Professor Robin Schofield
ENG 122 1N5
20 July 2014
Poor and Obese: Addressing Our Children’s Weight Problems
According to a recent medical study on childhood obesity, almost 17% of youth were obese in 2009–2010, and rates were higher still among low-income communities, with these children having their odds increased an additional 28%. (Ogden CL et al). Experts such as Sharon Dalton, Ph.D., Karen McCurdy, Ph.D., and Susan Okie, Ph.D. agree that the risk is highest amongst younger, impoverished children, and reporter Anne Harding echos their ideas. Karen McCurdy has Ph.D. in Human Development & Social Policy, and works at Northwestern University where she researches childhood development. Sharon Dalton also carries the Ph.D., and is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University where she specifically targets childhood nutrition and health problems. Having published a book specifically on childhood obesity, Harvard graduate Susan Okie is a family physician and an award winning medical journalist. A regular reporter for many renowned newspaper such as CNN, Anne Harding has written thousands of articles on health, medical and scientific topics. In regards to the ever growing epidemic, Dalton has some findings that shed light on the quickly rising obesity rates, confirming that “young children 2 to 5 years old, are getting fatter faster than ever before.” (1). Impoverished childhood obesity is a significant public health issue that needs to be addressed in part by local communities. As a growing amount of Americans are becoming victims of economic insecurity, it is crucial to understand why and how poverty correlates with obesity among children.
There are many factors behind the childhood obesity epidemic, and there is much debate on whether or not some factors have a more weighted influence than others. Healthy eating and exercise are clear choices that all Americans can implement to help prevent childhood obesity and associated health problems. However, choice of food and exercise is rarely the decision of the child’s, and poverty stricken communities hold many obstructions to engaging in a healthy lifestyle. Dalton and Harding believe the issue is largely caused by the strain of parenting due to stress brought upon by poverty. Dalton, for example, reasons that “the [obesity] risks do not seem immediate for children…parents are more concerned about unsafe neighborhoods, alcohol and illegal drug use, and sexual activity” (1). Often these neighborhoods are lacking parks, trails, and free recreational centers, and the few that are available are a far cry from a safe environment. According to Shakira Suglia Sc.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology, “when you talk about all these risk factors that we looked at—in terms of violence, and moving around a lot, and depression—certainly childhood obesity goes down the importance rank.” (qtd. in Harding 3). Neighborhoods can be in danger of crime, which requires parents go out of their way to keep children safe and indoors. Unfortunately, this only promotes inactive behaviors such as watching TV and playing video games.
McCurdy provides a different way of looking at this, saying the parenting factor of childhood obesity is more of an emotional consequence than a physical one. Although acknowledging other causes, such as location and lack of resources, McCurdy and her group’s study shows that there are underlying emotional factors that cause obesity. This concept is called the stress theory, and it states that “parents struggling to make ends meet because of lack of income, underemployment, and low-wage jobs experience heightened stress that leads to changes in emotions and behaviors that hurt their parenting and affect their children adversely.”(McCurdy et al. 144). When conclusions were drawn at the end, the study specifically emphasized the importance of the parent(s)’ involvement in the child’s nutrition and exercise, showing the connection between stressed and depressed parents and obese children. Doctor Okie asserts that obesity in children is affected largely in part by genetics. Acknowledging lack of exercise and poor nutrition as culprits, Okie also brings new research to light that provides other factors such as the ‘thrifty gene’, which has been discovered to make certain people more likely to eat in excess in case of famine (Okie 49). This, coupled with economic insecurity, encourage these children to take in as much food as possible in the rare times it is offered in abundance.
It is clear that childhood obesity, especially for those in poverty, is a growing issue that should raise concern for all parties that are involved. But the answer as to whom is involved and needs to be directly concerned about this urgent matter is up for discussion. Okie believes this epidemic is setting the stage for premature death rates among our younger generations. Citing a recent study by Norwegian researchers surveying a group of 227,003 people from adolescents to late 60s, she shared that “being overweight in [childhood] affects mortality rates about equally in both sexes.” (Okie 20). This supports her claim that the early onset of obesity can set the stage for one’s entire life. Dalton also supports this position, and goes into even further detail by explicitly stating the proven facts of detrimental health brought upon by childhood obesity. Some health dangers that recent studies have found include statistics such as “twenty five percent of obese children show signs of glucose intolerance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes; [and] this generation of children could be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parent’s generation.” (Dalton 1). These doctors make it clear that health issues can and will arise later in life due to childhood obesity, and therefor it should be a concern of the entire nation.
It is evident that obese children are at a higher risk for ongoing health problems such as cardiovascular disease, depression and certain cancers. While McCurdy doesn’t deny the onslaught of heath risks associated, she does see a far bigger picture. Obesity and poverty are strongly correlated, and she suggests that one cannot be resolved without addressing the other. This makes childhood obesity and poverty an even larger issue to tackle, and by doing so raises the sense of urgency for both problems. Displaying how these issues are connected, she explains that “reducing poverty and/or its related stressors emerges as a key policy goal to address [childhood obesity].” (McCurdy et al.148). This shows that if one issue to be addressed and dealt with, the others that are connected will follow suit. These young fragile years are crucial, and are setting the stage for our future generations.
With childhood obesity amongst impoverished communities growing at such fast rate and increasing risks and urgency, it is important to start actively moving towards a viable solution. McCurdy believes the issue can be significantly resolved by parent contribution. She stresses the importance of parent’s involvement, showing the connection between, stressed and depressed parents and obese children. However, McCurdy does acknowledge the need of help from outside the home, suggesting that the nutritional and mental support be synced into one program targeting families in need (148). Okie sees the problem lying greatly within the schools; not just the home environment. As children spent a large part of their lives at school, she goes into great detail evaluating how “most schools in the United States have no nutritional policy specifying what kinds of food and drink are considered healthy or appropriate to be sold on their premise.” (Okie 191). Many highly processed foods are also subconsciously pushed towards children, as purchasing these foods often has financial incentives for school programs.
According to Dalton, “intervention from both business and government-local and federal-is required.” (1). Reports from the Robert Wood Foundation show that impoverished communities have even greater exposure to junk food advertising, and it does not help that poor children are more likely to be in front of the tube in the first place. Throughout these views, it is clear that parenting is a factor, but much of this could be affected by city and school involvement, and resolved with more access to adequate food and exercise sources in poor communities. Harding also believes that action needs to be taken by the government. She stresses the importance of the American population recognizing how hard it is for impoverished families to provide their young with proper food choice, claiming that “efforts to fight obesity in low-income families will need to take into account the extra challenges these families face”. She also suggest school based campaigns, as they play a huge part in a child’s nutritional development.
It is undeniable that young, impoverished children are one of the highest risk obesity groups. Many factors play a role in this epidemic, therefore obesity in poor children seems to be combination of lack of access resources and finances, poor or distracted parenting, and lack of safe physical activity outlets. Many issues do accompany this seemingly short term problem, so these young, delicate years of childhood are crucial, and are setting the stage for our future generations. Helps needs to come from many sides, including the home and parents, but due to the vastness and lack of control on the issue, it is crucial the government, communities, and schools step up to the plate. With proper government funding for essential programs, and a drastic change in the US school system in regards to nutrition and recess, it will be easier for parents in poverty to raise healthy children for our future generations.
Dalton, Sharron. “Our Vulnerable Children: Poor and Overweight.” Southern Medical Journal Jan. 2007: 1+. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 May 2014.
Harding, Anne. “As Childhood Obesity Improves, Will Kids In Poverty Be Left Behind?” Health Magazine. CNN, 1 May 2012. Web. 3 July 2014.
McCurdy, Karen, Kathleen S. Gorman, and Elizabeth Metallinos-Katsaras. “From Poverty To Food Insecurity And Child Overweight: A Family Stress Approach.” Child Development Perspectives 4.2 (2010): 144-151. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 June 2014.
Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. “Prevalence of obesity in the United States, 2009–2010.” NCHS data brief, no 82. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012. Web. 18 July 2014.
Okie, Susan. FED UP! Winning the War Against Childhood Obesity. Washington, D.C: Joseph Henry Press, 2005. Print.