Combating Childhood Obesity with Systems Science

Combating Childhood Obesity with Systems Science


[Background music] Childhood obesity has rapidly become a global epidemic.
An estimated 42 million children less than 5 years of age are now considered obese.
The epidemic is no longer secluded to the western developed world where fast-food is
plentiful and supermarkets line their shelves with sugar- and fat-laden processed foods.
In fact, according to the Johns Hopkins Global Obesity Prevention Center, 5 out of 6 obese
children are from developing countries Today, more people die from obesity-related
diseases than from malnutrition. What’s more, malnutrition and obesity are
not mutually exclusive. Not only is obesity often accompanied by a
lack of nutrients in the developed world, where diets are low in nutrient-rich fruits
and vegetables, and high in nutrient-poor processed food;
in developing countries, many children suffer from insufficient pre-natal and infant nutrition,
and then as they age, they face a diet of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods.
And of course food is not the only culprit contributing to obesity. Increasingly sedentary
lifestyles further compound the problem. Today, diseases that were rarely, if ever seen
in young children just two decades ago have become commonplace.
Many children now have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high
cholesterol. Children are developing Type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems caused
by excessive weight, sleep apnea that reduces oxygen flow to the brain, fatty liver disease,
and acid reflux. Obesity also takes a psychological toll on
children resulting in low self-esteem and poor performance in school.
But tackling the problem isn’t as simple as telling children to eat right and get more
exercise. In fact, simply addressing one aspect of the
problem may exacerbate the situation. For example, efforts to increase exercise often
lead to simultaneous increases in consumption of high-calorie foods.
There are many societal and cultural influences at play that contribute to the global childhood
obesity epidemic A systems science approach must be used to
tackle the complexity of this issue. But what is a systems science approach? A systems science approach views the issue
from a holistic perspective. It requires an interdisciplinary task force to address all
the facets underlying the obesity epidemic. A systems science approach will address the
policies, economics, environmental influences, cultural influences, underlying behaviors,
and physiology that contribute to obesity. It will integrate this information using big
data analyses and high-tech simulations to predict outcomes of possible interventions.
A systems science approach will track the dynamics of obesity data over space and time.
Using this type of holistic approach will help to formulate a unified strategy for combating
the global epidemic of childhood obesity. [Background music]

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