While the precise statistics on the matter vary widely, it is generally unanimously accepted that childhood obesity is constantly on the rise and that more and more children are becoming overweight at an increasingly young age. Of course this is a highly undesirable scenario and results in many health difficulties as well as emotional and psychological problems for the children in question.
Among these health problems are circulatory problems caused by the arteries becoming blocked with fatty deposits (cholesterol). Similarly, the heart can sometimes struggle to pump blood around the increased body mass, both of which can put a strain on the heart and potentially cause heart disease. Meanwhile it can also cause children to develop diabetes which can in itself cause many other problems such as tiredness, loss of vision and nerve damage. In more minor ways it can also affect a child’s joints by placing extra weight on them due to increased bodyweight, and cause sleeping difficulties such as sleep apnea – caused by infrequent blockages of the trachea caused by fat around the neck that causes the child to stop breathing during the night. It may also result in a lack of energy and low mood.
Meanwhile psychologically it can be harmful for a child’s self image. They will of course suffer in activities such as sports where they will not be able to compete with their fitter classmates. At the same time they might also find it difficult to find dates, and might find themselves the subjects of bullying and teasing. This can be highly stressful for a child and is particularly damaging as they are growing up and already dealing with the many challenges of school life and childhood.
There are many potential reasons that obesity in children may be increasing. Often criticism points towards the amount of entertainment now available to children indoors. Things like games consoles and digital television mean that most children now have everything they need to enjoy themselves without ever leaving their seats. As this keeps the children quiet, often parents are happy to then allow their children to go for long periods using these machines. The internet too means that children can stay in and talk to friends whereas once they might have met up, and even when they shop meaning they will not be trekking round stores to get their CDs and games.
Many groups and individuals thus point to television, the internet and computer games as being bad influences in a child’s development. However this is a fairly short sighted view as it is not the games’ faults that children are losing interest in other activities. Obviously there has been a shift in interests with computer game characters and action movies being ‘cool’. It is your job as a parent to try and make sure that outdoor activities are seen as ‘cool’ as well and that as a result your child wants to play games and go outside and participate in sports and activities.
Similarly criticism is often pointed at modern transport, which allows parents to drive their children everywhere they want to go whereas once children would have walked or cycled. However this does not really explain why the number of obese children is steadily increasing, only why it is different in the last fifty years or so. Another potential contributory factor is thought to be the easy access of sweets and confectionary, and this combined with a generally improving wealth (despite the occasional economic slump) can see them having more access to busy life styles.
In general parenting styles also seem to be less strict than they once were, with many aspects of children’s behaviour often being criticised as worse than it once was. Eating habits are likely no different and it may be that the parents of today are more inclined to ‘treat’ their children even when they know they should not. Parents are also often able to spend less time caring for their children as the pace of life has generally been shown to have increased as we juggle careers, friendships, bills and other demands and responsibilities. Whereas women were once expected to stay at home with their children they are now likely to be found working away from home as well which leaves little time to look after children. This means that they have more access to sweets when they are not being watched, and it also means that they are more inclined to give children ready meals and tinned meals which are quicker to cook but much higher in their fat and salt content.
While all these things may contribute to the rise in obesity to varying degrees, the more pressing question should not be ‘what causes childhood obesity?’, but ‘what can we do about it?’. All of these problems are things that once recognised, can fairly easily be tackled, and if you are firm and determined then you can help keep your children’s weight where it should be.
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