Physical Activity and Childhood Obesity: Strategies and Solutions for Schools and Parents

Article excerpt

Childhood obesity poses a serious threat to the health of our nation. Current literature indicates that obesity rates among children of all ages are dramatically higher than they were a generation ago (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011). Due to the severe consequences and publicity associated with childhood obesity, health and physical education specialists across the nation have focused their attention on strategies and solutions for reducing the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2004), over 16 percent of children and adolescents from six to 19 years of age are overweight and/or obese. This number has more than tripled since 1981. Obesity disproportionately affects certain minority youth populations. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2010) found that African American and Hispanic adolescents ages 12-19 were more likely to be overweight at 21 and 23 percent respectively, as compared to non Hispanic White adolescents (14 %). In children six to 11 years old, 22 percent of Hispanic children were overweight, whereas 20 percent of African American children and 14 percent of non-Hispanic White children were reported as being overweight (Child Health Alert, 2008).

Today more than 23 million U.S. children and adolescents are either obese or overweight. Being overweight during childhood increases the risk of developing diseases such as high cholesterol, hypertension, respiratory ailments, orthopedic problems, depression and type 2 diabetes. Of particular concern is type 2 diabetes, which has increased dramatically in children and adolescents, especially in the African American population. Additionally, a greater percentage of adolescents from families living in poverty are obese (23%), compared with those from families of a higher socioeconomic status (14%) (Health Policy Tracking Service, 2008).

The medical costs alone associated with childhood obesity were estimated at 71 billion dollars during 2008-2009. One of the goals of Healthy People 2010, a national health organization, is to reduce the proportion of obese children aged 6-11 years old to 16% and reduce the proportion of children aged 12-19 who are obese to 16% by 2020.

Obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat. Obesity exists when total body weight is more than 25 percent in boys and more than 32 percent fat in girls (Lohman, 1987). Additionally, the Center for Disease Control (2004), defined obesity in children or adolescents as those individuals with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile on the revised Center for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts. Although there are many causal factors associated with obesity, (genes, psychological influences, Cushing's syndrome, hypothyroidism, lifestyle, eating habits) research has shown that the environment is the most critical factor (Collipp, 1980; Coates & Thorensen, 1978; Rasmussen; 1976).

Obese children are often subjected to ridicule and torment by other children. Girls reported higher incidents of teasing in comparison to boys (Loewy, 2004). The problem of obesity affects mainly girls because they increasingly become preoccupied with their body image and their developing body during adolescence; body image and self-esteem tend to be highly related for many developing children.

According to the Lifestyle Research Institute (2005), most overweight children will likely become overweight adults. The report also indicated that obesity in children 7 to 12 years of age increased more than 50 percent between 1991 and 1998.

In general, a typical child is exposed to 40,000 fast food advertisements annually (Child Health Alert, 2008). Such advertisements inevitably influence the food choices of children and adolescents, and the food is likely consumed excessively when watching television. Many of the food items in advertisements contain foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories. …