Who is really to blame for the childhood obesity crisis gripping Australia?
Regardless of which side of the fence you fall, opinion remains divided. The number of overweight children in Australia has doubled in recent years, with a quarter of children considered overweight or obese. Causes of obesity in children include unhealthy food choices, lack of physical activity and family eating habits.
This rise in the number of overweight children is disturbing, because it causes health problems and can lead to social problems. Overweight children are more likely to be teased by their peers or to develop low self-esteem or body image problems. Once children are overweight, it requires a lot of effort and commitment for them to return to a healthy weight.
There are those in the medical field that see obesity as a private health matter, a condition caused by ‘freely chosen behavior’ or those that recognize the growing complexities around bariatric health management. I can tell you who is not to blame…and that’s children themselves.
Without even taking into consideration the tens of thousands of dollars still being paid by soft drink and confectionary companies to fill our children’s bodies with empty calories, there is the issue of diminishing physical activity disappearing from schools and the home. Who’s making the decisions to eliminate all physical activity from the school day? Not the kids.
There’s also the matter of loading children’s days with activities that preclude “exercising more.” Given a choice — and the opportunity — children might well opt to spend more of their time running, jumping, and exercising.
But they’re not being allowed to choose freely. Rather, adults are choosing for them. Parents are indeed responsible for over scheduling their kids, and when kids are free, letting them sit inside on computers and in front of televisions.
There’s also the matter of teachers assigning copious amounts of homework that even parents find difficult to navigate.
And, speaking of food, is it the children’s fault that “supersized” servings confront them at every turn? That fast food consumption is out of control?
Is it the children’s fault that playgrounds are disappearing from the landscape as urban development replaces open spaces? That playgrounds are not given the same priority as parking lots? That cities are built, not for walking and biking, but with automobiles in mind?
The problem is, once a child is obese as a result of all these adult-made decisions, the odds are pretty much stacked against them.
Not only are behaviour patterns, like eating and physical activity habits, established in childhood (educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom contended that 90 percent of an individual’s habits and traits are set by age 12), but long-term studies have also shown that excess body fat tends to persist throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Forty percent of obese children and 70 percent of obese adolescents become obese adults. Indeed, by the time a child is six years old, her chances of becoming an obese adult are over 50 percent.
Many health experts believe it’s a matter of personal responsibility. The physicians believe parents are to blame. Whoever is to blame, let’s be clear: children are suffering as a result of decisions being made for and about them.
It’s not the kids’ responsibility to rid themselves of a problem they’re not yet old enough to fully understand. It is the responsibility of everyone who lives and works with — and makes decisions involving — them.
Parents, Families, Teachers, Politicians and Health Professionals are all responsible for helping to create the childhood obesity crisis. We must all now be responsible for helping to eradicate it.