Etelson, D., Brand, D. A., Patrick, P. A., & Shirali, A. (2003). Childhood obesity: Do parents recognize this health risk? Obesity Research, 11(11), 1362-1368. Retrieved http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/oby.2003.184.
The purpose of this study was to determine if parents understand the health risks associated with child obesity, whether they know about healthy eating habits, and if they recognize if their child is obese. Parents of children between the ages of 4 to 8 years old completed an anonymous 18 question form when they brought their child into a pediatricians’ office for a well-care visit. Participating parents were also asked to place a mark where they believed their child fell on an analog scale going from, “extremely underweight,” to “extremely overweight.” The purpose of the scale was to assess whether or not parents had an accurate perception of their child’s weight. Two of the questions were related to healthy eating habits and asked about a healthy amount of juice box intake and how often children should eat fast food. Interestingly, whether their child was or was not obese, parents indicated they understood the health risks associated with childhood obesity and had an understanding of healthy eating habits as it relates to limiting juice boxes and fast food. Differences were found in the perceptions parents of overweight children had about their child’s weight compared to the parents who had children with healthy weights when completing the analog scale. Although researchers were lenient in their interpretation of the scale parents of overweight children marked the wrong section 90% of the time. The research did not study why parents of obese children had mis-perceptions about their child’s weight but speculated parents either believed the condition was hereditary and unavoidable or under the impression their child would outgrow it. Based on the research, the recommendation was that pediatricians should teach parents about childhood obesity and encourage them to be involved in obesity prevention programs. Researchers also note that, “effective treatment requires behavioral modification involving diet and physical activity” (Etelson, Brand, Patrick & Shirali, 2003, p. 1367)
Although this article was written in 2003, childhood obesity remains the most prevalent nutritional disease of children and adolescents in the United States (Schwarz, 2012). The research recommended one approach to addressing childhood obesity using pediatricians to improve awareness with parents. While researchers recognized a behavioral modification was necessary to change the diet and physical activity of youth in the United States they did not offer solutions other than working through pediatricians. Now, the President’s wife, Michelle Obama has started a national campaign called, “Let’s Move: America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids.” Her efforts to improve the health of children in the United States have included redesigning the food pyramid, revamping school lunches so they are healthier, and promoting physical activity. She has engaged in an extensive media campaign to educate individuals, families, schools, and communities about ways children can have healthy eating habits and be involved in physical activity.
The similarity between the research and the, “Let’s Move,” campaign is that behaviors as they relate to eating and physical activity need to change. Comparing the recommendations from the research article and the efforts Mrs. Obama has undertaken with her campaign provides an example of the Adaption-Innovation (A-I) theory. Those who take a more adaptive approach to problem solving stay within the boundaries and prefer structure accepting the core as a set of guidelines. In this example, the researchers worked within the boundaries of the healthcare system, using pediatricians to reach parents and accepting the existing approved U.S. growth chart as a basis for determining whether children are obese as the core. Those who take a more innovative approach are less concerned about boundaries and consider them flexible while avoiding the core and preferring less structure. The First Lady took a new approach to the problem, expanding the boundaries by reaching out to get everyone in the community involved and creating new dietary requirements in schools. Her focus is less about raising awareness among only parents to increasing awareness among the nation. She also redesigned the food pyramid rather than accepting the core as the status quo and working with those factors. Jablokow writes, “in order for a person or group to progress (indeed, to survive), they must perceive all relevant opportunities (i.e. determine which are germane and concentrate on those), generate the motive to exploit what they perceive, and deploy the required levels (capabilities) and the appropriate styles to solve each specific problem” (2005, p. 544). Nine years of technological, political, and social changes have provided new opportunities for reaching people and improving awareness of a problem like childhood obesity.
There were a few limitations in the research study that could be improved. I think it would be beneficial to conduct the studies in more than one geographic location. The study only considered one pediatrician’s office in New York. The study could also build in the socioeconomic status of the participants and whether or not the parents are obese so that a gauge of their eating habits can be established. I am also curious to know if socioeconomic status has an impact on healthy eating habits and perceptions of childhood obesity. Further research could be done about why parents have the misperceptions of their child’s weight.
I believe the important aspect of the article is not the method they recommended to approach the problem but rather than they like the First Lady recognize that behaviors must be modified to address the problem of childhood obesity. As a professional, I plan to implement what I have learned through one of the most interesting components of my job. A function of my current position is teaching Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) courses to women, many of whom are parents, educators, and/or are actively engaged in the community. As I facilitate these courses and we engage in physical activity through practicing defensive techniques, we talk about being healthy. This provides an opportunity to discuss of the common misperceptions about childhood obesity and increase awareness of the First Lady’s national campaign. Considering this study and First Lady Obama’s work this could also be implemented in a volunteer capacity. I could work through some local K-12 schools to create committees and partnerships with the community that would focus on awareness of childhood obesity and the resources available now on a national level for programs that focus on healthy eating and activities.
Jablokow, K. W. (2005). The catalytic nature of science: Implications for scientific problem solving in the 21st century. Technology in Society, 27, 531-549. doi: 10.1016/j.techsoc.2005.08.006.
Let’s move: America’s move to raise a healthier generation of kids. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.letsmove.gov/.
Schwarz, S. M. (2012, December 12). Obesity in children. Retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/985333-overview.