Obesity can be a problem as early as kindergarten for some children. Children who suffer from obesity will most likely endure a lifelong struggle with physical and emotional consequences.
Physical effects of obesity in children include difficulty keeping up with physical activities, problems sleeping, and trouble with breathing. Not only are obese children more often affected by asthma, they also have problems with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is being recognized with more frequency as the incidence of pediatric obesity rises. Clinically significant effects on learning and memory function have been documented in children with obstructive sleep apnea as a consequence of obesity. (Must, Aviva, Ph.D., ET AL, 2003 “Effects of Obesity on Morbidity in Children and Adolescents” Nutrition in Clinical Care, p. 8).
Childhood obesity clearly impacts the health of the growing child. Furthermore, it is considered an important disease because of its link to long-term health problems including type II diabetes, hypertension, some forms of cancer, lack of energy and asthma. The incidence of type II diabetes in children is expected to grow in parallel with the rise in obesity. Onset diabetes in childhood is a predictor of early onset of diabetes complications including cardiovascular disease, kidney failure and amputations (Must, p. 131). Approximately 60% of overweight five to ten year old children experience at least one associated biochemical or clinical cardiovascular risk factor, such as hyperlipidemia, elevated blood pressure, or increased insulin levels, and 25% have two or more (Koplan, JP, Deitz WH., “Calorie Imbalance and Public Health Policy” The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999. p 1579).
Children from lower income families are at a greater disadvantage because the majority of this population resides in neighborhoods with intimidating playgrounds. Concerned with street safety, children are often kept inside by parents and they tend to spend more time in front of the television or playing video games.
Playgrounds in lower income neighborhoods tend to be filthy, with broken bottles, trash and graffiti covering the park. Although the playground has basketball courts, swings and jungle gyms, they are generally not child friendly. The parks are usually populated with young adults hanging out, intimidating the younger children. This is not a safe environment for children to play in and not one in which children could safely play unsupervised.
Schools are contributing to childhood obesity by failing to make physical education an important part of the curriculum. Children don’t get enough exercise at school. Time allotted for gym is inadequate and infrequent. Teachers can try to compensate by providing their classes with additional outside play time. The physical education program is extremely vital and deserving of more attention.
Implementation of after school programs that emphasize physical activities such as kickball and basketball should be a priority. There is a need for an after school athletic program at the elementary level to augment the physical education program and provide a safe, healthy environment for lower income children as well. This would be a benefit for children as well as parents, and an important factor in reducing obesity in children.
Copyright (c) 2007 Gurion Blattman