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Central Florida: the Social Implications of Childhood Obesity

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Social Determinants of Childhood Obesity in Central Florida

When it comes to the society of our youth, we see a much different take on adolescents than we did 20 or 30 years ago. We see a population that is growing in not only opinions but also in their body mass. In the past 30 years, there are two times as many children considered obese and four times as many adolescents. This problem has grown and though we are trying to change and help the problem, nothing seems to be working. Not many people realize how much social determinants such as financial status and social support have an effect on childhood obesity. Obesity is the fastest growing epidemic in the US especially. We can implement as many “Let’s Move” campaigns as we want but those only take us just so far. Obesity can cause more immediate health risks such as increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, asthma, sleep apnea, anxiety, depression, and many more health risks all due to these social determinants.

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Social determinants of health are conditions that people live in that can shape the care and health a person has or can afford. These determinants are mostly responsible for the inequity we see in health care from person to person or country to country. These social determinants such as where someone lives, learns, works, and plays has a large effect on a wide range of a person’s health risks (CDC 2017). The social determinants of health for childhood obesity are financial status and social support. All of these have effects on different aspects of a child’s health including mental health and physical health.

Financial Status

Financial status has an effect on anyone’s health whether they truly realize it or not. Overweight or obese people are believed to make up about 30% of the global population. Obesity in children is defined as the child having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile (Bass, Eneli 2015). We see in schools in lower income neighborhoods and areas that struggle to feed their students a basic healthy meal. Families that struggle to “make ends meet” have two areas that they can save money in. Winter Park Day Nursery has found that families that at or close to the poverty line are able to save money in two areas: clothing and food. Families are most likely to spend less money on food. This can lead to increased risk of obesity due to the fact that the foods that are bad for you are cheaper than healthier foods. Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and others have menus that are no more than one dollar. When you have to feed a family of eight and you only have to spend about $10 on food, people tend to opt for whatever will save them money to keep their family in a home (Jo 2014). Most of the McDonald’s that we see are purposely built in low-income areas. Families are most likely to spend less money on food because they can’t save on rent or mortgage, they can’t save on car payments or transportation, and they can’t save money on health costs. However, the more children eat unhealthy foods the more likely they are to have worse medical conditions and the more likely the family is to spend on medical bills rather than saving money by buying healthier food.

Social Support

As children grow older, we become sensitive to things that our peers are saying or making fun of us for. Many children in the US fall victim to bullying if they are overweight or obese. Many times when children eat, they either fall victim to over-eating or under-eating. More often than not, young children stress eat and if they do not have healthy snacks or food to turn to, they gain more weight. As humans, we are more likely to reach for a bag of chips than we are to reach for celery sticks. The same rules apply to our children: they want that food that tastes and looks good to them and it’s likely not the celery sticks. Parents and peers play a very large role in the psychopathy of children that are obese. A study was done to find the relationship between overweight and obese children/young adolescents and their psychopathy based on the support system they have. Many children who are overweight do not have a good support system at home. This study found that the less support a child has to eat healthy at home, the more likely they are to eat non-nutritious foods and gain weight. The same goes for the friends a child has. The study found, very similarly to a home support system, the more bullying a child endures due to their weight, the less likely they are to do anything to change this (Freitas-Rosa et al. 2013). When the former First Lady Michelle Obama introduced her “Let’s Move” campaign, not only was it designed to tackle the public school system’s food choices but it was also designed as a support system targeting childhood obesity and young adult obesity. The National Football League (NFL) designed a similar campaign called “Play 60” that is designed to get kids outside and playing and being active. When kids sit inside, their body isn’t digesting food or carbs or fats properly. All of these different campaigns are designed to not only get kids to be more active but it’s also to combat childhood obesity.

Childhood Obesity and its Health Risks

A child considered to be obese is already predisposed to multiple different health related risks including mental health, physical health, and bodily function health risks. Childhood obesity is the number one precursor to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They are also subject to risks such as insulin resistance, high glucose tolerance, and high cholesterol. Obese children are also likely to have joint problems and musculature discomfort as well as fatty liver disease and much more. When it comes to mental health, they are reported to have a lower quality of life, higher levels of anxiety and depression, and lower self-esteem. There have been reports of bullying from peers and relatives as well due to their obesity (Bass, Eneli 2015).

Childhood Obesity in Central Florida

The University of Central Florida did a study on childhood obesity in Central Florida and childhood obesity prevention (COP) practices. Much of what they found, was that despite the steps families are taking, many schools and nurses are not participating in proper COP practices (Quelly 2017). Many studies within this found that schools are focusing more on standardized testing rather than ensuring that their students are healthy. Many obese children in Central Florida are determined by their family’s financial status on whether they are predisposed to becoming obese and falling in the 95th percentile.

While many steps and preventative measures to combat childhood obesity have been taken, there are still many steps and strides to be made to fully combat this issue. Children have, unfortunately, been predisposed to childhood obesity based on social determinants such as financial stability and the support systems they may or may not have. The biggest factor is the financial stability because the less financially stable a family is, the more likely they are to buy junk food. Maybe instead of focusing so heavily on getting our children to be active, we should focus more on making healthy food options more available to lower income families. Once we find out how to do this, then we will see real progress being made to combat the outbreak of childhood obesity.

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