A Social Ecological Approach to Rising Levels of Overweight and Obesity in Children and Adolescents in the United States

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Childhood onset overweight and obesity and its’ associated health consequences are quickly becoming major significant public health issues facing America today. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define overweight as a body mass index (BMI) between the 85th and 95th percentile while obese is defined as BMI above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex . The prevalence of overweight children, defined based on 2009 CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics data, has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Between 1980 and 2006, the incidence of overweight among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% to 17.0% while overweight levels for adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 17.6% . Not only has prevalence of child and adolescent overweight and obesity increased dramatically over the last several decades, but being an overweight or obese child puts one at a heightened risk for adult overweight and obesity . Related to this threat, the chance of developing serious health conditions exists; these include orthopedic complications, hypertension, heart disease, and type two diabetes among others . An associated behavior linked to overweight and obesity in children is a lack of physical activity. Participation in physical activity as a child is important because it often leads to an active adult lifestyle. Physical activity may have beneficial effects on not just body weight, but overall health. Ultimately, if overweight and obese children grow into overweight and obese adults, they are at risk for a shortened life due to this disease and/or related ailments. Understanding risk factors and potential interventions for childhood overweight and obesity serves as a start to address... ... middle of paper ... ...). A future research idea piggybacks on this program by encouraging an initiation of state and/or national legislation, specifically for change moving towards healthier school nutrition and additional school nutrition education. This legislation would also mandate increases in the amount of time children are allowed for physical activity in their school day as a lack of physical activity is a huge risk factor for overweight and obesity. Another thought is to designate a school health coordinator who will be responsible for maintaining and continuing the positive work that this study began. Utilizing the success of this program and others like it in this regards will lead to action on all levels of the social ecological framework. Ultimately, a multilevel examination of determinants and interventions needs to be aimed at preventing child overweight and obesity.

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