Obesity, a health epidemic that results due to consuming more calories than the body burns, leads to a higher risk of contracting heart disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, and respiratory disorders. The alarming amount of children in this country that have been diagnosed as “over weight” or “obese” caused law makers and school health advisory councils to create policies and strategies to protect the health of our children. According to the National Institutes of Health, 25% of children in the United states are considered obese, and if you factor in “over weight” children too that percentage jumps to almost 35%.
This disease, though prevalent in the affluent US, effects the entire global population, especially children living in developed countries. The Harvard School of Public Health states, “ Of the world’s 43 million overweight and obese preschoolers, 35 million live in developing countries.” Globalization coupled with the increase in the international income scale has introduced the western diet to countries that traditionally consume a well balanced and low fat diet, and in turn obesity rates and children diagnosed with high cholesterol have risen in countries that have never seen their children corpulent.
Over the last sixty years our selection of foods has taken steps away from nutrient and fiber dense fare. Currently, people eat more high salt, high sugar processed foods, and spend most of their days sedentary in front of a computer or television. The result of this type of lifestyle leads people to pack on the pounds and eventually develop life threatening diseases. Therefore, America’s First Lady, Michelle Obama launched an initiative to help combat weight related health problems in children by working with local officials and non-profit organizations to give kids more access to healthy food options at school, more school physical activity programs, giving communities more access to affordable, fresh healthy food, and educating the youth on how to eat a healthier diet, create strong exercise habits, grow food in gardens, and cook healthy nutritious meals.
In December 2011, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City announced the first victory in the fight against childhood obesity. He stated in a press conference, “...after years of aggressive efforts to improve nutrition and expand physical activity opportunities for all New Yorkers, New York City experienced a small but statistically significant drop in rates of childhood obesity.” The statistics show a 5.5 percent decrease in children ages 5-13, and a 10% decrease in children ages 5 and 6. New York, the first of the fifty states to see a statistical decrease in the amount of youth diagnosed with obesity, credits Task Forces that focused on public health and obesity. These committees centered on improving accessibility to tap water, making public spaces accommodating for people to engage in physical activities, and creating resources to help educate children about their health and food choices through fun activities rather than classroom lectures.
Non-Profit programs like Harlem Seeds in New York City is committed to providing nutrition and food education along with the skills necessary, such as gardening and cooking, to help kids consciously choose what foods to buy and eat in order to maintain optimal health. The organization’s seeds-to-table approach exposes children to foods and cooking methods that ensures they maintain a healthy weight. Harlem Seeds wants future inhabitants of their neighborhood to mature into healthy, positive people that can continue to help the community grow and prosper.
We can change the way we consume and think about food items by working together to create conditions where healthy foods are easier to access then empty caloric processed edibles. Obesity can injure almost every system in a child’s body and can take a solid toll on a minor’s self-esteem; therefore, families, schools, and polititans must do what is in their power to control this epidemic and ensure that each child is derailed from excessive weight gain. Though marketing and lack of exposure to nutritious sustenance lead to the demise of our childrens’ health we can invest and support our local communities wellness by getting involved with programs that focus on the well-being of our youth.