Childhood obesity is a complex issue within the United States which can lead to immediate health problems as well as future health complications. Childhood obesity is defined by the CDC as children having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile. The body mass index (BMI) is a measurement tool used to determine whether an individual’s height and weight is within normal, overweight or obese and is calculated by dividing the individuals’ weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters. Because boys and girls vary in their body composition as they age, BMI for age is a more appropriate measure. BMI for age uses an age and sex specific percentile for BMI to determine the child’s weight status (CDC). The prevalence of childhood obesity is increasing in the United States.
According to CDC, childhood obesity has tripled since 1970 with Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks having a higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic Asians having the lowest obesity prevalence. The prevalence of obesity in low- and middle-income groups are also higher as compared with the high-income groups. In addition, the CDC has found that there is evidence to illustrate the relationship of increasing level of education of the household head and the decrease in the prevalence of obesity. Certain risk factors, behaviors as well as the environment contributes to childhood obesity. These include consumption of high calorie, low nutrient diets such as sodas, pizzas and fast foods, sedentary lifestyle, and food deserts. Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic that requires immediate interventions.
The increasing prevalence of childhood obesity has contributed to numerous health related complications. Childhood obesity is related to immediate and future poor health outcomes. Childhood obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases resulting from high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. According to the CDC, in addition to cardiovascular complications, children who are obese are also at increased risk of developing type II diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea, joint problems and musculoskeletal problems from the increased weight on the joints and bones as well as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem resulting from the stigma of being obese and the experience of bullying. Children who are obese may also develop obesity in adulthood which can increase the severity of risk factors and disease progression.
Conducting this study allows for the examination of the impact of implementation of food programs on reducing childhood obesity. An intervention that is implemented by the government to help address this epidemic is the creation and implementation of the national school lunch program which provides students attending public schools access to free and reduced school meals. Because of the presence of food deserts in communities and the increasing cost of healthy food options in supermarkets, the implementation of free and reduced school meals hopes to provide free and reduced healthy meal options to children who do not have access to cheap, nutritious meals in their communities to help combat the increasing prevalence of obesity in childhood.
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