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Youth obesity, a health risk

Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, insomnia and breathing problems are a few of the serious physical consequences associated with obesity, an increasing epidemic in the United States.

According to Tonya Hefner, University nutrition educator at the Wellness Connection, this is a problem that can be avoided by a balanced diet and exercise.

Although obesity has been a known health risk for a long time, only recently it is becoming an increasing problem in the youth of the nation.

It is clear that more attention is required to identify and treat obesity in young people or this group will face serious health consequences in their adult years.

Unlike many other serious medical conditions, obesity is preventable. Overweight children are suggested to adopt healthier eating and exercising patterns to decrease the likelihood of becoming overweight adults, according to the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Web site.

The AACAP Web site also states that between 16 to 33 percent of children and adolescents in the United States are currently obese. Although the disease is easy to prevent, it kills 300,000 people a year.

Many factors play a role in obesity in the younger generation. Three common factors include heredity, poor eating habits and lack of physical activity; however, poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity are the largest contributors to obesity in Americans.

Today, many households are dual-income, where both parents are working full time. Often, parents lack both the time and the energy it takes to promote healthy dietary habits and physical activity with their children.

This culture leads to unhealthy eating and little exercise. Commonly excessive weight gain is the end result.

“It is a difficult balance,” Hefner said. According to Hefner, parents and other adults are role models and need to stress the importance of healthy eating and physical activity when children are young.

“I don’t think addressing one without addressing the other is going to be too successful,” Hefner said.

“Obesity can be caused through family habits, through the examples that they set,” Erin Hungerman University sophomore, said.

Hungerman believes that a child growing up with parents who do not exercise or eat well will view these habits as normal and carry out similar behavior as they grow older.

According to an article titled “Obesity Among Children” by Alvin Poussaint, children today spend an average of five to six hours daily watching television, using the computer and playing video games. Poussaint believes that this five or six hours children spend in sedentary activities wouldn’t matter if they were also physically active, but most are not.

“Kids are encouraged to sit at home and learn things electronically and not go outside and make friends. If you are not running around and doing that, then you are not only limiting yourself socially, but physically as well,” Hungerman said.

Fast food restaurants are also a huge contributing factor to obesity in all ages. Advertisements for such restaurants often target children with colorful and fun characters. This advertising, along with increasingly larger portion sizes, provides convenience for busy parents.

Many say schools are also to blame. In recent years, many physical education programs have been reduced or eliminated because of reductions in funding. When this occurs, teachers and adults must play a very important role in continuing to encourage children to remain physically active.

“It has to be a concentrated effort,” Catherine Swick, associate director of recreational sports at the University, said.

“At any level of education, we must have role models. Teachers have to show an appreciation for health and to life-long wellness,” Swick said. “There has to be something in it for teachers. If they don’t support it and see the importance in it, that appreciation is not going to be filtered on to the students.”

Unfortunately, according to Swick, physical activity is often viewed as a chore.

“Exercise should be enjoyable. It should blend with your personal interests,” Swick said. “It’s finding an individualized program that works for you and having a support system to make sure you keep up with it.”

Children need 60 minutes of exercise, and adults need a minimum of 30 minutes daily.

AACAP also suggests replacing time in front of the television or computer with light activity, such as walking, can make a large difference in the health of a child in both the short-term and long-term

And if a child is already obese, efforts should be concentrated on losing weight. This should be done in order to prevent the child from remaining obese in adulthood.

The AACAP recommends that parents restrict activities like sitting in front of the television or computer to two hours a day. The organization also recommends that families plan activities together to make physical activity fun for everyone.

According to Hefner, it is important to keep a supply of healthy snacks in the home as alternatives to sugar-saturated, high-fat snacks often consumed by children. This will allow children to develop healthy habits early in life and continue them in the future.

Childhood obesity is a serious and growing problem in this country. Due to cultural changes in our society promoting overeating and sedentary activities, only an increasing vigilance on the part of parents, teachers and other adult role models will prevent this epidemic from worsening.

“We must get kids active and moving and fight this obesity epidemic,” Hefner said.

Obesity is a serious condition, but it is preventable.

“To better the quality of life for future generations,” Swick said, “all of us must take responsibility now.”

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