Childhood Obesity Epidemic, the Health Cause-du-Jour?

Posted on: November 28, 2011

Childhood Obesity Epidemic???

In August, I came across this article that caused enough anger and frustration for me to devote to a blog post. The subject: Childhood Obesity. Today, I read this article here that gave me enough fuel to change this article from draft to posted.

Nashville’s City Paper reported in August, “According to DCS, Tennessee has had seven child neglect cases in which obesity was the trigger. Obesity can be defined as someone with a body mass index over 30 or about 30 pounds overweight.” WOW. Really? The Department of Children’s Services can launch an investigation based on a child being above the a body mass index of 30? With the launch of the Federal campaign launched against childhood obesity, the government took an official stand. Apparently it is politically correct to discriminate and call attention overweight children . I like how Ali Rahman stated it best. “Obesity has recently replaced smoking as the health cause-du-jour among social marketers. Like smoking, obesity qualifies as a preventable cause of disease. Unlike smoking, human beings need to eat to survive.”

The article also stated, “Several factors will likely only increase the intersection of obesity and child neglect investigations. In generations past, poverty led to hunger, a lack of food. Now America’s food system is structured so the poor can easily afford fast food or cheap, junk food, but fresh, healthy food is often less accessible.” I am so thankful that someone has reported that it costs more money to eat healthy. I do not feel that obesity factors are critical to involving social services except in extreme cases . Yet, truly, do even those mandate placement in a foster care system that is already overburdened? In my experience as a DCS Case Worker, many adolescents that came into foster care gained between 30 to 90 lbs. within the first year of placement. One main reason for their weight gain were the side effects of psychotropic medications. How many of these children count in obesity reports? And why isn’t anyone looking at the FDA?

A house in Appalachia

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “Approximately 43.6 million (14.3%) Americans were living in absolute poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million (13.2%) in 2008.” Back to the original article which reported a survey results that “showed half of the children in Hancock County, which is in Central Appalachia, are overweight.That’s the state’s highest percentage. In Davidson County, the figure is lower — about 40 percent. Since race and poverty factors seem to coincide with obesity, it’s not surprising that Williamson County, a predominantly white and wealthy county, had the state’s lowest rate of overweight and obese children, at just under 30 percent.”

Our government has not promoted good health, and healthy food is not as accessible to those within the poverty guidelines due to costs. Even within the middle class, healthful food stretches the budget. Lack of access to healthy food may be one aspect that leads to childhood obesity.

Another issue to consider is the lack of physical activity among many of the children in the USA. But are they and their parents to blame? Physical Education and Recess in our schools has decreased the physical activity of children. In addition, the cost of recreational sports is rising. Elite athletes have access to school programs but the majority of children are eliminated from playing team sports without paying dues. MSN Money reports that “Girls’ softball can cost $150 per child. That doesn’t take into account the bat, glove, hat and cleats that must be purchased. Youth football can run as much as $400 per child. Soccer, basketball and other sports aren’t far off. Club teams, with the additional hotel and travel costs, are in a league all their own.”

 The lives of children today are much more structured and supervised, with few opportunities for free play. Their physical boundaries have shrunk. A number of factors have led to this. Parents are afraid for their children’s safety when they leave the house alone; many children are no longer free to roam their neighborhoods or even their own yards unless accompanied by adults. Some working families can’t supervise their children after school, giving rise to latchkey children who stay indoors or attend supervised after-school activities. Furthermore, children’s lives have become structured and scheduled by adults, who hold the mistaken belief that this sport or that lesson will make their children more successful as adults.

Outside Fun with Neighbors

     Children have little time for free play any more. And when children do have free time, it’s often spent inside in front of the television or computers. For some children, that’s because their neighborhood, apartment complex or house has no outdoor play spaces. With budgets for city and state governments slashed, public parks and outdoor playgrounds have deteriorated and been abandoned.  Children’s opportunities to interact in a naturalized outdoor setting is greatly diminished today.

Childhood and outdoor play are no longer synonymous. Today, many children live what one play authority has referred to as a childhood of imprisonment. Child care facility playgrounds are often the only outdoor activities that many young children experience.

As parents, we are responsible for our children. But when we have a society that allows dangerous food coloring into our foods (Europe has banned these food colorings and oversea research has proven they cause a variety of health problems from childhood ADHD to cancers). CNN debates the USA issue here.  My children and I conducted our own experiment this summer. We researched the ingredients of food dyes and then eliminated them from our diet completely. We tried one each day for every color. The results were startling enough that my kids prefer to eat products without food dye. But to find such products is costly, difficult, and extremely frustrating.

We also have a society allowing big corporations to reassure us that corn syrup is safe and is process like sugar, like the article promoting HFCS at Where is their liability? And why is corn syrup added to the most innocuous items such as bread? Pure bread is delicious. There is no sane reason that corn syrup is added to our foods.

It is difficult for the middle class to healthily feed their children. For the working low-class, I would not even want to venture how frustrating it is to find safe physical activities for my child on top of healthy food. We as a society need to cease judging the obese and falling into this notion that its okay to single out the obese. It’s discrimination, plain and simple. If you want to help, fight for better food approval in our nation. Become educated about the risk and danger of HFCS and food dyes. Petition for healthy foods. Call out the government for teaching our children that a tomato is a fruit (it is ONLY deemed a fruit for taxation issues).

If you disagree with this post, look at the poverty guidelines. Live by those standards for a month and then get back to me.

And do not even get me started on the Monsanto Protection Act and those foods that are causing a host of medical problems.

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