Friday, March 29, 2013

Blog 7 - Magnitude and Indicators

I have decided to further narrow my problem definition in this way: The rise in obesity among 12 to 18 year olds in the United States over the past 15 years. I have decided to define obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. I have decided to use BMI for my definition of “obese” because it has been proven to be a reliable measure of body fat among the United States population.

When looking at the magnitude of childhood obesity in the United States, it is clear that it has grown and continues to do so overtime. In fact, “since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled” (source 3). Obesity is the #2 cause of preventable death in the United States and 9 million children/teens (ages 6-19) are defined as overweight. “From 1998 to 2003, the prevalence of obesity increased from 13.05% to 15.21%” (source 3). With these data and stats, childhood obesity is definitely a rapidly rising issue in the United States.

There are numerous surveillance systems used in the United States to track obesity rates. Some examples of the collection of data include personal household interviews, physical examinations and surveys.

A direct indicator directly measures the problem. An example of a direct indicator could be the percentage of kids who drink more than one sugary drink per day. This could be a big indicator because “sugar drinks are the largest source of added sugar and an important contributor of calories in the diets of children in the United States” (source 5). These drinks add calories quickly to a child’s diet, which overtime contributes to the increasing obesity rates. Another indicator could be the amount of television that a child watches each day. Watching television is a sedentary activity, which contributes to the lack of physical activity for a child each day. For another direct indicator, one could look at the percentage of middle and high schools that offer less healthy foods in their cafeterias. The majority of children get their lunch at their school’s cafeteria, so it is important to look at what kind of foods the cafeteria offers each day.

On the other hand, an indirect indicator instead measures the related factors. A main indirect indicator of childhood obesity would be the lack of physical activity. A healthy diet includes physical activity, so it is essential that a person exercise regularly along with eating a balanced diet. Another indirect indicator could be genetics. A researcher could look at a child’s genetic history, especially his or her parents, in order to see any trends dealing with obesity that may occur. Looking at these stats could help a researcher determine any trends early and possibly prevent any causes of obesity before they begin. More indirect indicators could include the environment where a child lives and his or her eating habits. If a child lives in a house that is in a food desert, he will most likely have less healthy foods in his house to eat. When thinking about eating habits, the foods that a child eats early on in life tend to become his favorite foods later on in life or foods that he eats most often. If these are unhealthy foods, it could lead to unhealthy eating habits for the rest of the child’s childhood.

A weakness in my information could be dealing with a person’s BMI. Although it is a proper measure of a person’s body fat, it does not really take muscle into account. This could cause problems because a person’s BMI could say they are obese when they are in fact simply very muscular. My indicators could also be weak because of the bias they may include. However, the surveillance systems that are used for my topic could be seen as strengths because the data from surveillance systems is concrete evidence or documentation of one’s personal information when dealing with weight and obesity.



  1. I really liked your post. I think you have included some very strong direct and indirect indicators. The only suggestion I have is, wouldn't amount of time watching television be considered an indirect indication as it is not the source of the problem, but instead a contribution? I honestly don't know the answer to the question, I am just asking. The rest of your data is very strong and I think it was a very good idea to specify your problem definition even more than you had.

  2. Thanks for your post. I would argue that a direct measure of the problem would be the average BMI of children 12-18 years old. I would further encourage you to look at a narrower population of children (maybe from your hometown, or Baltimore or from a particular background). All children may be a fairly difficult group to consider all the factors without making too many broad generalizations.

    FYI- the CDC defines childhood obesity as being above the 95th percentile for a given age, not a specific BMI number as that used for adults:

    When thinking of the magnitude of the problem you will have to prove that 1. Obesity is a causative and preventable risk factor for disease. 2. Obesity is getting worse in your population. You may want to think about separating these two when you are making an argument for the magnitude of the problem.