Jeanne is an honor student in the 6th grade. Her attendance, manners and academics are impeccable. Clearly, she comes from a great family and home. She is drug-free, a virgin, attends a local faith-based institution and active in many community-based initiatives to help poor families in Baltimore City. Jeanne’s parents are loving, active and involved parents. For all intensive purposes, Jeanne‘s parents are the ideal parents. Her parents boastfully affixed two mid-sized colorful bumper stickers on their minivan confirming they are the “Proud Parents of An Honor Student”.
Jeanne’s parents excel in the following prominent parental roles: Caregiver, Economic Provider, Emotional Supporter, Moral Teacher, Mentor and Protector. Her parents have done all the essential duties required to ensure Jeanne develops into an adult of great character and promise. But one area Jeanne’s parents have ignored is the parental role of Health Promotion. Parental Health Promotion is defined as the role of parents in modeling and encouraging healthy-lifestyle knowledge, behavior, and expectations of their children and adolescents.
Jeanne is 4 feet 5 inches, and she weighs 200 pounds. She has been obese since she was 5-years old, and her “baby-fat excuses” expired years ago. Based on Jeanne’s age and height, she has a 50.2 body mass index (BMI). The12-year old honor student is officially an obese pre-teen. Jeanne’s BMI was calculated by using her weight and height. BMI provides an indicator of body fat. Unfortunately, Jeanne’ salarming obesity status puts the bright and community-conscious pre-teen at risk of serious health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. These illnesses will surely decrease her mobility and quality of life. Sadly, diseases of this nature will more than likely put Jeanne at risk of premature death. Ironically, because of Jeanne’s childhood obesity, she faces the very morbidity and mortality outcomes of American adults five times her age.
Like millions of American parents of obese children, Jeanne’s parents are not anxious to advertise a bumper sticker on their vehicle highlighting Jeanne’s weight and/or BMI. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the United States, and parents are not viewing Health Promotion as an essential parenting role. Parents are ignoring healthy eating, regular exercise, and water drinking recommendations not only for themselves, but for their children as well. According to the Center for American Progress, the issue of childhood obesity is even more severe among communities of color. African American (35.9%) and Latino (38.2%) obesity rates are higher than Whites (29.3 %). [http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/06/childhood_obesity.html]
The blame for childhood obesity in America has been attributed to fast food, junk food, media, video games and lack of regular physical exercise. Some states have lawsuits aimed at fast food establishments, sugary soft drink companies, fatty food manufacturers and even parents. While the lawsuits are extreme in nature, none of them address the fundamental need to aid parents in enhancing their Health Promotion role.
Several state cases in California, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas[i]South Carolina and Ohio cited medical neglect as the rationale for removing obese children from their parents’ homes and placing them in foster care. [http://www.weightlosssurgerychannel.com/breaking-wls-news/childhood-obes… [http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/11/27/obese-third-grader-taken-f….
Blaming people, places and things does not assist in answering the question, “What can be done to help parents become better Health Promoters for their children?” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has charts to help parents determine the BMI of their children http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/cdc_charts.htm.
Compared to childrenand adolescents (ages 2-19 years old)of the same sex and age, overweight is defined as a BMI 85th to less than the 95th percentile; Obesity is defined as a BMI equal to or greater than the 95th. According to the recent National Health and Examination Survey, Jeanne is among the 12.5 million children and adolescents in the United States who are obese [Data from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES].
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign encourages families and communities to increase physical exercise, water consumption and reduce their intake of foods high in fat and cholesterol [http://www.letsmove.gov]. The campaign’s user-friendly approach and family-focused tools help parents understand their role as Health Promoters.
Parenting is one of the most challenging yet rewarding roles any human being could experience. Children often model positive and negative behaviors of their parents. How dramatic it would be, if at 25 years old, Jeanne died from type-2 diabetes or a heart attack due to medical complications stemming from childhood obesity. The potential of this intelligent civic leader would never be realized because Health Promotion was never deemed an important parental role.
Baltimore City and this country’s health and future are in the hands of today’s children. Children who deserve to live long and vibrant lives. The parental role of Health Promotion is just as important as being a Caregiver, Economic Provider, Emotional Supporter, Moral Teacher, Mentor and Protector. Wouldn’t it be great if vehicles around Baltimore City begin to promote bumper stickers that read, “I am Healthy, and I am the Proud Parent of A Healthy Honor Student”.
- [i]Murtagh L. Judicial interventions for morbidly obese children. J Law Med Ethics. 2007; 35 (3):497–499, pmid: 17918666.