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Samantha Lorenzo
Professor Alexa Doran
ENC 2135
3 November 2016
Childhood Obesity in America
Obesity is a growing epidemic plaguing the children of the United States of America.
Although some people argue that children inherit obesity from their parents, what parents truly
pass down to their children are their poor eating habits. Fast food advertisements, busy parents,
and a lack of exercise are a number of factors contributing to this epidemic. Moreover, the
parents lack of presence in their children's lives leads them to make poor choices regarding diet
and exercise. Obesity and nutrition have become such a large-scale problem that First Lady
Michelle Obama has made it the primary focus of her Let's Move Launch. Over the past three
decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and currently, nearly one in three
children in America are overweight or obese (www.letsmove.gov). Childhood obesity, a direct
result of parenting issued, comes with a number of problems including long-term health
complications, bullying, and a low self-esteem.
Jeffery Koplan, Catharyn T. Liverman, and Vivica I.Kraaks book Preventing Childhood
Obesity: Health in the Balance states that in 2001 the U.S. Surgeon General alarmed the nation
that obesity was becoming a crisis (xiii). To fully understand what obesity is, one must
understand the difference between the terms "overweight" and "obese." Being considered
overweight is entirely different from being considered clinically obese. Clinton J. Smith stated in
Understanding Childhood Obesity stated that According to the American Heritage English

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Language Dictionary, overweight can be defined as weighing more than is normal, necessary,
or allowed. Body mass index, or BMI, is a tool used to put a person into a range from
underweight to extremely overweight using a percentile system. This takes into consideration a
persons height, age, and ethnicity. A child with a healthy weight would fall into the fifth to less
than 85th percentile. On the other hand, an obese child is one who has a BMI that is equal to or
above the 95th percentile (138).
Culture and environment have a great influence on the choices of children. Parents and
the children of obese parents will often argue that they are overweight because that is how they
are genetically formed. Children and adolescents may become discouraged because they are
convinced that they are genetically made to be obese. Genes can determine how and where fat is
stored, but they do not determine how much fat they will have. This explains why siblings will
typically have similar body types. But genetics alone do not determine whether or not a child
will be obese. In Our Overweight Children what Parents, Schools, and Communities can do to
Control the Fatness Epidemic, Sharon Dalton found that inherited biological factors may affect
body weight by as little as 20 percent or as much as 60 percent, which leaves a large margin for
environmental factors to influence weight" (uhbh46). A study found that childrens fat intake
was three to six times greater when both parents consumed high fat foods (Smith 69).
It is the parents obligation to begin creating healthy eating habits from the moment the
child is born. Before the child is born, parents and family members should begin educating
themselves on proper nutrition and exercise habits. Breast feeding has been proven to be more
beneficial than bottle feeding children. Studies have shown that breast feeding lowers a childs
chances of having allergies and contracting other childhood infections. Not only is a mothers

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milk more natural and lower in fat and sodium than cows milk, but also breast-fed infants are
generally lighter and healthier than bottle-fed infants. Breast feeding infants also ensures that a
child is receiving the proper amounts of nutrients and is not overeating. On the other hand,
Farquhar in The American Way of Life Need Not Be Hazardous to Your Health states that bottlefeeding infants can often times lead to over-nourishment and is one of the earliest signs of forcefeeding (160). Force-feeding can destroy a childs abilities to understand his or her own hunger
signals.
In April Michelle Hendersons Childhood Obesity in America: Biography of an Epidemic she
states that An epidemic such as childhood obesity, which is arguably a complex problem that
likely has physiological, environmental, and cultural dimensions, demands attention to both
medicine and culture (1). Health needs be a familys main priority. The demanding occupations
of parents are causing them to become too involved in their jobs and leaving children to make
their own food choices. Because of parents lack of presence in the lives of their children,
children are continuously making poor dietary choices because they lack the proper knowledge
and influence of their parents. Children are more likely to spend more time playing video games
and watching television when their parents are not present. Parents who lead a busy life will
often choose to take their children to fast food restaurants because of its convenience. In
Parental Communication Style's Impact on Children's Attitudes Toward Obesity and Food
Advertising it was reported that nearly one-third of children in the United States consume fast
foods on a daily basis (Yu). This regular consumption of fatty and nutrient deprived foods is
what leads to an unintentional overconsumption of calories.

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Focusing on cooking homemade meals instead of opting for quicker fast food meals can
lower the consumption of trans fats and hidden sugars. Parents should make it a goal to have
their children play a prominent role in the kitchen. Children can assist their parents while
preparing nutritious meals. While cooking, parents can simultaneously educate their children on
the benefits of choosing to eat wholesome foods. Parents and their children can find new and
innovative ways to recreate the fast foods and desserts they love into lower calorie nutritious
meals. This will make nutritious eating more enjoyable for children, which will later lead them
to later on make healthier options when left unaided.
One of the number one excuses parents have for their poor dietary choices is that eating
healthy is too expensive. In the article Food for Thought: Is a French Fry a Vegetable? it makes
a great statement saying that Too many people cannot afford to eat healthy. Well, the truth is
they can't afford not to eat healthy (Esteves). Medical bills will be far more expensive than
purchasing healthier foods. Choosing to eat foods that are lacking essential nutrients puts
children at a higher risk for developing obesity-related disease, allergies, or the common cold.
Frequent doctors visits will be more costly than purchasing unprocessed wholesome foods.
There are countless long-term health risks that correlate with obesity. Many health complications
that are typically only seen in adults are progressively becoming more prevalent in the lives of
children, in particular, those who suffer with obesity. Diabetes, early signs of hardening of the
arteries, hypertension, and disordered breathing during sleep are a number of health risks that
can develop because of obesity.
The environment, or social setting, in which children are raised and the actions of those
around them heavily influence their decisions. Scott Stoneman states in Youth, Health, and

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Lifestyle in the Aftermath of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic, fast food campaigns, working
parents, an increase in video games and television shows, reduced access to fresh fruits and
vegetables, and a drastic cutback on physical education classes are cultural factors that are
influencing children to make poor choices (57). Televisions are swamped with fast food
commercials specifically aimed towards children. The media, commercials, and other types of
advertisement greatly influence people's choices. For example, after Popeye cartoons made their
debut, people began purchasing canned spinach because they believed it would make them
stronger and build muscles. Commercials aimed at younger viewers will feature cartoons and
animations to appeal to the children watching them. Commercials advertising high-fat, highsugar foods are deliberately played during childrens television programming (Yu). There is on
average 10 food commercials for every hour of television (Gunter, Oates, Blades 19).
Commercials played during childrens programming are consistently advertising sugary cereals,
fast foods, soft drinks, and sweets.
The frequent exposure to fast food commercials alters a childs view on health. However,
the blame should not be put on the advertising industry alone. It is the parents' job to monitor
what advertisements are being shown to their children. Henderson and Kelly found that children
of low-income and full-time employed parents generally had a better attitude towards television
fast-food advertising. Children from households in which the parents are rarely available,
believed that the unhealthy snacks and fast foods advertised on TV were healthier than other
foods. Ultimately, children will naturally have the same views and beliefs as those of their
parents so in turn, parents should focus more on supervising and managing what might be
influencing their childrens decisions (Yu).

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Children suffering with obesity also struggle with self-esteem issues and bullying. This
discrimination will oftentimes lead the child to turn to food as a coping mechanism and will
discourage them from exercising. Kids who are heavier will suffer objectifying and other
denouncing events solely because of their weight. Sharron Dalton states, The discrimination is
entirely predictable, and the resulting devastation is foreseeable as well. These experiences result
in lower self-esteem, alienation, and denial of the benefits of activity while unnecessarily
curtailing the kids' future opportunities (185). Parents can help their children cope with
bullying by talking to them and encouraging them to get involved in physical activities they
love, in spite of the teasing.
Unhealthy food choices and poor eating habits are not the only causes why childhood
obesity is becoming more prevalent. Physical activity, or better said, the lack of physical activity,
is one of the major aspects contributing to the epidemic. Children are now, more than ever,
spending more time sitting in classrooms, playing video games, watching television, and
expending extended times surfing the Internet. Schools are even beginning to reduce
extracurricular activities such as sports and physical education because of the students' lack of
interest (Esteves). In Reed V. Tucksons America's Childhood Obesity Crisis and the Role of
Schools, he states that they have created a program called Activate for Kids that involves
instilling more policies that promote children activity and many other things (137). Putting a
restriction to the amount of time spent on the computer or watching television can encourage
children to become more active. Chip Phillps suggests other programs like The Healthy K
Club is a program aimed at young children teaching them about nutrition, fitness, and basic
anatomy (10).

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Exercise, in combination with a healthy diet, not only has been shown to have a positive
effect on weight, but also has been shown to lower blood pressure levels, strengthen bones, and
improve ones mood. In addition, frequent exercise helps adolescents and children eat less and
make it easier to cope with stress. Studies conducted by Harvard University showed that those
who engaged in cardiovascular activities had fewer heart attacks than those who lived sedentary
lives (Farquhar 80-81). Some type of exercise should be incorporated into a familys everyday
routine. There are several ways to incorporate more exercise throughout the day. Medication can
only solve so much. Exercise and nutrition are the best forms of medicine. Ensuring that
wholesome foods become a staple in a child's life builds up his or her immune system and
causes him or her to be less likely to catch a cold. Exercise strengthens the heart and will prevent
the child from contracting cardiovascular diseases. Carol Ryan and Aaron Beighle state that
parents and care-providers are encouraged to participate with their children in various physical
activities, such as walking, swimming, riding bikes, rollerblading, and playing active
games (22).
Parents should learn to read and analyze nutrition labels more cautiously. Paying closer
attention to food labels will ensure that children are getting the proper amounts of vitamins and
minerals in each meal and are not over consuming macronutrients like trans fats, cholesterol,
sodium, and sugars. Reading food labels in combination with a daily exercise regimen increases
the chances of weight loss rather than not reading labels and solely relying on exercise. The
Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was passed in 1990 and was put into action in 1994. This
required all food manufactures to provide a label that specifies nutrition and ingredients.
Physical activity complimented by a nutritious diet helps ensure weight loss and maintain it.

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Teaching children to become more aware of food labels will train children to make more
conscious decisions when choosing what to eat. Label reading will lower children's chances of
choosing to eat foods that are lacking essential nutrients and are calorie dense because they are
more aware of what they are fueling their bodies with (Mandal).
Parents need to take all measures to prevent this obesity epidemic from progressing any
further. Health needs to be a households number one priority. With childhood obesity on the
rise, and obesity related deaths at its peak, it is absolutely necessary to prioritize nutritious food
and daily exercise. It is parents complete responsibility, as the primary caretakers, to ensure
their children are receiving an adequate amount of exercise and enough nutrient dense foods.
Families need to educate themselves on the risks of obesity and begin obesity prevention from
the start of a child's life. Parents play a great role in forming children's perception of food. Food
should be perceived as nourishment and a necessity. Creating an environment that encourages
daily exercise and makes healthy eating enjoyable will compel children to make better choices
when on their own. If parents ensure that children are brought up in an environment that
advocates wholesome eating and day-to-day exercise, childhood obesity can become a problem
of the past.

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Works Cited
Dalton, Sharron, Our Overweight Children. What Parents, Schools, and Communities can do to
Control the Fatness Epidemic. University of California Press, 2004.
Esteves, Tammy. Food for Thought: Is a French Fry a Vegetable? Association for Talent
Development, ATD, 25 June 2011.
Farquhar, John W. The American Way of Life Need Not Be Hazardous to Your Health. Da Capo
Press, 1987.
Gunter, Barrie, Caroline Oates, and Mark Blades. Advertising to Children on TV: Content,
Impact, and Regulation. Mahwah, N.J, 2005.
Herndon, April Michelle. "Childhood Obesity in America: Biography of an Epidemic." The
Historian, vol. 78, no. 3, 2016, p. 517+
Jeffery Koplan, Catharyn T. Liverman, and Vivica I. Kraak, Preventing Childhood Obesity
Health in the Balance. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005
Mandal, Bidisha. "Use of Food Labels as a Weight Loss Behavior." Journal of Consumer
Affairs, Vol.44, No.3, Fall 2010, 516-27.
Obama, Michelle. Learn the Facts." Lets Move
Phillips, Chip, and Rich Kreiling. "The Healthy K Club: Promoting a Healthy Start for
Kindergartners." Teaching Elementary Physical Education, vol. 16, no. 4, 2005., pp.
10-12.
Ryan, Carol A., and Aaron Beighle. "Resources for Increasing Physical Activity in Children and
Youth." Strategies, vol. 24, no. 1, 2010., pp. 22-25

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Smith, J. Clinton. Understanding Childhood Obesity. Jackson, Mi, University Press of
Mississippi, 1999.
Stoneman, Scott. Time Bomb: Youth, Health, and Lifestyle in the Aftermath of the Childhood
Obesity Epidemic. Project MUSE, Vol.38, Issue 3-4.
Tuckson, Reed V. America's Childhood Obesity Crisis and the Role of Schools. Journal of
School Health, vol. 83, no. 3, Mar. 2013, pp. 137138.
Yu, Hyunjae Jay. "Parental Communication Style's Impact on Children's Attitudes Toward
Obesity and Food Advertising." Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 45, No.1 , 2011, pp.
87-107.