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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
think of their child as healthy if he or she has no serious medical conditions, and they embrace the hope that the overweight child will outgrow the problem. They may also hesitate to raise weight-related issues due to their concerns that this may lower the child’s self-esteem and potentially encourage him or her to develop an eating disorder. School-age children, however, do not generally view obesity as a health problem as long as it does not significantly affect appearance and performance (Borra et al., 2003). Being obese, whether as a child or an adult, is highly stigmatized and viewed as a moral failing, among some educators (Price et al., 1987), health professionals (Teachman and Brownell, 2001), and even very young children (Cramer and Steinwert, 1998; Latner and Stunkard, 2003).
Further, individuals and consumers vary in the priority they place on healthy eating and an active lifestyle, and they hold a spectrum of views on health regarding weight management, weight control, and wellness (Buchanan, 2000; Strategy One, 2003). Consumer research reveals that Americans express not having enough time to fit everything into their day that they would like to, with the consequence that their health may be neglected (Strategy One, 2003).
In a recent national poll of 1,000 U.S. adult respondents, half of the respondents viewed obesity as a public health problem that society needs to solve while the other half considered it a personal responsibility or choice that should be dealt with privately (Lake Snell Perry & Associates, 2003).
However, Americans do appear more uniformly willing to support proactive actions to reduce obesity in children and youth, especially in the school setting (Lake Snell Perry & Associates, 2003; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2003; Widmeyer Polling & Research, 2003). Childhood obesity presumably engenders more support for societal-level approaches because children, who are thought to have less latitude in food and activity choices than adults, are unlikely to be blamed by society for becoming obese. Understanding consumer perceptions and knowledge of public awareness about obesity will be essential in order to design an effective multimedia and public relations campaign supporting obesity prevention (see Chapter 5).
Emerging Programs and Policies
As it has done with many other child health concerns, from whooping cough, polio, and measles to use of toddlers’ seats in automobiles, the United States is now addressing the growing problem of childhood obesity. State legislatures, federal agencies, school boards, teachers, youth programs, parents, and others are mobilizing to address the array of interrelated issues associated with the development, and potential prevention, of childhood obesity. Because adult overweight and obesity rates are even higher than