One BIG Problem

March 13, 2014
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A growing problem has started to emerge in school systems all around America. Student populations are increasingly becoming closer and closer to levels of overweightness and obesity. This is a frightening issue that healthcare providers and clinics are starting to face. Not only are school systems being overrun with obese students, but also obese teachers. This is a growing problem because it is negatively affecting not only the students but also the schools themselves. School systems must intervene to help prevent childhood obesity and its far-reaching effects. “Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.” (Adolescent and School Health)

Childhood obesity has recently become one of America’s biggest obstacles. “The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.”(Adolescent and School Health) These statistics are very unnerving. America’s percentage of obesity is gradually growing and so far, has not been stopped. School systems around the U.S have tried many different kinds of prevention programs to help save their kids, some have worked and some have not.

There are many ideas that come with school obesity preventions programs. Some ideas revolve around the food, while others concentrate on the physical activity the students are entailing during the school day. Other theories focus on a mental stance, saying that counseling can help or solve some children’s obesity problems. The fact of the matter is, all students have different reactions to different programs. Some methods work for some students while failing for others. This is a major complication when schools begin picking out which prevention program to pursue. It makes the choosing process a challenge because of the many variables each student brings into the picture.

For some students, prevention programs based strictly on food are more helpful. These programs include many strategies like encouraging students to eat breakfast, lunch and an after-school snack, offering meals to students that meet good nutritional standards, such as the U.S Dietary Guidelines, setting minimum and maximum calorie levels for school’s meals catering to the certain age groups, investing in cafeteria equipment to store, prepare, and display healthy foods like salads and fruits. Also avoiding putting children who participate in free/reduced lunches in a certain “category” or pointing them out of the crowd, giving students adequate time to eat, and many more methods are encouraged. These few ideas have been tried by many schools and have worked, while others say the program has just fallen through.

More ideas that have seemed to work better for other schools include programs that base their ideas off of what is influencing the students. Ideas like disposing of sugar-sweetened beverages in the school environment or limiting access to them, making sure that food served at classroom parties, school functions, fundraisers, and celebrations meet competitive food standards, being certain that food is never used as an award or punishment, making drinking water thoroughly available to students throughout the entire day, and limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods. These are only a few of the ideas that school systems are looking into to save their students health strictly based on the food they consume.
Other programs are based more on the physical activity which involves students. These programs include ideas like providing daily physical education (PE) to all children grades kindergarten to senior year, providing a total of about 150 minutes of physical education per week in all elementary schools and about 225 minutes of physical education per week in middle and high Schools. Standards call for ensuring that when children are in PE, they spend most of the time being physically active, basing PE class on national standards, adapting PE curricula for children with special needs or disabilities, hiring licensed PE teachers and offering the teachers ongoing training. Also limiting the PE classes to sizes of those like academic classes, promoting activities in PE that the children will enjoy, and assessing what the students have learned in their PE class and including the class on the student’s report cards are also ideas within this strategy. These items are all strictly related to physical activity, and just like the food stance, these prevention ideas work better for some schools than others.

Rather than monitoring the schools food and the physical activity they provide, some people believe that BMI (Body Mass Index) testing for all students should be implemented. This can be an invasion of privacy on many levels, but some schools argue it is the best way to ensure that their students are healthy, and to determine what kind of prevention each individual child needs. Mary Bailey, a nurse who specializes in childhood obesity in schools was recently telling the author of this paper about her studies with the problem. She works with Pre K and Headstart Students from the Western Brown Local School District. The teachers at the Headstart schools do a height, weight, and BMI at the start of the school year for each child, and for the year 2014, 48% of the Headstart students fell into the category of obese. Mary is under Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Child Care Program to prevent childhood obesity. She is also involved with a program for second graders called Nutrition Exploration, which is a program that tries to teach the students about healthy eating, snacking, etc.(Bailey, Mary)

Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” program is determined to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation. They want to put children on the healthiest and smartest paths in their earliest of years. The program is designed to give parents the information they need to help assist their child in eating healthy, acting healthy, and thinking healthy. The program makes sure each school is equipped with healthy food and the ability to serve many different choices. The programs prevention strategies are to make sure each household has access to healthy, affordable food. The programs other big encouragement is for the children to be extremely active. Still, some schools do not find programs like Lets Move to be successful, so they look to other ways of help.

As stated before, some schools also believe that counseling dominates over all types of prevention methods when focusing on obesity. They believe that each child needs personal attention and different kinds of help. Followers of this method give many choices and options for students to be able to seek help. They hire licensed counselors who have majored in childhood obesity. The school systems know that some of the students have become obese due to things in their past that bother them, so they believe that through counseling, the child will see their fault, get over their past, and become healthy once again, both physically and mentally. This can be a lifesaving change in a child’s life, because obesity can have many negative effects not fixed early.

Bullying is one major effect of childhood obesity. “Children in grades 3 through 6 who are obese are more likely to be bullied than their normal-weight peers, a new study has found.”(Obese Kids More Vulnerable To Bullies) That statistic is pretty obvious. Yes, the bullies end up being the kids who weigh less than the obese kids, but why is that? The media has an extreme influence on this. Think about what these kids see when they are home, watching television. The endless commercials and shows scrutinize and attack obesity. The bullies are being influenced by these things and are getting their ideas and motives from them. It is sad to think that, but the media is not the only thing that may be influencing the kids. Studies show that bullies also might get their motives from their parents or people in their home. Bullying is not something to play around with either. Bullying can lead to many scary decisions the child being bullied may make. Not only can obesity lead to bullying, but it can also lead to other negative effects.

Childhood obesity can set the child up for very dangerous health risks. Some of these risks can even end up being fatal. Obese children are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, both dangerous things that need to be taken seriously. Another problem that childhood obesity can cause is the development of Prediabetes, which is a condition where the child’s blood glucose levels indicate the risk of developing Diabetes later in life. Diabetes is not a disease to fool around with either. It can result in many terrible outcomes such as losing a limb, having to take daily insulin shots, etc. Another problem that can occur due to childhood obesity is the child will be more at risk for bone and joint problems. They may also develop sleep apnea, which is a disorder where someone has one or more pauses in breathing or has shallow breaths while sleeping. Not only can physical problems occur, but mental problems come into play also. The person suffering from obesity can develop psychological problems like stigmatization, which is the feeling of disapproval or not being good enough for one’s family or for life in general, and low self-esteem. Those few effects can be short-term or long-term, while there are other effects, not strictly health related, that are life-long. Being obese can cause many problems short-term, but the long-term effects are crucial. “Being obese can limit your lifespan. People who are obese could reduce their lifespan by three years. People who are overweight but not obese—with a Body Mass Index between 25 and 29.9—could shorten their lifespans by a year. Extreme obesity—weighing 100 pounds or more above a healthy weight—is as bad for your health as a lifelong smoking habit, shortening your lifespan by as much as 10 years.”(Obesity Can Shorten Your Lifespan by 10 Years) Looking at that statistic makes you wonder. Comparing obesity to a lifelong smoking habit really puts the dangers in place. Everyone knows how dangerous and risky smoking is, and comparing that to obesity truly shows how frightening obesity can be.

Another big issue for obese people is finding a job. Steve Siebold, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies and author of the book Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People, said this about overweight people getting a job, "Many employers look at obese candidates and immediately think, 'this person failed in controlling their own health, how are they going to run a division,'". Many studies have shown the amount of overweight people not being able to get a job is extremely higher than normal weight people. This is a sad yet true statistic, and it is another tough thing for someone who is obese to go through.

Another cruel but realistic issue that being obese brings up is the cost of the overweight person’s insurance. If someone is overweight, has high cholesterol or high blood pressure, they might be forced to pay higher premiums for health insurance, according to new regulations just given by the Obama administration. Just like an employee who smokes, if an obese employee doesn’t participate in a wellness program, they could have to pay more. This is deadly to the many people who are suffering from being overweight or obese. Having to pay more for insurance will cause their mental wellness to plummet. Having to worry about paying more would be extremely stressful and hard to deal with. Obesity and being overweight have many downfalls, which is why the school systems should do everything they can to prevent it.

Many people argue that they don’t see why it is the school’s responsibility to make sure that their students are shifting away from the obese and overweight categories and leaning more towards normal weight. Well, there are several reasons why it is the school’s responsibility. Many modern American households are young parents who have no prior experience with parenting whatsoever. They are unsure of what exactly to feed their kids or what their kids really need. The teen pregnancy rate has shot up in the U.S in the past few years, which goes to show that many parents now are young teens.

Another issue the family households in America face is money. Many families are trying to raise kids in a household with no money to spend. Some families are just trying to make it by day by day, but struggle to provide for their kids. Unemployment is a big issue that is triggering the loss of money. Some families take in too much at once, like adopting a child or buying a home that is too expensive for them. Another big fault are college loans. Many young parents still have college loans to pay back, which means less money to spend on their children or themselves.

Not having enough money is crucial because healthier food is more expensive. It is very easy to drive through McDonalds and Burger King and get a two dollar meal compared to shopping in Kroger for a lot of healthy food but for a heavy price.

The epidemic of being overweight and obesity are scary things that American school systems are facing today. They have taken over a large percent of the population of students and caused many schools trouble. Overweight people and obesity are issues that need to be taken care of now. People must take precautions and use prevention programs to end this disastrous epidemic. School systems must intervene to help prevent childhood obesity and its far-reaching effects.

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