätte bra arbetet :)

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Villum Hansson [2007-05-11]   Childhood Obesity - a growing problem
Mimers Brunn [Online]. http://mimersbrunn.se/article?id=8138 [2017-11-21]

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