Childhood Obesity as a Social Justice Issue

Childhood Obesity as a Social Justice Issue

There was an interesting op-ed on Huffington Post yesterday, arguing that childhood obesity should be treated as a social justice issue. The author, who is a former high school teacher in DC & Virginia, talked about the huge difference he saw between the eating habits of his suburban students and those in the inner city school where he later taught.

That experience and his research into the issue led him to believe that childhood obesity isn't just a public health issue, it's a social justice issue:

It disproportionately affects the poor and minorities. It's also one of those rare cases where the major domestic challenges of our time -- education, health care, poverty -- intersect, and where small changes can have a big impact.

Consider this: a study published this month in Health Affairs found that children from poor families are twice as likely to be obese as children from well-off families (45% vs. 22%). Minority children are far more likely to be obese than white children (41% of black and Hispanic children vs. 27% of white non-Hispanic children are obese). Regardless of race and class, kids who grow up in neighborhoods with rundown housing are more likely to be obese than those in neighborhoods with less decay (36% vs. 31%).

Poverty and minority status don't just cause childhood obesity, though. The biggest problem with childhood obesity is that it doesn't end when the kids grow up. Obesity can lead to a host of medical conditions throughout the lifespan -- diabetes, hypertension, asthma, gallstones -- and even to poverty itself. That's right: obese children are more likely to become impoverished adults, spawning a vicious cycle in which poverty begets obesity, in turn leading to further poverty.

He goes on to write that the solution has several components: 1. making healthy food more affordable and available, 2. educating both children and parents, and 3. research what works.

You can read the article in full here

What do you think? Is childhood obesity a social justice issue? And what can we be doing to turn the tide in our communities and help children live healthier, happier lives? Post your ideas in the comments!

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