TCHR3001 - Issue of Childhood Obesity

Part 1- The Issue of Childhood Obesity

Children have a right to good health. This includes prevention of health issues that may affect child development and well-being where possible. One of the most concerning issues regarding health is that of obesity and overweight in children which exposes them to the risk of other health and psychological issues hence affecting their achievement in early childhood education. According to Kokka, Mourikis and Bacopoulou (2023), obese children have the risk of developing depression and anxiety with girls being 43% at a higher risk of these psychological issues than boys are. In children aged 2- 5 years, the rates of obesity have doubled in the last 20 years, indicating a prevalence of the health issue and demanding urgency in addressing the issue (O’Donnell et al., 2020). Notably, children are still in their developmental years which means that issues such as self-esteem and emotional development are developing. When a negative issue such as obesity occurs, it interferes with these developments, consequently impacting the child’s overall well-being.

Due to the extensive effects of childhood obesity, various stakeholders have sought to address the problem, following recommendations by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indeed, under the General Comment on the right of children to enjoy good health, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes addressing obesity in children through limiting fast foods as one of the agenda (Cathaoir, 2016). Despite attempts to curb childhood obesity, the numbers remain stable in Australia with 1 in every 4 children being recorded as being obese(AIHW, 2022)

Obesity comes with serious chronic medical problems such as the risk of developing type 2 diabetes which has been occurring at record high rates, high cholesterol, liver disease, high blood pressure and orthopaedic problems (Caprio, Santoro & Weiss, 2020). Furthermore, research indicates that up to 55% of children who are obese during childhood often end up being obese during adolescence with 80% of obese adolescents being obese during adulthood (Drodz et al., 2021). As they grow older, individuals tend to experience far worse mental health issues, including the potential risk of lifelong depression among 55% of obese individuals. Therefore, there is a need to address childhood obesity since it has lifelong implications for individuals.

From an educational perspective, obesity leads to poor academic performance as well as a low quality of life. Children develop health issues which result in absenteeism thus affecting academic performance (Anekwe et al., 2020). A study by Fan, Jin and Zhang (2023) found that childhood obesity produces effects that impact the likelihood of college enrolment and college completion while shortening the years of schooling by 14.8%. therefore, the effects of unaddressed childhood obesity are long-term and often end up creating cycles of low quality of life for affected individuals. Furthermore, an obese child will often struggle to keep up with other children which results in low self-esteem and social isolation, negative body image and potentially, depression due to teasing and exclusion from activities with other children (Moradi et al., 2021).

Part 2- My Position on Childhood Obesity

Children often have adults around them making important life decisions for them. These include decisions on their health in terms of the food they eat and the kind of lifestyles that they lead. Unfortunately, adults do not always make the best decisions for the children under their care which explains why healthy adults may be raising obese children or why obese adults are raising obese children. Prevalence of the consumption of fast foods and lack of physical activities as well as lack of parental involvement in healthy behaviours are some of the reasons why obesity among children in early childhood years remains rampant despite public education regarding the dangers. However, there is a glimmer of hope since children are often receptive to change and acquisition of skills and knowledge. Therefore, training children about the benefits of physical activities and taking charge of their health would go a long way in helping to overcome the epidemic that is childhood obesity.

Nally et al. (2021) support the efficiency of school-based intervention programs in preventing and dealing with obesity. Programs should be implemented in line with the recommendations of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF, 2022) and the National Quality Standards Framework (NQS, 2023) which recommend daily physical activity, especially in the outdoor environment. Childhood obesity is a valid concern for educators and parents alike because it affects the physical as well as the mental well-being of learners. Despite there being measures to protect children from experiences that affect their mental well-being, there is an inherent risk that obese children will experience bullying and exclusion from their peers at one point or the next (Cheng, et al., 2022). Therefore, teaching children to take charge of their health and being a positive role model can help in reducing cases of obesity and consequently, reducing the risk of bullying, low self-esteem and depression which is prevalent among obese children.

Although the issue of managing childhood obesity may seem like a straightforward one, this is not always the case. Attempting to remedy childhood obesity may result in conflicts between educators and parents who believe that this is not an educator’s concern to address (Byfield, 2022). After all, some parents do not believe that obesity is an issue that requires urgent attention hence explaining why some adults are not bothered to address their obesity. Effective management of obesity and prevention requires a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach whereby various stakeholders are involved in the interventions. Approaching the issue from a family perspective in particular is helpful since children often follow in the footsteps of their families hence having little control over what to eat, when to exercise or how to address other underlying issues that contribute to obesity.

As advocates of children, I believe that educators have the responsibility to mobilise stakeholders involved in the lives of children in one way or the other (Campbell Byfield, 2022). Furthermore, educators spend a significant amount of time with children during their early childhood years which allows educators to play a crucial role in shaping behaviours and attitudes. However, successful change is only possible if children learn the same values at home as they learn in school. Therefore, addressing obesity from an educator’s perspective requires multiple stakeholders to be involved in the process as well as allowing learners to engage actively as agents of change in their own lives.

Part 3- Justification of My Position

A lot of research has been conducted regarding the causes of obesity and overweight in some individuals more than in others. Similarly, solutions for the management of obesity have been explored with lifestyle changes being at the centre of these interventions.  In Australia, research has found that childhood obesity is more prevalent in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children than in children from other ethnicities (Wallace et al., 2022). While genetic factors often contribute to obesity, behaviour is a key influencer in the rise of obesity in children. Behaviours contributing to childhood obesity include insufficient sleep, increased sedentary activities, time spent on screens and consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks(AIHW, 2022). Fortunately, these factors can be remedied by incorporating physical exercises and addressing lifestyle choices among children and their families.

In the study by Wallace et al. (2022), school-based interventions were experimented on in order to determine how effective such interventions would be in controlling, reducing and managing obesity in children. The study noted that programs such as the AboriginalGo4Fun® programme which included multiple stakeholders including families, educators, community and health professionals had the potential to be successful if education and intervention were a long-term commitment rather than being rushed in the short run. The role of schools and educators in managing and preventing childhood obesity is further identified by Yuksel et al. (2020) who noted that apart from attitude changes, schools play a crucial role in leveraging the influence of physical activity among children.Undeniably, educators can play a crucial role in addressing obesity in children by implementing physical activities and educating children and their caregivers on the importance of maintaining a healthy weight.

From an appropriate age, educators should educate children about physical fitness and healthy eating in order to develop a positive attitude towards physical activities and a healthy relationship with food. As trained professionals, teachers have the skills and competencies to inspire behaviour and attitude change in children while coordinating other expert services to address underlying issues in children (Baggio et al. (2021). Thomas-Eapen (2021) recognize appropriate interventions as those focusing on different stakeholders since childhood development incorporates multiple stakeholders.

Educators can also find innovative ways to make physical exercises fun and attractive hence encouraging children to participate within and outside the school environment. Specifically, identifying learner preferences and working around them can yield the desired outcome as Digennaro and Visocchi (2024) noted. From as early as possible, educators should teach children to be responsible for their wellbeing and health while encouraging them to develop a positive body image since this goes a long way in promoting healthy behaviours, attitudes and positive relationships with food (Love, Walsh & Campbell, 2020). Finally, teachers should be positive role models and reflect the same values that they teach children as Lambrinou et al. (2020) recommended since children also learn through imitation hence presenting schools as ideal places to address the holistic needs of learners.

References

AIHW. (2022). Australia's children. Retrieved 2024, from Australian Government: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children/contents/health/overweight-obesity  

Anekwe, C. V., Jarrell, A. R., Townsend, M. J., Gaudier, G. I., Hiserodt, J. M., & Stanford, F. C. (2020). Socioeconomics of obesity. Current obesity reports9, 272-279.

Baggio, M. A., Alves, K. R., Cavalheiro, R. F., Matias, L. D., Hirano, A. R., Machineski, G. G., & Caldeira, S. (2021). Childhood obesity in the perception of children, families and health and education professionals. Texto & Contexto-Enfermagem30, e20190331.

Byfield, A. C. (2022). Exploring Parent Support for School-Based Health Programs to Reduce Childhood Obesity (Doctoral dissertation, Walden University).

Campbell Byfield, A. D. (2022). Exploring Parent Support for School-Based Health Programs to Reduce Childhood.

Cathaoir, K. Ó. (2016). Childhood obesity and the right to health. Health and Human Rights18(1), 249. 

Caprio, S., Santoro, N., & Weiss, R. (2020). Childhood obesity and the associated rise in cardiometabolic complications. Nature Metabolism2(3), 223-232. 

Cheng, S., Kaminga, A. C., Liu, Q., Wu, F., Wang, Z., Wang, X., & Liu, X. (2022). Association between weight status and bullying experiences among children and adolescents in schools: An updated meta-analysis. Child Abuse & Neglect134, 105833.

Digennaro, S., & Visocchi, A. (2024). Nurturing Body Literacy: Transforming Education in the Virtual Reality Era to Shape Children’s Identities and Redefine Educator Roles. Education Sciences14(3), 267.

Drozdz, D., Alvarez-Pitti, J., Wójcik, M., Borghi, C., Gabbianelli, R., Mazur, A., ... & Wühl, E. (2021). Obesity and cardiometabolic risk factors: from childhood to adulthood. Nutrients13(11), 4176.

EYLF. (2022). Belonging, Being & Becoming. Retrieved from Early Years Learning Framework: https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-01/EYLF-2022-V2.0.pdf

Fan, M., Jin, Y., & Zhang, M. (2023). Genetic risk, childhood obesity, and educational achievements. Economics of Education Review94, 102408.

Kokka, I., Mourikis, I., & Bacopoulou, F. (2023). Psychiatric disorders and obesity in childhood and adolescence—a systematic review of cross-sectional studies. Children10(2), 285.

Lambrinou, C. P., Androutsos, O., Karaglani, E., Cardon, G., Huys, N., Wikström, K., ... & Manios, Y. (2020). Effective strategies for childhood obesity prevention via school-based, family involved interventions: a critical review for the development of the Feel4Diabetes-study school-based component. BMC endocrine disorders20, 1-20.

Love, P., Walsh, M., & Campbell, K. J. (2020). Knowledge, attitudes and practices of Australian trainee childcare educators regarding their role in the feeding behaviours of young children. International journal of environmental research and public health17(10), 3712.

Moradi, M., Mozaffari, H., Askari, M., & Azadbakht, L. (2021). Association between overweight/obesity with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition62(2), 555-570.

Nally, S., Carlin, A., Blackburn, N. E., Baird, J. S., Salmon, J., Murphy, M. H., & Gallagher, A. M. (2021). The effectiveness of school-based interventions on obesity-related behaviours in primary school children: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Children8(6), 489.

NQS. (2023). My Time, Our Place. Retrieved from National Quality Standards Framework : https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-02/MTOP-2022-V2.0.pdf

O’Donnell, A., Buffini, M., Kehoe, L., Nugent, A., Kearney, J., Walton, J., ... & McNulty, B. (2020). The prevalence of overweight and obesity in Irish children between 1990 and 2019. Public Health Nutrition23(14), 2512-2520.

Thomas-Eapen, N. (2021). Childhood obesity. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice48(3), 505-515.

Yuksel, H. S., Şahin, F. N., Maksimovic, N., Drid, P., & Bianco, A. (2020). School-based intervention programs for preventing obesity and promoting physical activity and fitness: a systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health17(1), 347.

 Wallace, S., Scarcella, M., Sealy, L., Alexander, S., & Zwi, K. (2022). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with obesity: A review of programmes for children and young people aged 5–17 years. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health58(12), 2150-2155.