Childhood obesity is on the rise and has become a national concern. Research has indicated that the diet of most children in the United States does not meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Gleason). In the past 20 years, childhood obesity has doubled and adolescent obesity has tripled (US Department of Health and Human Services 46). Today, we see a different picture that is resulting in epidemic proportions – that of childhood obesity. One in five children are overweight or obese and has great potential of continuing into adulthood predisposing individuals to strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, heart disease and other chronic ailments. We now know that eating habits are formed for a lifetime during those childhood years. It is our intent to gain a better understanding of the predisposing factors leading to childhood obesity and how to prevent it. Overweight is defined by using the body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio of weight to height. At the present time one out of three of the nation's youth have a BMI greater than 85% for their age. At least 70% will become over-weight adults (Berger 424). The U. S. Department of Agriculture reports obesity and overweightness affects over 10 million children in the United States. In the past 20 years the number has doubled, placing more Americans at risk for health problems. Obesity contributes to 300,000 deaths per year which is approximately 1000 lives lost each day and costing our health care system 70 billion dollars a year, or 8% of all medical bills (63). The medical consequences of obesity vary. Obese children and teens have an increased prevalence of Type II diabetes, hypertension, respiratory problems, hyperlipidemia, bone and joint difficulties, hyperinsulinemia and menstrual problems. The psychosocial problems may include teasing, scholastic discrimination, low self-esteem, negative body image, and isolation, which could lead towards the tendency for even more decreased activity. Long-term risks include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Obesity is estimated to consume 6% of the national health care dollars (Greger and Edwin 5). “In the 1940’s, as the United States positioned itself to enter World War II, it became increasingly evident that many of the young recruits coming primarily from the farms and rural communities were bone-thin and hollow-cheeked to the point of failing their physicals. In response to the problem of malnourishment, President Harry S.Truman created the National School Lunch Program”(Anand ii). As the years swept on, economic growth increased, Federal food assistance programs were started, agricultural production amplified, and malnourishment soon vanished (Anand ii). Dr. David Satcher, Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General stated there are four themes that are essential for a healthy lifestyle. The first one is physical activity. We need to get children to engage in physical activity at a minimum of 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week to ward off cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveals only 25% of children are involved in physical education during and after school (6). The second component of promoting a healthy lifestyle involves nutrition.
The Five-A-Day serving of fruits and vegetables has been addressed for many years as the basic daily essentials for a healthy balanced diet. Foods high in folic acid play a major role in preventing birth defects, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. A third component necessary for a healthy lifestyle is good mental health. Our society still places a stigma on mental illness or mental health problems. Therefore, many individuals do not feel comfortable asking for help. Instead, our mental health problems are channeled into anger, depression, food, drugs, alcohol and tobacco use. The final factor that needs addressing is the need to eradicate discrepancies in one’s health