Rapidly rising rates of childhood obesity, and the increasing burden of disease and disability consequentially caused, are having grave social and economic consequences that are quickly becoming urgent and unavoidable. Now being considered an epidemic, the threat is finally being addressed head on.
In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents, meaning that more than one third of today's children and adolescents are overweight or obese. The scale is shocking and the consequences complex. And yet, the cause of the issue is simple: caloric imbalance - too few calories burned for the too many calories consumed.
As a paediatric nurse, registered in the UK, I will inevitably encounter diabetes - regardless of what area of nursing I specialise in. Luckily for me, I somewhat enjoy monitoring blood sugar, calculating carbs and figuring out how much insulin I need to inject into my patient. Like many medical professionals, I quickly became confident in my understanding of diabetes and how it impacts patients and the care they receive.
That was, until I was faced with the challenge of childhood obesity. Well-rehearsed routines became frustrated as I cared for a patient so large that it took three nurses to roll, manoeuvre and reposition her. Painstakingly, we conducted this procedure at regular intervals in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of pressure sores appearing due to her immobility. My motivation each time we moved her? The relief of knowing that I wouldn’t have to treat pressure wounds alongside her Type 2 diabetes, breathing difficulties and an array of other health problems related to her extremely high BMI.
Currently travelling throughout the USA, I spend my time visiting children’s hospitals, public health departments and a plethora of organisations affiliated with the task of tackling childhood obesity. Through research and conversation, I have been afforded an amazing opportunity to look into the unique and innovative ways that we can both prevent and treat childhood obesity.
The contributing factors to childhood obesity are vast and complex. However, my studies so far have highlighted that parents often play a major contributing factor. Often seen more prominently in lower socio-economic populations, a great wealth of research has shown that over 90% of parents believe their child to be ‘just right’, when often they carry more weight than needed. Helping parents develop the confidence and skills to support a healthy lifestyle and emotional well-being in the family through education and training is one way we can begin to change this culture.
The problem is huge, the complications complex, the solutions varied; but as I am quickly discovering, only when parents wake up and realise that everything is not ‘just right’ will we be able to address all that is startlingly wrong with childhood obesity.
Words: Sarah Eitzen