What Factors Contribute to Childhood Obesity?
“They used to say I was born with a fork in my mouth,” one woman exclaimed. She goes on to say, “My weight at birth was 5 pounds, yet as a child I began to gain weight, and the struggle to lose the weight has carried over into my adult years. While I do not consider myself to be obese, according to today’s standards of height and weight distribution, I probably am. I think I inherited the weight gene from my father’s side of the family, as they are all large-boned and carry a fair amount of weight as well.”
Does this scenario sound familiar? The sad truth is that childhood obesity 20 years ago was looked upon as the child being healthy. No measures were taken to control the weight gain. Today, however, society has mandated that thin is in, and this is one of the factors which contribute to childhood obesity.
What does one thing have to do with the other? Every child today is exposed to TV commercials, magazines, and other forms of propaganda which insist that to be thin is to be accepted. If a child is overweight, an affect of this societal acclamation may induce low self-esteem among children. As a result the child will eat more and exercise less.
Another factor in childhood obesity is fast food restaurants. With one or both adults working and not being able to monitor a child’s eating habits, the child will most likely eat at fast food chains. This is especially true of middle school kids who may have working parents, and who visit these fast food chains for breakfast and lunch.
While it is true that most schools have changed their lunch menus to include healthier and nutritious meals; if there is a fast food chain within the vicinity of the school, kids will inevitably eat there. If school-aged kids want to eat a hamburger and fries from a fast food joint, they will find a way. Check out any of these places on a typical day at 3 p.m. and you will find hoards of kids buying meals.
This brings up another factor. Many of these fast food places, specifically well-known big companies, have specifically set up their premises near and around schools. They know they are targeting kids, and are contributing to the obesity problem in our society, but there’s a lot of money in the fast food trade.
In New York, for example, the Mayor has proposed that all restaurants get rid of Trans fat in their meal preparations. The fast food chains as well as other restaurants took offense to this proposal because they knew they would lose business – especially from kids.
When we were kids, we used to take our lunch to school. It would consist of a healthy sandwich, milk, and a piece of fruit. Today, while some parents may follow this regimen, more often than not there are those parents who simply leave money on the counter for their child to buy whatever they wish for lunch.
Yet, on any given day, some moms take their children to McDonald’s or Burger King for lunch; specifically because it’s convenient. Perhaps they went shopping and later, the little kids said they were hungry. Whether in a mall or not, it is very easy to grab some fast food to alleviate the hunger. Without realizing it, however, they may be contributing to a child’s weight gain by doing so.
This is not an indictment on parents; it is the world we live in. Whatever is easier, convenient, and fast has become the rule rather than the exception. Perhaps someone will soon fill the need for kid-friendly restaurants where you can grab a quick bite to eat that’s a little healthier.
Another contributing factor is food preparation at home. If we, as parents, order pizza and Chinese food and bring home prepared meals from fast food restaurants, we are sending a clear message that these foods are appropriate as meals and not as treats once in a while. Now this is not to suggest that every parent engages in this practice.
With healthy diets and exercise becoming part of everyone’s conscious, there are certainly more parents today who are preparing nutritional meals and engaging their kids in different forms of exercise. Yet, obesity is a problem and one which has to be recognized and dealt with on a daily basis.
While we, as adults, struggle with weight on a daily basis, it can certainly be said we do not want the same for our children. It’s a delicate balance, however. Children who are overweight are teased by their peers; made to feel inadequate, and thus look to food to make them feel better about themselves. We all know this to be true.
As adults, if we are feeling anxious or stressed out, we look for that piece of chocolate or a piece of cake believing somehow it will make us feel better as well.
But for children, it is more serious. Being taunted by peers on how they look adds more pressure and tips the scale in their quest to fit in. Therefore, one of two things will occur; either they will eat more because they can’t lose weight; or they will starve themselves in an effort to become more popular among their peers.
Either way, their self-esteem dictates how they treat their bodies. There have been countless cases wherein peer pressure and parent pressure has pushed children one way or the other.
One woman commented, “As a child, I was not aware I was fat. Once I started school I was made fun of all the time. Even though my parents said I was beautiful, I didn’t really believe it. As an adult, dark clothes became my friend.
My self-esteem was at an all time low, and even though I had tried many diets, I would gain the weight back, and then some. My parents never forced me to eat; our meals were portioned and nutritious. I think my lack of self-worth fed into my need to eat. After all, if no one was going to notice me; why not eat?
I was embarrassed because the stores my mom took me to for clothes never had my size. I had to go to special stores. Even today, I buy plus sizes. When I think about those childhood times, it brings back pain I’d rather forget.”
Childhood obesity, with all of its consequential health problems, should also be looked at from the emotional as well as the physical pain it causes. We pay so much attention on food being the source and how we are perceived; we forget there are other emotional factors which play a vital role in obese children.