Childhood obesity must be addressed by policy makers to curb the epidemic of poor nutrition and exercise among American youth. According to the American Journal of Public Health 17% of youth are clinically obese, (Golust, Kite, Benning, Callanan, Weisman, & Nanney, 2014). When including young people who are overweight into the statistics the number rises to 30%, (John Hopkins University, 2013). This indicates that 1 in 4 children is considered overweight or obese. Obesity is a serious health concern that increases the risk for a host of problems and issues. It negatively affects physical, mental, and social health. Many of the problems associated with obesity concern diabetes and heart disease. Additional health concerns are increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, sleep apnea, asthma, poor joints, and cancer, (CDC, 2014). Health conditions are psychological to include depression, psychosocial disorders, and increased chance of discrimination, (John Hopkins University, 2013). Those who are overweight and obese as children often grow up to be obese adults. Obese adults are at advanced risks of poor health which can lead to premature to death. For this reason and more, healthcare affiliates have increased demand to promote preventive strategies against obesity. They go further to encourage the government to get involved, to take action through policies, programs, and initiatives. By creating policies on a federal level that encourage healthy living, children and their families have equal opportunities to resources that encourage wellness and reduce risks relating to obesity.
Obesity negatively affects children and their families. It has become a growing trend due to changes observed in America society overtime. This includes the increases supply and demand for high calorie foods and sugar. From high portion sizes, lack of exercise, and poor food choices, many children do not receive appropriate nutrition. Furthermore, with the increase use of gadgets and technology, young people are easily entertained and do basic duties while remaining stagnant. This has fundamentally changed daily living for many Americans. However, the populations most affected by obesity are those living in underserved communities. These are impoverished areas with limited access to information and healthy lifestyle choices. Many of these populations include minorities, the poor, and people of color. “Obesity is the result of biological, behavioral, social, environmental, and economic factors and the complex interactions among these facts that promote a positive energy balance”, (John Hopkins University, 2013). To address this problem there are various governmental regulations and policies in place. On the federal level, the Centers for Disease Control enacted the Cooperative Agreement DP13-1305, Doman 2 Enhanced Strategies. This simply promotes strategies, preventive measures and resources required to reduce the epidemic. The strategies for enforcement can be found in the DNPAO recommended domain entitled, “State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease Obesity and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health FOA”, (CDC, 2014).
There is an increased need to draw awareness to the issue and create strategies for change. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has addressed the need to improve health for children. The initiative is on a federal level however it does not affect the laws and regulations including those from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, various cities and counties nationwide have created laws to limit and restrict high calorie foods and drinks in different locations. For instance, the city of Berkeley, California has increased taxes on the sale of sodas to discourage purchases. Additional California laws restrict the sale of food and beverages that do not meet school meal programs as observed in the Senate Bill 12, Chapter 235, Statues of 2005 Senate bill 965, (California Department of Education, 2015). This includes prohibiting vending machines that offer soda, chips, sweets, and candies found in schools and profile areas. Furthermore, first lady Michelle Obama has become a catalyst and spokesperson against childhood obesity. Since 2008 the first lady has created an initiative for change called, “Let’s Move!”, “a comprehensive initiative… dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams”, (Letsmove.gov, 2014). Although these avenues have driven awareness of the issue it has not curved the rate of obesity in children and has done little to help the problem.
There are various laws that can be found across the states that restrict high calorie foods in schools and underserved communities to encourage healthy food choices. However, the laws, strategies, and initiatives in place are not enough. “Small declines in obesity rates have been recently observed [but] a comprehensive evidence-based policy approach is needed to continue to make a meaningful impact”, (Gollust et al., 2014). To reduce obesity, restrictions against high calorie foods must be made on a federal level. Collaboration must occur between government agencies including the CDC, FDA, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. The goal of federal initiatives is to reduce the rate of obesity among youth by 10% over the next several years. Considering the slow decline of obesity and the awareness campaign presented by the first lady this goal is both realistic and obtainable. The CDC provides various strategies and initiatives for states and local communities to curve the epidemic. Initiatives that local governments can provide is additional zoning areas for parks and recreation to promote physical activity, (CDC, 2014). Ranging from bike facilities for alternative transportation, recreational spaces, and resources, more can be done to promote healthy lifestyles. While many subdivisions and communities offer tennis courts to residence, this sport is less likely to encourage young people to exercise. More basketball courts should be provided to underserved communities. It is a sport that requires little resources for those who are low income and is also popular among youth. Furthermore, all communities, especially those in impoverished areas, should have healthy food retailers made available as well as farmers markets that honor EBT or food stamp programs for those who qualify, (CDC, 2014). While increasing taxes and restricting sugar and high calorie foods to certain facilities is a start, it is not enough to promote and encourage quality nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
The Center for Disease Control provides the most up to date statistics regarding obesity in youth. Not only do they describe and outline the cause, rates, strategies, and solutions to the problem, they go on to describe resources available for local communities to curve the epidemic. This includes local, state, and federal programs, highlights, and the federal Implementation Guidance and Resources for Cooperative Agreement DP 13-1305 Doman 2 Enhanced Strategies (DNPAO). This information and more can be found on their Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity website at CDC.gov, (http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/index.html). CDC provides a long list of state programs across the country such as, Active Transportation to School, Enhanced School-Based Physical Education, Food Policy Counsels, Improving Retail Access for Fruits and Vegetables, Limiting Access to Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Applying Nutrition Policies in Child Care, School, and Worksite Settings, and many more. All of these work in collaboration and agreement of the federal initiative found in the DNPAO. The CDC provides these comprehensive strategies to curve the epidemic in underserved communities. These are children and families who are low income and with limited access to healthy choices and lifestyles. This population lives in underserved communities where a nutritious diet can be not only costly but also unrealistic and unobtainable. By providing serves to these communities, the obesity rate can decline drastically by providing improved options and resources to this special population.
There are many initiatives that can be observed on a local level to combat obesity in various cities such as Berkeley, San Francisco, New York, and Oklahoma City. Although cities are doing what they can to curve the epidemic, such strategies should be implemented on a state and federal level. Reaching communities on the local level is just a start. Once these strategies reach a federal level, underserved communities across the country will have improved access to healthy diets and activities. Not all states and jurisdictions are committed to combat childhood obesity. Many of these locations are observed in places throughout the South and Midwest. These are conservative states that are less focused on health and nutrition and more focused on issues unrelated to improving the quality of life for all Americans. Tackling the problem on the federal level will provide equal opportunities to all people regardless of community and location. Obesity is not a local problem and but is witness the country. Not one state holds an obesity rate less than 10%. The majority of the states (33) have an obesity rate of 25%, however some states have an obesity rate of 30% or more including, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia, (CDC, 2014). With so many states witnessing a widespread epidemic of obesity it is clear that this is a federal problem which must be met on a federal level.
- California Department of Education, (2014). Restrictions on Food and Beverage Sales. Sacramento, CA. Retrieved from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/sn/mb06110.asp
- Centers for Disease Control, (2014). Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/policy/obesity.html
- Gosllust, S., Kite, H., Benning, S., Callanan, R., Weisman, S., Nanney, M. (2014). Use of Research Evidence in State Policy Making for Childhood Obesity Prevention in Minnesota. American Journal of Public Health. 104 (10) 1894-1900.
- Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center, (2013). Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs: Comparative Effectiveness Review and Meta-Analysis. Effective Health Care Program Comparative Effectiveness Review Number 115. Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. Retrieved from: http://www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/ehc/products/330/1524/obesity-child-report-130610.pdf
- Let’s Move (2014). Childhood Obesity Task Force Report. The Epidemic of Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from: http://www.letsmove.gov/about