Obesity among children has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. Despite increasing awareness about the issue and efforts to increase healthy lunch and exercise programs at schools, it appears that a major contributing factor stems from attitudes about healthy lifestyles at home. Although a child might be overweight or obese, parents often turn a blind eye to their own child’s weight status. In a 2015 study from New York University, nearly 70% of parents of obese children described their children as “about the right weight”.
Multiple factors play into this phenomenon, named “oblivobesity” by Dr. David Katz, director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center. First, as the population as a whole becomes heavier, parents may not realize that there is even a problem with their child’s weight. Secondly, once parents know that their child is overweight, they may not understand how to address the issue or have the time to put in the effort for diet and lifestyle change. Finally, parents may be in denial of their child’s obesity, viewing their child’s weight as a failure on their part to ensure the health of the child.
However, the development of the national obesity epidemic is not only the fault of the parents. Many external factors promote high calorie food intake. Not only are fresh fruits and vegetables commonly difficult to access in certain low-income areas, but they are also much more expensive and require more effort to prepare than less healthy options. For a typical working class parent who does not have the time to prepare family meals, the convenience of purchasing a take-out dinner is extremely appealing. Additionally, there is aggressive marketing by fast food chains, exposing children through billboards and television ads. Finally, medical providers have been trained to avoid using stigmatizing or direct language, which may inappropriately minimize the severity of the situation.
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Ultimately, obesity has both medical and psychological effects, including early onset diabetes, cardiovascular disease, as well as low self-esteem. Regardless of the cause of obesity, it is essential for providers to empower parents to address their child’s weight at an early age. In addition to directly addressing the issue, providers should encourage parents to make lifestyle changes along with their children. Children whose families eat at least three meals together each week have a 12% reduction in obesity, tend to eat healthier foods, and have overall improved nutritional status. Therefore, by targeting interventions toward addressing change within families, we can make a significant impact on the rates of childhood obesity in America.
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