Adolescent Obesity Epidemic In America

Currently, one of the most talked about issues in health and nutrition is the obesity crisis in America, specifically the rapidly increasing rates of obesity. Is the obesity epidemic currently plaguing America being caused by Socioeconomic status (SES) and increasing poverty rates, or are parental/family influences to include lack of proper portioning/nutrition, sedentary lifestyle and family dynamic/conflict the root of the issue? From 1976 to 2004 obesity rates in children between the ages of 12 to 19 escalated from 5 percent up to 16. 5 percent (Hooper et al. 09)!

These statistics are of great concern in regards to the health implications alone, but when coupled with the financial strain obesity brings upon the government and taxpayers, it becomes even more detrimental. The obesity plague is estimated to cost $117 million dollars currently and will increase to $240 million by 2030 (Hooper et al. 309). Utilizing logistic and linear regression analyses Zhang and Wang determined that the once staggering differences between obesity rates of individuals in lower SES groups verse higher SES groups was now diminishing (6).

This new information effectively created a paradigm shift; researchers that were once focused solely on low SES are now looking for commonalities between the obese in the lower, middle and upper class. Knowing now that there are many contributing factors to obesity, the solution does not stem simply from SES. In order to influence the increasing rates of obesity, a holistic approach must be adopted which identifies and improves upon areas such as diet, nutrition and family environment.

In order to discuss obesity, it is important to first understand what obesity is, for the purpose of most studies obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of equal to or greater than 30, while overweight is defined by a BMI between 25 and 29. 9 (Hooper et al. 320). When analyzing the cause and effect relationship of adolescent obesity, two major theories come to mind, the most prevalent of these is the correlation between socioeconomic status (SES) and rates of obesity in America.

For a long period of time in America, the obesity epidemic has thought to be solely due to the issues of declining SES, wherein a trend of substantial weight gain was crippling Americans at an alarming rate. Some of the SES-related issues that were believed to be hindering individuals include a lack of monetary funds, inability to frequent establishment that afforded healthful food choices and an absence of safe locations to exercise.

However, in 2004 while reviewing statistical data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which were regularly conducted between the years 1971 to 2000, Zhang and Wang noticed a trend that indicated SES was not the primary influence affecting obesity rates. This sparked a less popular idea which theorized that the increase in obesity is directly related to environmental stimulus, specifically the upbringing of children, which includes the lack of positive influence in nutritional needs and activity levels.

With all the information being considered, what is the primary contributing factor to which an increase in obesity rates is the result? New research shows that parental/family influences seem to be the recurring commonalities among increasing obesity rates across all levels of economic standing. This refutes the earlier claims which generalized increases in obesity rates primary occurring as a result of low SES (Hooper et all. 329). The National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) is focused primarily on economic Justice for low income families, individuals and communities from across the country.

The NCLEJ was established in 1965 by Edward V. Sparer out of Columbia University, determined to improve specific topics such as child care, civil rights, radical justice, disability rights, health care reform, low-wage workers, food stamps and other welfare programs (National Center for Law and Economic Justice). While still showing genuine concern for the welfare of Americans, the primary group this organization works with is the poverty stricken and lower class.

Utilizing welfare programs to monetarily attempt to increase the quality of life amongst these groups. Working on a different end of the spectrum is the National Association for Health and Fitness (NAHF); it was founded in 1979 by the United States President’s Council on Physical Fitness. This organization revolves around an idea that America as a whole benefit from the improved physical fitness and nutrition of each individual and aims to accomplish this though outreach and education of Americans throughout all classes.

The goals of the NAHF consist of the following: promoting physical fitness and healthy lifestyles, fostering local level councils for health and fitness, encouraging and sharing innovations in health and fitness and supporting existing councils on physical fitness and nutrition (National Association for Health and Fitness). The primary reason these two organizations have yet to be able to join forces and multiply the ability increase their effectiveness results from a difference of opinion pertaining to whom they should help and how they should be specifically given said assistance.

A simple resolution to this would include, both groups understanding that obesity is a medical issue that is affecting the low, middle and upper class. Once this is understood, it is reasonable to recognize that by focusing on Americas youth a plan has to be implemented to do a more effective job with nutritional and health education while also reinstating a more in depth physical fitness program back into the schools. Another key component is to understand that some area which consist of a lower income population will need more assistance than the areas of higher income.

This would be much more beneficial to combating the obesity epidemic than simply increasing welfare programs which have not proven to lower obesity rates as the additional monetary gains in these families are not often spent accordingly. Research has consistently shown that our schools are important in obesity prevention and that while marked improvements have been made, America still needs a great deal of forward progression in diet and physical activities (Story et all. 2-75).

In specific, the physical fitness programs in schools have been underfunded and in some locations completely removed, studies have shown that moderate to high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with lower abdominal adiposity (Ortega et all. 3-7). With this information being easily accessible it should not be a question of where our future focuses should be directed towards, in both the form of monetary programs and educational efforts.