Obesity: Developing an Advocacy Campaign

911 words | 4 page(s)

While childhood obesity is increasingly recognized as a serious health concern, the reality remains that it has yet to be adequately addressed in terms of impactful advocacy strategy. As may be expected, this health crisis has multiple and severe repercussions; as obese children maintain unhealthy weight levels as they mature, they are highly vulnerable to diabetes, cardiac problems, and a range of other illnesses. Moreover, the trajectory of youth obesity clearly indicates that no effective means of reducing it has yet been implemented: “Over the past 3 decades, obesity rates have increased threefold among U.S. children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years” (Brennan, Brownson, & Orleans, 2014, p. e2). To that end, the following presents two advocacy campaigns intended to impact on the issue, with a critical assessment of each. Lastly, it is proposed that an intense focus on diet and health in the schools may be the most effective and rational means of combating the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Existing Studies and Advocacy Campaigns
That the health care community and sociologists have sought to develop strategies reducing childhood obesity is evident, and necessary. Unfortunately, it appears that proposed campaigns are generally lacking in specificity, as in the 2007 study from Pediatrics, “Recommendations for prevention of childhood obesity.” The article presents in detail the nutritional and dietary realities of how American children develop eating negative eating habits, and it then suggests that parental intervention may be the best means of altering these unhealthy patterns. The underlying rationale is sound: “Parents are responsible for the type of food presented to young children, the portion sizes offered, and the emotional context in which food is eaten” (Davis et al, 2007, p. S236). This being the case, the authors assert that a range of parental strategies be implemented, and generated by interaction with clinicians. When, it is proposed, parents benefit from information and counseling, tactics of goal-setting, positive reinforcement, and cognitive restructuring will combine to encourage children to develop healthy eating habits (Davis et al, 2007, p. S240). In strictly ideological terms, the authors present a fully reasonable campaign. It is, nonetheless, a strategy of recommendation, and one completely reliant on parental efforts largely not in place. Here, then, the noted absence of specificity undermines the strength of the thinking, and is ultimately inadequate in addressing the issue.

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Similarly, “Youth Advocacy as a Tool for Environmental and Policy Changes That Support Physical Activity and Nutrition: An Evaluation Study in San Diego County,” presents a campaign which is highly rational, yet lacking in realistic means of widespread application. The study is based on how youth advocacy initiatives have been identified as helpful in reducing adolescent smoking, which is then see
N as potentially beneficial in combating youth obesity. To that end, the article focuses on the San Diego Youth Engagement and Action for Health (YEAH) initiative, and how this program has produced effective results in lessening obesity. The goals of the organization are to educate, and empower children and teens to take control over their own diets. There is as well latitude in how YEAH functions and in what forms it exists: “Groups may form as part of school classes or groups, community organizations, after-school programs, religious organizations, and teen centers” (Linton et al, 2014). While the study affirms some success, it is also true that a number of YEAH groups reported no significant change in the weights or eating habits of their participants. Moreover, this initiative relies on multiple, cooperative interactions, from schools as offering healthier meals to community health facilities enabling exercise times restricted to young people (Linton et al, 2014). When this advocacy campaign is fully considered, then, it is arguable that the sheer complexity of the strategy, depending upon a wide range of involved organizations, renders it less than efficient in combating childhood obesity.

Proposal and Conclusion
When the two articles are considered, it becomes evident that no abstract or overly complex solution is viable. Parental involvement is, of course, desirable, but it is as well impossible to mandate. Moreover, the basic realities of how children learn and behave must be taken into account, and this leads to the urging of the school as the most instrumental force in generating healthy eating habits in children. On one level, and no matter home influences, elementary grades translate to the very young, so there is the reasonable expectation that the school will have impacts as meaningful as the home environment. On another, it invariably happens that even the youngest children are highly subject to how other children perceive them.
It is well documented that, as children and adolescents have less developed sense of self, peer approval is extremely meaningful to them (Prinstein, Dodge, 2008, p. 174). When schools actively engage in diet education, and offer only healthy foods to children, an exponential and beneficial effect is likely generated because the child’s entire environment is altered. The child is aware of peers influenced to exercise better eating habits, and is consequently all the more motivated to do the same. This advocacy is based on the reality that the school, entered into by the young child, exists as an idea of the greater world to the child. The proposed campaign is as well validated by how it depends only upon educational administration policies, including classes on nutrition and offering only healthy foods to children. As the school so often replaces the home as the child’s dominant environment, the school is likely the best platform from which to effect meaningful change in childhood obesity.

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