Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Major Concern in Physical Education:

Childhood Obesity Epidemic

The causes, effects, risk factors and how we can help prevent obesity through physical education.

By: Jamie Boldish

Childhood obesity is an ever increasing epidemic that is ruining the lives and futures of as many as one in every three children in the United States. Obesity is defined as is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it has an adverse effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems. The causes of obesity have been linked to and sorted into three main categories. The first category being genetic factors, the second is behavioral factors and the third category of causes of obesity is environmental factors. Some examples of the leading causes of obesity are poor diet, lack of physical activity, and just being physically uneducated overall. This is something that can be fix by physical education teachers. It is the job of the physical education teacher to teach students how to live an active and healthy lifestyle. If the obesity epidemic is continuing to increase then we are failing as physical education teachers.

The cold hard facts about childhood obesity: “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period. In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese” (Fitzpatrick, Diane Effect of Childhood Obesity.

Do we really know what obesity is? Should obesity be considered a medical condition if we are doing it to ourselves? We know that obesity is considered a medical condition where there is too much fat on the body. There is a difference between being overweight and being obese. To separate obese from overweight we can use the Body Mass Index also known as BMI. BMI is a measurement which uses a formula the involves weight and height, this caculation defines people as either a healthy weight, overweight, (which can also be referred to as pre-obese) that individual would have to have a BMI between 25 and 30 to be considered over weight. The BMI for obesity is greater than 30. A healthy BMI is considered between 18.5 and 24.9. “The calculation for BMI is, BMI = lb * 703 / in^2” (Childhood Obesity Facts 2.National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2010: With Special Features on Death and Dying. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011.

Obesity is not a condition that a child is born with. Obesity is a condition that is acquired over time. There have been many causes that have been linked to obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors”( Childhood Obesity Facts 2.National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2010: With Special Features on Death and Dying. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011.

Stated earlier by the Centers for Disease Control, there are three categories that the causes of obesity fall into; genetic, behavioral and environments. The genetic factors that lead to obesity are the factors that play the smallest role in the cause of obesity. These genetic factors can be anything inherited that has to do with weight gain, including slow metabolism, thyroid issues, and many more.

The two other categories are the one I would like to focus on, because as a future physical education teacher these are the causes that I believe we can have the most influence on. These causes of obesity that the main focus is on are the behavioral factors that can lead to obesity and the environmental factors that lead to obesity in children.

“The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries” (Fitzpatrick, Diane Effect of Childhood Obesity.
Media and technology play a huge role in in
fluencing children’s lives these days. Working along with the media and technology are the fast food companies. No matter how low income the child’s family might be they are still subjected to influences by the media and technology. I know that whenever I turn my television on, I cannot get through a segment of commercials without a fast food commercial coming on. With the dollar menus being so cheap, and fast food being exactly that; fast and easily available, to not only children but their families as well that fast food is also a huge reason why obesity is hitting the United States so hard. Its seems that on every corner there is a fast food restaurant, and that restaurant rarely does not have a drive through, and I bet it is even open 24 hours a day. (Because we all need fast food in the middle of the night when we should be getting at least our eight hours of sleep each night)

In addition to cause of obesity being linked to media, technology and fast food industries, another factor that influences obesity is family and home life. If a child grows up in a environment where the parents do not influence the child to be physically active and do not help the child develop healthy eating habits, then the child is going to live their life in an unhealthy manor, just like the rest of his / her family does, because of the influences the family has had on the child. On the other hand if the child grows up in a house hold where healthy eating habits and physical activity are high valued, then that is going to reflect on the way that they live their life, which will most likely be in an active and healthy way.

Obesity is considered a disease and much like other diseases obesity has both long term and short term effects on the physical health of children. Physical health consequences of suffering from obesity fall into two main categories. The first category is the effects of increased fat mass, such as osteoarthritis, obstructive sleep apnea, and social stigmatization. The second category is effects due to the increased number of fat cells; these include diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Both short term health consequences of being obese as a child along with the long term effects it can have on children are truly scary. These serious health concerns are not something children at such a young age should have to worry about.

For the short term effects that obesity has on children, one of the major ones being, obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The cardiovascular diseases that children are going to be at risk of are high cholesterol and high blood pressure. “In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease” (Haslam DW, James WP (2005). "Obesity". Lancet 366 (9492): 1197–209. This study shows that 70 percent of children that were obese suffer from at least one of the cardiovascular concern.

Another short term effect of suffering from obesity as a child is, adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes. Increases in body fat alter the body's response to insulin, potentially leading to insulin resistance. Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, as well, due to the extra strain that the excess fat puts on the bodies bones and joints.

Aside from the short term effect obesity had on children’s physical health there are also long term effect on children’s physical health as well. For example, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults. With this being said, these children are more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type two diabetes, stroke, several different types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Another long term effect of being obese as a child is that overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

All in all children who are obese have a tough road ahead of them. To sum up the effect of obesity up, children who are obese have a greater risk of developing: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type two diabetes, foot problems, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, liver disease, asthma, cancer, and osteoarthritis.

In addition to obesity having an effect on children’s physical health, obesity also heavily impacts children’s emotional health and well being as well. Children who are obese tend to suffer from social, emotional and psychological problems. Psychological social and emotional effects of childhood obesity are more damaging short term, then long term, because these effects are happening now, when children are at a very vulnerable young age.

Overweight children are often teased and bullied by their peers, which causes a lack of self-esteem. Furthermore, being obese can cause learning problems, behavior problems and depression in children. Obese children often also suffer from anxiety and a lack of social skills. Due to a lack of social skills and anxiety caused by obesity, some children misbehaving in school are disruptive and destructive in class, because of this. Other children react by withdrawing and being anti-social, because they are embarrassed about their size compared to other children. It has also been proven that children who suffer from anxiety often do poorly academically. Therefore being obese can cause anxiety, and then because the student is both obese and anxious they suffer from the effect of both obesity and anxiety. The mental and emotional effects of being obese are like a roller coaster ride that they do not enjoy and cannot get off.

Furthermore, in the United States we live in a culture where children and teens are constantly being reminded about the importance of being beautiful, thin and athletic. This can lead to overweight kids often being discriminated against and socially ostracized. Due to the discrimination, children’s opinions of themselves naturally are heavily weighted on what they think others think of them, their self-esteem can take a turn for the worst.

Physical education is the solution to the obesity epidemic, plain and simple. There are many reasons why children need physical education, and there are many different groups that support daily physical education. NASPE and NYS Standards back up my argument the children need to participate in regular physical education. Look at the scary reality of children suffering from obesity, which in its self should be enough to back up physical education.

One of the main reasons that children need daily physical education is to help the children become physically active for a lifetime. This is important because people who participate in lifelong physical fitness tend to live an overall better quality of life. Physical activity prevents obesity, which is becoming a bigger and bigger issue among children these days. If children are physically educated, by participating in regular physical activity then they are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle which in itself will help to prevent the obesity epidemic.

Another reason that physical education is a must is that “physical education helps promote motor skill development in children and people of all ages who participate in physical education” (Graham, George. Children Moving a Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education. 8Ed. 2010). On top of helping with motor skill development it helps maintain physical fitness, allows students to make new friends, set goals, reduces stress levels and has tons of health benefits!

All in all some of the main reasons why children need physical education are, regular healthful physical activity, skill development, improved physical fitness, reinforcement of other subjects, creates self-discipline, goal setting, leadership and cooperation, enhances self-efficacy, stress reduction, and physical education helps to strengthen peer relationships

As a physical education teacher I feel that we can prevent children from becoming obese. We might not be able to save every child, but there are some children out there that just need some direction to becoming healthy and happy. In my opinion it is the duty of a physical education teacher to help children either become physically educated and live a healthy lifestyle. By understanding the huge mental, emotional and physical health risks that children who are obese face, we need to help them better understand why it is so important the change their ways.

When it comes to weight loss, there is no quick fix, and living a healthy life style is just that, you have to be willing to change your ways for a life time. This is why we stress the idea of teaching lifelong fitness to our students as physical education teachers. Understanding the factors that cause obesity, and what influences children to live a non active and sedentary life style we can be proactive in helping children not fall into these traps.

Being physically educated I believe is the number one way we can prevent children from crossing that line and become obese. A physically educated person is someone who is well versed and very knowledgeable in the field of physical education. With being physically educated comes the understanding of healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity. This can help lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.

Since physical education teachers should be very well versed in our knowledge of physical fitness, health and wellness, we need to make sure we pass this knowledge along to our students so that they have the tools to live a healthy life style. If children have to correct knowledge and tools to live a healthy lifestyle then obesity should not be a concern for that child.

Other ways besides spreading knowledge about being physically active and health, which we can help, prevent obesity helping the schools play a critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools can also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors. This is to be taught in physical education class. Physical education teachers can take it one step further and teach in conjunction with the heath teacher in the school through content linkage, thematic units and shared integration to help the students better understand how health and physical education work together. Plus working with and teaching in an interdisciplinary style will help reinforce important physical education components, along with important health components. A goal of physical education should be to physically educated children in physical fitness, health and wellness.

Teaching fitness and wellness along with health is a key component is preventing children from becoming obese. Physical Fitness is defined as “a set of physical attributes that people have of achieve relating to their ability to perform physical activity. These attributes provide the foundation for tasks of daily living, are associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases, and provides a basis for involvement in lifetime physical activity” (Faney, Insel, Roth. Graham, George. Children Moving a Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education. 8Ed. 1994). “Wellness is defined as a broader sense of fitness. Wellness is optimal health and well being. In addition to physical fitness, wellness encompasses the dimensions of emotional, spiritual, interpersonal, social, nutritional and environmental well being (Faney, Insel, Roth. Graham, George. Children Moving a Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education. 8Ed. 1994). In addition the physical fitness and wellness, health is defined as the general condition of the body or mind, especially in terms of the absence of illnesses, injuries, or impairments. Physical fitness, wellness and health when taught hand in hand are the perfect combination of empowering students to take control of their lives, whether they suffer from obesity, or not and gives the students the knowledge, power, and ability to take control of their lives and live their lives.


1. Childhood Obesity Facts 2.National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2010: With Special Features on Death and Dying. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011.

2. Encarta Online Dictionary. Microsoft Word 2007.

3. Fitzpatrick, Diane Effect of Childhood Obesity. teens/child-obesity/effects-of- childhood- obesity.shtml

4. Graham, George. Children Moving a Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education. 8Ed. 2010. Pg 41-47.

5. Haslam DW, James WP (2005). "Obesity". Lancet 366 (9492): 1197–209.

6. Faney, Insel, Roth. Graham, George. Children Moving a Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education. 1994.

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