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Mackenzie Newman

Ms. Jackie Burr, Instructor

English 1010, Section 4

4 December 2018

Change Child and Youth Obesity: Increasing Learning of Healthy

Habits in Schools and the Home

In the United States, the number of citizens with chronic diseases continues to increase.

Today, every six in ten adults have been diagnosed with a chronic disease while four out of ten

adults have acquired at least two chronic diseases (¨About Chronic Diseases¨). The most

common and well known of these diseases consist of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. In the

United States alone, about 610,000 people die every year from heart disease. Heart disease

continues to grow as the number one killer in the world (¨Heart Disease Facts¨). A total of nearly

30.3 million U.S. citizens have a form of diabetes, this consists of 9.4 percent of the total

population (¨New CDC Report¨). In most cases of chronic diseases, at some level they were

preventable. Most precautions can be made by simple healthy lifestyle choices such as proper

nutrition and plenty of physical activity. It starts at a young age to create good continuous habits

to preserve your life. Sadly, currently in our world, obesity and poor health continues to grow

and escalate in children and youth all over the world, especially in the United States.

With obesity being one of the root causes of chronic diseases, obesity became categorized

as a disease by the American Medical Association in 2013 (Maidenberg 85). Obesity has been

classified as a disease because the number of children and adolescents being overweight or obese

has skyrocketed since the 1980s. While these years have passed, the child obesity rate in ages
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6-11 has doubled while youth ages 12-19 has grown an amazing 4 times its original rate in the

1980s (Vittrup and McClure 81). While these numbers have been gaining in size, other concerns

with childhood obesity have come to our reality. Serious diseases such as heart disease, type 2

diabetes, and cardiovascular problems that were suspected to be only a problem for adults, have

now been showing up in children across the United States. With all this growth of obesity at

young ages “the World Health Organization (WHO) considers childhood obesity [to be] one of

the most serious health challenges of the 21st century” (Vittrup and McClure 81). The list of

causes to blame for childhood obesity continues to increase as we search for a solution. Fast

food, large portions, a high intake of empty calories, low amounts of physical activity, and a

sedentary lifestyle continually get ridiculed as the cause of this epidemic. While these all are

accurate factors that led to the quickening increase in adolescent obesity, the main cause of

childhood obesity and the problems that follow along with it are purely just a lack of

information. Nutrition and physical education need to be taught and regulated in more depth to

children across the country by schools and parents to create healthy habits to prevent obesity in

more youth.

As youth continue to eat all their lunches at school, their eating habits will continue to be

similar to these lunches throughout their lives. Healthy lunches are necessary for all children as

they will be developing lifelong eating habits. Sadly, this does not always the case. Schools

across the country are continually serving foods that are processed, packaged, opened, reheated,

and then served to kids on a plate. These foods are often high in sugars and fats that are not

healthy for the children and their cholesterol intakes. Along with processed and frozen foods, the

student “fruit intake is lower in high schools than elementary school students, while [the
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sugar-sweetened beverage] intake is nearly twice as high in high school compared to elementary

school students” (Rosettie et al. 2). All these schools are not able to offer healthier lunch options

due to low amounts of funding. As schools try to feed all of their students, “The National School

Lunch program . . . [offers schools] approximately $1.30 to spend on each child. This amount

must cover the food, as well as any labor” and other costs (Oberst). This small amount of money

makes fresh and healthy food difficult to provide for all of the students, thus processed and

sugary choices are frequently offered as the only options.

Unhealthy school lunches create serious problems as children need to be developing

lifelong habits of nutrition. Fundings for schools lunches need to be raised as $1.30 per student

cannot provide a nutritious lunch to students. School districts and government fundings need to

find more ways to raise more money to provide healthier lunches to students. An option for

raising money for schools comes from the United States government. The government “spend[s]

more than $260 billion annually on just two health issues: diabetes and obesity”(Cooper). This

allows for some fundings to be given to education and schools across the country to build healthy

habits now so that the U.S. will not need to spend $260 billion on obesity in the future. Gaining

this money would allow for fresher produce and the ability to make foods from Scratch for a

healthier lifestyle for the youth.

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Fig. 1; The number of servings eaten on average per day of fruit, vegetables, and
sugar-sweetened beverages in elementary school, middle school, and high schools
with and without policies set by national schools (Rosettie et al. 7).

Along with the help money would bring into teaching healthy lifestyles for kids, policies

on what can be sold/eaten during school lunches can allow to healthier options and overall

healthier kids. As shown in Figure 1 above, increasing policies on the number of fruits and

vegetables allowed for an growth in the intake of these nutritious options. On the other hand,

restricting the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages lowered the intake of the SSBs. It's

estimated that a national school policy of this sort “would lead to an approximate 0.1%

additional reduction in BMI” (Rosettie et al. 5). This change would help the lives of hundreds of

children struggling with being overweight and obese. Even with the help, the money and policies

would bring to all aspects of the school, they cannot teach the kids everything they need to know

about the problems with unhealthy eating. The responsibility of teaching children and

adolescents about how to eat right and stay healthy lands upon the parents.
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As parents struggle with obesity, the likelihood of their children struggling with obesity

increases. New parents who are still figuring out their own health, begin to make mistakes when

teaching their children. When parents are learning how to take care of their new baby, “parents

may misinterpret their infant’s cues for hunger or thirst” when they are truly in seek of comfort

(Maidenberg 86). Similar practices get repeated when a child shows good behavior, parents will

reward their kids with some sort of treat or fast food like McDonald's. These “food parenting

practices” teach children that food is rewarded for good or bad behavior (qtd. In Larsen et al.,

2015, p.247). Another problem exists with parents who continue to provide their youth with

large portion sizes and force them to finish the food on their plate. This begins to numb the

child’s ability to sense when they are full. On the other hand, parents will blame the child's

picking eating, their limited time, or the price of food on why as parents they are unable to

provide healthy balanced meals (Vittrup and McClure). Along with poor nutrition, parents do not

limit sedentary lifestyles which increase children's food intake while lowering physical activity

(Maidenberg 86). Problems such as these are raising the number of obese children in the U.S.

purely because of the lack of parents understanding of childhood health.

A professor and a dietitian from the Texas Woman’s University conducted a survey on

parents knowledge about obesity and the health of their children. As parents began to convey

their health habits and knowledge about their children it became concerning as most parents

“knowledge about healthy eating varied greatly” (Vittrup and McClure 86). Only ten percent of

parents used serving size recommendations while other parents used improper portion sizes.

Parents also stated they were unsure of the adequate amount of activity for their children. All this

lead to the concerning the fact that parents with overweight and obese children didn't think that
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their children were obese (Vittrup and McClure 86). Parents need to know all of the nutrition and

physical exercise needs of their children to help lower the risk of obesity. Parents need to

understand, “being obese during childhood and adolescence significantly increases the risk of

becoming obese in adulthood” (Berlin et al. 31). If their child grows up to be obese in their adult

years it can lead to a lot of physical and psychological conditions such as: “heart disease, stroke,

poor self-image and identity, and depression” (Maidenberg 87). Parents need to continually be

educated on the health needs of their children. To promote this information, it needs to be spread

across the United States through the news, documentaries, and other forms of communication for

adults. The only way to allow change through parents is through informing them on their

children's needs.

While increasing the need for more knowledge of a healthy lifestyle, another growing

issue is weight misperception. Samatha L. Hahn from the University of Michigan provides

detailed definitions and statistics about weight misperception:

Weight misperception, the phenomenon that occurs when there is a discrepancy between

one's perceived weight status and their actual weight status, is particularly common

among adolescents with overweight/obesity. Among children and adolescents in the

United States, 77% of those with overweight, and 43% of those with obesity, misperceive

their weight to be within the healthy range. (para. Sarafrazi et al.)

Children who are obese and misperceive themselves to be in healthy weight status continue to

increase the risk of chronic diseases and other issues in their adult future. Along with the

physical health problems obesity at a young age can bring, there are also mental and

psychological issues that accompany childhood obesity and weight misperception. Children and
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youth with obesity, whether they misperceive it or not, increase the chance of a health disease in

adult years such as high blood pressure, increase stroke risk, heart problems, depression, body

insecurities, and an assortment of eating disorders (Hahn et al. 2). Such issues show that being

overweight and obese may have a connection with low scores of health-related quality of life

(HRQoL) as well as physical well-being (Southerland et al.).

With physical, mental, and emotional issues affecting youth with obesity, there needs to

be a change to improve adolescents health and HRQoL. As children and youth have low

self-esteem and self-confidence, they lose motivation to become better. For example, “weight

misperceivers were less likely to be trying to lose weight” (Hahn 6). Addressing these issues of

childhood obesity and low HRQoL goes straight to the source, a more health-centered lifestyle.

While childhood obesity in the United States continues to expand all over the United States, “it is

necessary to have a multilevel systematic approach involving parents and caretakers, the

school[s], and the community” (Maidenberg 90). As involvement from these places increase, as

well as knowledge on healthy lifestyles, the numbers of Childhood obesity, can decrease. Not

only does involvement need to increase, but lifestyle changes also need to be made. A need for a

nutritious diet is needed as well as a lowering in fast food/soda intake. With better food intake,

children also need high amounts of physical activity and less screen time (Berlin et al. 35-6).

In conclusion, over one-third of the entire world is obese and obesity is the second most

preventable cause of death behind obesity. This growing epidemic of child and youth obesity

should be stopped as it has no benefit to society. It has become a growing problem that causes no

good and only harm to the lives of the people overweight and to the families of those affected.

As a result of obesity, the person effected can have many different chronic diseases that
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ultimately can end in death. But all bad habits are mostly started at a young age. Most children

how to suffer from obesity stay obese in adulthood which continues as a vicious cycle. This can

all be changed simply by making good habits and by learning more about healthy lifestyles and

good nutrition.

First of all, all learning begins from school and that includes habits, bad or good. While

children eat one-third of their meals five days a week at school, schools need to provide good

healthy lunches for their students that create lifelong habits. Except schools cannot do everything

on their own, parents hold a large responsibility of teaching healthy lifestyles to their children.

Parents need to monitor what their children's diets look like and how much physical activity they

are doing daily. Lastly, children and parents need to understand what true obesity consists of so

that they are not misperceiving the fact that they may be obese. Not realizing someone has

obesity can lead to low self-esteem and no recognition that there are healthier lifestyles.

The main thing to remember about obesity, obesity can be 100% preventable, but some

health problems acquired from it may not be reversible. Although many believe that after

becoming obese, there is not a chance for change, which is not true. So why not try to remove

obesity from not just the U.S., but the entire world?
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Works Cited

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and Relations to Body Mass Index, Obesity, and Overweight in Eighth Grade.”

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“CDC Newsroom.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, 18 July 2017. Web. Accessed 4 Dec. 2018.

“Childhood Obesity Trends.” ​The State of Obesity,​ Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, n.d. Web.

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Cooper, Ann. “For Healthier Kids, Increase the Federal School Lunch Budget.” The Washington

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Hahn, Samantha L., et al. “Cross-Sectional Associations between Weight-Related Health

Behaviors and Weight Misperception among U.S. Adolescents with

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EBSCOhost​, doi:10.1186/s12889-018-5394-9.

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“National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP).” Centers

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“School Lunch In America: Why It's Unhealthy And How You Can Improve It.” Food

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