Childhood obesity is a prominent problem throughout the U.S. among 2- to 19-year-olds. While cases of obesity have always been present, childhood obesity is growing, having tripled since the 1970s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 13.7 million U.S. children and adolescents experience the effects of childhood obesity.
Nurses have a role to play in tackling the effects of childhood obesity, and those focusing on pediatrics or family practice should be aware of its causes, consequences, and continued rise. Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) help curb childhood obesity and the proliferation of conditions brought on by the condition. Advanced degrees, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing or online post-master’s certificates in nursing offer family and pediatrics specializations that help professionals develop the knowledge and skills needed to intervene in childhood obesity.
Childhood Obesity at a Glance
Studies reveal that children between the ages of 2 and 5 account for about 13% of those affected. The difference between being overweight and being obese is dictated by a child’s body mass index (BMI), which considers an individual’s weight in relation to height. According to the National Health, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH), a normal BMI is in the range of 18.5 to 24.9. A child or adolescent with a BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight, while a BMI over 30 deems the individual obese.
Over the past four decades, childhood obesity has become a national issue, impacting both the educational and medical fields. Medical experts, such as advanced nurse practitioners, examine the physical and psychological roots of the issue. Childhood obesity is typically attributed to:
- Genetic makeup
- Eating habits
- Physical activity and exercise
- Sleep patterns
Some physical factors, such as a child’s genetic makeup, cannot be altered. However, changing other factors, such as eating habits, exercise, and sleep patterns, can improve many obese children’s health. Experiences that have a psychological impact, such as negative events in childhood, can also contribute to obesity, revealing how childhood obesity can be attributed to both visible and invisible causes.
The effects of childhood obesity consist of immediate and long-term physical and mental health risks. Unhealthy eating habits and a lack of exercise can lead to sudden breathing problems and bodily discomfort, especially in the joints. Long-term effects can result in health issues such as cardiovascular or fatty liver disease. Obesity can also negatively affect self-esteem and psychological wellness.
How Nurses Can Help
While different factors can contribute to childhood obesity, a child’s environment and community can be the most influential. Parents and teachers should be able to help children practice healthy eating and exercising habits, but nurses also play a role. As nurse practitioners (NPs) begin to recognize the effects of childhood obesity, they can begin to intervene.
Family nurse practitioners and pediatric nurse practitioners can help treat childhood obesity, in traditional clinical settings and other environments. NPs should be able to determine whether a child is overweight or obese based on one’s BMI. Once a child is determined obese, NPs can plan to intervene through promoting healthy activities. NPs can refer pediatric patients to local health food stores, exercise facilities, sports centers, school programs, or other resources. They can also communicate with one another regarding how to best address childhood obesity effects with patients and their parents or guardians.
Advanced nurse practitioners can also contribute to research regarding childhood obesity. After graduating with an MSN or doctorate in nursing, advanced practice nurses can work as research nurses. While RNs interact with patients directly, research nurses collect and analyze data for improving the health of patients. They can examine the effects of childhood obesity and work toward promoting healthier lifestyles. Resources such as the Childhood Obesity Prevention Special Interest Group (CO SIG) facilitate the sharing of information across various environments and specialties. NPs can network through these sources to better assist pediatric patients. FNPs and PNPs can also help design and implement strategies to mitigate childhood obesity before it becomes problematic for an individual.
The Role of Nursing Leadership
A nurse’s ability to intervene can positively change a child’s life. Nurses recognizing childhood obesity effects can deploy strong leadership skills to build trust with children’s patients. Once a child feels comfortable with a nurse, the nurse can offer medical support and refer the child to health resources. Nurses can also advocate for changes to policies at the local, state, and national levels. They can make a large impact, creating programs associated with reducing childhood obesity.
RNs can prepare to take on leadership roles in the field through pursuing higher education. In an MSN program, for example, nurses develop the skills to become advanced practice nurses. While all nurses must earn a license to practice, nurse practitioners with an MSN or post-master’s certificate may hold higher positions and make a higher salary than RNs with only a BSN. By studying to earn advanced degrees or specialized certificates, nurses acquire necessary skills for advancing their careers in specific areas of health.
Nurses who earn an online Master of Science in Nursing degree at Regis College complete a curriculum catered to helping patients at different ages with different health care needs. NPs can also build upon their skills and expand their career horizons through earning post-master’s certificates. Regis College’s post-master’s certificates, which offer family (FNP) and pediatrics (PNP) specializations, can help advanced practice nurses build expertise in these distinct areas of nursing and refine their leadership skills.
Nursing Intervention Begins Today
Through pursuing higher education, nurses develop the skills and gain the practical experience to excel in their practice. Nurses can specialize in several areas, learning how to become leaders in their field of study. Those looking to help reduce the effects of childhood obesity can become FNPs or PNPs and join a community of nurses improving the lives of children. Learn more about how the online Master of Science in Nursing and online post-master’s certificates at Regis College can help prepare you for an important career in family and pediatric nursing.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Childhood Obesity Facts
International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, “Implementation of Childhood Obesity Identification and Prevention Strategies in Primary Care: A Quality Improvement Project”
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, Childhood Obesity SIG
National Association of School Nurses, Childhood Obesity
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk
NursingCenter, Childhood Obesity