Obesity in African American Children

1485 words | 5 page(s)

Today, childhood obesity and numerous health risks associated with it become a major global health problem. In spite of the common efforts made by researchers, public officials, government, media and healthcare providers, constantly bringing attention to this growing health concern, the rates of overweight and obese children in the United States stay alarmingly high. Evidence exist, that children from certain ethnic and racial communities are disproportionately affected by the epidemics of obesity. African American children show significantly higher obesity rates if compared to their peers from other racial groups. The results of the survey conducted by Ogden and colleagues indicate that approximately 31.7 % of white children from 2 to 19 years of age are overweight or obese, while this index among African American children in much higher – 35.9 % (Ogden, 2010). This paper aims at discussing the problem of obesity among African American children, while investigating how social, cultural, and behavioral features of this ethnic group affect this health challenge and offering possible solutions for the problem.

During the last 30 years, the general prevalence of obesity has skyrocketed from 10 to 18 percent among adolescents from 12 to 19 years of age. For African-American adolescents, these rates have increased from 13.4 to 24.4 %. This condition affects children of all ages. Today, among young African-Americans, aged 2-5 years old around 11 % are already obese (CDC, 2015) . The reasons why the prevalence of childhood obesity is much higher among African Americans are complex, and likely involve various factors, such as physiology, genetics, social status, culture, environment, and health behaviors (Caprio et al., 2008).

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When speaking about an ideal female body, its perception among representatives of different ethnic groups may vary. For instance, a perfect body size for an African American woman is significantly larger than it is for a white woman. This means that a woman with a high BMI is more likely to be considered beautiful or attractive in the African American surrounding (Powell & Kahn, 1995). Women are typically responsible for caring, feeding, and educating children in accordance with the cultural understandings and beliefs existing in the family. It is not surprising that the mother’s perception of beauty is transferred to her children with respect to their own body image. Many African Americans tend to believe that weight depends only on genetics and that there is no efficient ways to control it (Hudson, 2008.)

One of the most important factors that influences high obesity rates among African American children and adolescents is unhealthy diet (Geyen, 2012). Traditional recipes and foods are deeply rooted into the African American culture. Many of the recipes are passed from generation to generation and are highly valued. Traditional meals often include large quantities of salt, sugar and animal fat, considered unhealthy by most of the dietitians and nutritionists around the world. Many African Americans do not accept any diet different from the one that they got used to, which results in high obesity rates.

Fast-food marketing strategies, often targeting specific racial or ethnic groups, also play their role in shaping nutritional culture. For example, exposure to television advertising related to fast-food is found to be 60% higher among African American children, than among their white peers (Powell, Szczypka & Chaloupka, 2007) . Such marketing, in turn, is able to affect belief systems of children, changing their preferences from healthy foods to nutrition high in calories.

Similar to nutrition, children acquire the physical activity models from their parents. Consequently, if the cultural tradition considers rest after a long working day more healthy than physical exercise, children will lack understanding of the physical activity importance for maintaining healthy body weight (Airhihenbuwa, Kumanyika, Agurs & Lowe, 1995). Compared to their white peers, African American children tend to decrease their levels of physical activity with age. According to the results of the study conducted by the Henderson in 2007, African American children and adolescents tend to spend longer time in front of the TV then their white peers. The relationship between lack of exercising, excess television watching and obesity is obvious. 

Childhood Obesity is deemed to be an urgent public health priority in the United States. Numerous measures have already been taken on the local, state and federal levels to combat the issue of childhood obesity. The Institute of Medicine of National Academies (2006) has issued recommendations for the government to follow in order to combat the epidemics of obesity, advocating for collaboration of different foundations, organization and community resources. CDC (2009) has initiated and funded a set of interventions aimed at decreasing the obesity prevalence through promotion of weight loss and prevention of excessive weight gain.

The Childhood Obesity Research Summit conducted by the scientists from the American Heart Association has become a useful in coordination of the collaborative efforts along multiple stakeholders in developing and innovative strategies for childhood obesity prevention and treatment (Daniels et al., 2009).

A number of national foundations are currently working on resolving the issue of childhood obesity. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has offered strategies aimed at changing public policies, corporate practices and community environments to improve nutrition and promote physical activity of American children (RWJF, 2015). Healthy Food and Fitness program initiated by W.K. Kellog Foundation is encouraging healthy foods consumption and construction of convenient places for child activity and play. California Project LEAN has put numerous efforts in order to increase society awareness about the childhood obesity epidemics. It is important for all national organizations and funds to continue combating child obesity in collaboration, promoting healthy lifestyles and changing culture that causes weight gain.

Childhood obesity is a very serious health concern. Interdisciplinary teams including nurses, doctors, social workers and physical therapist should get involved with health promotion of obese children and their families . It is important to focus on promoting healthy behaviors, such as balanced diet, plenty of physical exercises in families, school and communities, modifying habits and changing unhealthy lifestyles. It is a responsibility of community nurses to promote healthy life-style and particularly healthy diet in society. Nurses should be involved in educating the African American families about the health dangers represented by consumption of fried food, nutrition rich in salt and sugar. Families should be advised to consume more fruits and vegetables, as well as food rich in fiber (Rabbit, A. & Coyne, I).

A program aimed at changing nutrition behaviors of African Americans could be a useful step on the way to overcoming obesity epidemics. Mothers, fathers, children and whole families should be educated about health dangers represented by the consumption of large amounts of salt, sugar and animal fats. They should be recommended how to make healthy choices for food preparation and consumption.

Nutrition assistance projects should be created to help African American families with lower income gain access to more affordable healthy food. Available health programs should use culturally sensitive communication, along with a variety of information channels and methods (including television and social media) in order to reach communities of color effectively. The amount of fast-food advertising should be limited, particularly one targeting African American children through internet, television, radio and outdoor ads. It is as well important to improve access of African Americans to safe physical activity centers. Access to public parks, pools and green space should be improved in neighborhoods occupied by representatives of this ethnic group.

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