This is one of Katie's papers form the time she was earning her Master degree in Social Psychology
Childhood obesity in this country is an epidemic, and one that needs to be stopped. If not, then a whole generation of children may be outlived by their parents (Woody, 1986). This epidemic has social, emotional, and physical consequences; instead of attempting to alter the behavior to produce long term solutions, we seem to be searching only for instant gratification (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). Children who are obese suffer socially and emotionally due to other children making fun of them, not being able to participate or “keep up” in activities that require physical exertion, and even adults judging them and assuming they are lazy (Bowen, 1987). These children begin to have negative thoughts about themselves due to these judgments and not understand why (Woody, 1986).
Obesity is typically a result of not one variable, but a combination of a high caloric dietary intake and low energy expenditure; and with only 38.5% of our children in America meeting the present national standards for physical activity and healthy eating habits, it is no wonder we are seeing an obesity epidemic in America (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). This combination of high caloric intake and low energy output can begin a negative psychological cycle of: gaining weight, receiving ridicule for one’s outward appearance and inability to perform physically, utilization of overeating and sedentary behavior as an unhealthy coping mechanism, which then continues as an unhealthy behavior cycle (Crocker, Cornwell, & Major, 1993).
In the past, childhood obesity has been viewed as a genetic disorder (if the parents are overweight, chances are the kids will be too); and attributed to the rise in playing video games, children are no longer playing outdoors and getting exercise naturally like they used to; and many schools in America have cut PE from their curriculum, taking away another form of exercise in the midst of a mentally straining, but otherwise sedentary school day (Graves, Meyers, & Clark, 1988). In addition to not receiving the physical aspect of PE in school, they are also losing out on the health and nutrition concepts they would have otherwise been taught. Many extracurricular sports activities are also being cut due to lack of funding, which is another aspect of physical activity that children are missing out on.
Parents attitudes and behaviors may also stem from not being educated themselves, they are hard working and tired, so when they come home from working possibly two jobs the last thing they want to do is fight with their children about eating healthy or to stop playing video games, because they too want to just sit down and rest while snacking on unhealthy foods and watching television (Campbell, Crawford, & Ball, 2006). Mass media is another indicator of our country’s attitude towards this epidemic, focusing on finding excuses for why our kids are obese, offering “silver bullets” to remedy this epidemic without having to work for it (metabolic pills, to lose weight without exercise), and the push of hundreds of video games and systems that are encouraging the children to participate in sedentary activity for hours on end (Keith et al., 2006).
In order to change these unhealthy behaviors, there needs to be an overall education system in place to ensure everyone understands why these changes need to happen and how they can make these changes efficiently (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). Families and schools need to be reminded that physical activity is fun and can involve everyone participating together. Not only will their bodies be receiving the proper nutrition it needs, but increased activity will build muscle and burn fat; they will also experience an increase in their energy levels and typically their moods and interactions with others are more positive (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). In the schools, when healthier lunches are served in the cafeteria, the teachers will see better productivity and more energy and endurance with their students (Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer, 2008).
To get this started, the government should take an initiative by returning PE funding to the schools as a requirement in the curriculum, offer additional funding for healthy food habits (not have healthy food choices in the grocery store as the most expensive items) and incorporate healthy food into school cafeterias. The media needs to take a larger role in promoting the positive aspects (to make this public agenda) of this healthy lifestyle change, and individual states/cities/counties need to follow through by offering community involvement in physical activities and healthy awareness; being creative in how to make these acts enjoyable for the whole family together.
While there have been many studies in the past regarding this topic, they have not proven themselves as worthwhile strategies for long term solutions; the behavioral and or medication studies usually result in short term weight loss, but invariably the children gain the weight back (Epstein et al., 1990). Some of these studies discuss metabolic supplements specifically for childhood weight loss, surgical solutions, and drastic diets cutting out all carbohydrates and/or fat (Canavera, Sharma, & Murnan, 2008). Psychologists would be useful in this proposed action by providing counseling to these children to help motivate their initial weight loss, help rebuild their self esteem, and help them to learn healthier coping skills for dealing with everyday problems. This counseling should also be government funded and a part of the school system to ensure every child is receiving the support they need, regardless of economic status.
The potential positive outcomes of this proposal include the actual weight loss and a direct correlation to increased health of the children. There is also the added benefit of counseling for the children which will help them deal with their initial feelings of low self-esteem/self-worth typically seen with children who suffer from obesity. Once they begin to lose the weight, they will continue to receive support and counseling that will allow them to express any feelings they may be having regarding their current situation, any fears they may be experiencing which will in turn contribute positively to a healthier holistic lifestyle.