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Childhood Obesity: A New Epidemic

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Childhood Obesity: A New Epidemic

The nature of society has changed greatly since the mid 20th century. With this change, the face and size of American youth has been altered. Increasing numbers of children ranging from infants to adolescents have become obese. Since the 1970's, obesity in children age two to five and adolescents age 12 to 19 has more than doubled. However, the fact that the percentage of children between the ages of 6 and 11 who are obese has tripled is increasingly frightening. American culture has changed vastly over the past three decades, ranging from the design of neighborhoods and communities, to the fast-food obsession Americans have developed. The way in which American culture has developed and changed, along with hereditary factors inherited from parents, has caused a high increase in the percentage of obese children.

Since its introduction to American culture, television, and especially cable, has changed the way most people spend their time, in the same way videos and video games have revolutionized the past decades. Television has consumed society so much that a vast number of people watch it while doing everything; reading, falling asleep, socializing, and even eating. Children are especially inclined to spend hours on end in front of the television, which is a major change from the 1950's and 1960's, when children occupied their time playing outside. Dr. Thomas Robinson found in his article "Does Television Cause Childhood Obesity?" children between the age of two and seventeen years spend an average of three waking years of their life watching television, which does not include the time spent watching videos, playing video games, or using a computer (2). In addition, a study by Dr. Joseph Mercola, contained in the article "TV Watching, Childhood Obesity Linked," found that a quarter of US children watch more than four hours of television daily. With so much time devoted to television, children are disengaged from physical activity which could keep their weight down and calories burned.

In the previously mentioned article, Dr. Mercola also found that "20% of US children partake in two or fewer bouts of vigorous activity per week" a far cry from the recommendation from health experts. Furthermore, children are eating high calorie/high fat foods while watching television. This presents a problem because children are ingesting more calories while being idle, an obvious cause of weight gain. In the article "Childhood Obesity," P. Kendall finds that television and movie actresses and actors have a negative effect on the youth. Most of these actors are uncommonly thin, but portrayed in television and movies eating and drinking what they want. As a result, they may "indirectly suggest to children that high calorie food and drink have little effect on weight" (paragraph 11). Furthermore, Hollywood stars put unneeded pressure on youth to be extremely thin which can cause an adverse effect and prompt already overweight children to feel badly about themselves to eat for comfort. Television commercials also have negative affects on children and their eating habits. According to Cara Ebbeling in her article "Childhood Obesity: Public Health Crisis, Common Sense Cure," children are "exposed to about ten food commercials per hour of television time" and most of these commercials are advertising "fast food, soft drinks, sweets and sugar-sweetened breakfast cereal," all foods that hold no nutritional value (475). Ebbeling also finds that these commercials prompted three to five year-olds to select one of the advertised foods, rather than a healthy alternative and the introduction of television during mealtime can also "increase consumption of products not typically advertised" which includes healthy items such as fruits and vegetables.

Video games and the computer have the same effect on children as television by encouraging sedentary activity. Countless hours are spent in front of a monitor or a video game console instead of being spent engaging in physical activity. Studies have linked high amounts of time spent playing video games and/or being on the computer with an increased weight for children. Overall, media related activities have grown in popularity, and with their growth, the size of children has grown as well. In accordance to high rates of television watching, video game playing, and computer use, children tend to be more obese because of the sedentary nature of their chosen activity. Additionally, these sedentary activities increase the likelihood of children consuming high calorie/high fat snack foods while being immobile, increasing their chances of being overweight, according to Ebbeling, in the previously mention article (475). Television and other forms of media have had a clear effect on the increase of childhood obesity.

In the past couple of decades, the face of the American family has changed greatly. In many case studies, obese children are found to have some variation of a disturbed child-parent relationship. One major disturbance is an unhealthy eating habit, which can be established in the womb from obese mothers. In her previously mentioned article, Ebbeling discusses the prenatal over nutrition hypothesis which suggests, "maternal obesity increases transfer of nutrients across the placenta, inducing permanent changes in appetite, neuroendocrine functioning, or energy metabolism" (475). While this theory is still being tested, it represents the idea that obesity is directly related to ones' parents. Furthermore, in infancy, babies who are bottle fed were more at risk for obesity than those whose mothers breast fed them. Family factors that induce obesity reach far beyond the womb and infancy. For instance, with more and more women taking on motherhood and a career, more children are left in the care older siblings or to even stay by themselves. This creates an opportunity for poor eating habits to develop between parents and children. Without their parents to set good eating examples, children are more likely to eat fast food and junk food. Without proper supervision, children are able to pick and choose what they want to eat, and their choices are rarely healthy. Parents may find it easier to provide junk food as snacks for their children if they do not have the time to ensure healthy foods are available. Junk food is also easier for many children to eat because most healthy snacks take preparation which children are either to young to do or do not know how. Also, for these working parents, meals are not usually prepared at a set time each day. Hectic schedules call for trips through the drive-thru or taking the family out to a restaurant. Ebbeling says children are more inclined



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