Childhood obesity currently exists as a substantial problem in the United States and other countries, due to a combination of factors stemming from a lack of physical activity and insufficient nutrition, among others (Brockman et al., 2010). These are just some of the factors relating to childhood obesity that are found in an individual's macrosystem; cultural and social attributes that surround children, as well as laws and customs, contribute heavily to childhood obesity. Due to the combined macrosystemic components that comprise an individual's socialization, multiple factors contribute to childhood obesity, including media depictions of fast food, limited access to healthy food for low-income families, and more.
Childhood obesity currently exists as a substantial problem in the United States and other countries, due to a combination of factors stemming from a lack of physical activity and insufficient nutrition, among others (Brockman et al., 2010). These habits of a sedentary lifestyle most often translate into inactivity as an adult as well, increasing the risk of mortality and disease (Gustafson and Rhodes, 2006). Obesity and cardiovascular disease is often linked to inactivity in children, causing significant health problems for youth around the world (Cleland and Venn, 2010). More successful interventions promoting physical activity in youth must be found and implemented if youth health is to be improved. These are just some of the factors relating to childhood obesity that are found in an individual's macrosystem; cultural and social attributes that surround children, as well as laws and customs, contribute heavily to childhood obesity.
According to Urie Bronfenbrenner, there are four contexts with which individuals interact in order to form their habits and personalities. One of the most important is the macrosystem; this is the blanket coverage of the various cultural factors that influence an individual's environment. These include socioeconomic status, poverty levels, ethnicity, the level of industrialization in their home country, and more. This particular context deals much more with class and subcultural factors as a whole, and is seen as a cumulative effect - evolving over time, macrosystems exacerbate their particular traits to form new macrosystems in future generations (Bronfenbrenner, 2004).
The macrosystem of a young child is primarily centered around their immediate family and their caretakers, who are typically the birth parents of a child. Parental influences carry a great deal of sway in the activities of children, and the level at which they are physically fit (Gustafson and Rhodes, 2006). There are a great many different kinds of parenting styles, some of which promote physical activity more than others - maternal permissive parenting can provide more physical activity motivation than an authoritarian parenting style (Jago et al., 2011). Other macrosystemic factors that lead to childhood obesity include media depictions of food (including advertisements for fast food), food production and distribution policies that contribute to limited access to healthy foods, and others.
Social norms and cultural attributes in various nations and subcultures also contribute to childhood obesity; in minority and low-income areas, where healthy food is too expensive and inaccessible, and larger body images are much more tolerated, there are much higher instances of childhood obesity (Trost et al., 2003). There is substantial socialization that occurs in low-income areas, which are typically inhabited by mostly African-Americans and Latinos, that create implicit endorsement and acceptance of obesity through pervasive fast food cultures and media depictions of acceptable role models who are plus-sized or obese. While these factors are in no way directed solely at minorities, the level to which it occurs is disproportionate. Possible explanations include the de-emphasizing of physical activity in school, easy access to fast food, and affordability of low-income families to purchase (comparatively) more expensive, healthy food (Eisenmann et al., 2008).
While there are mixed correlations between physical activity of parents and of children, there is a strong correlation between children's physical activity and the level of parental support they receive for such activities. The level of early maternal employment, for example, largely determines the extent to which children develop proper eating, exercise and behavioral patterns; parents who are not given appropriate leave to care for their children early on can negatively impact their sense of nutrition and physical activity - thereby leading to childhood obesity (Lero, 2003). One large correlate exists between parental support and youth physical activity in both indirect and direct ways, making these pursuits more self-efficable (Trost et al., 2003). This makes parental involvement in the physical fitness of their child of paramount importance.
One vital factor to determining parental influences is to dictate influences of both parental physical activity and parental instrumental support; learning exactly how they can affect a child's motivation to perform physical activities can help to determine what interventions would be most effective. Trost et al. (2003) determined that there is a great connection between the two concepts of parental support and physical activity, but are as yet unsure what causes the change in child behavior. The opposite is also true, in that parents can often actively restrict the child's behavior if they perceive a risk to the child's health (Carver et al., 2010). Parents who are overprotective of their children can, often, restrict their physical activity and active transport in order to prevent them from incurring harm; however, this also extremely limits their opportunities for active play.
The 'displacement theory' is an important one to consider when contemplating possible solutions for solving the problem of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. This theory posits that time spent in sedentary activities displaces time potentially allocated to physical activities and actions pertaining towards a healthy, active lifestyle (Cleland and Venn, 2010). The overall purpose of initiating interventions such as active play is to decrease the number of active time 'displaced' by sedentary activities, thus creating the potential for increased physical fitness.
Despite the importance of parental involvement as a macrosystemic factor in childhood obesity, the influence of media on children's eating habits must also be explored. The broad societal settings that facilitate this functioning are equally as important as familial and communal expectations regarding diet and lifestyle. The ubiquity and omnipresence of mass media at a societal level elevates it from an exosystem or microsystem to a component of the macrosystem, and its influence on childhood obesity is great. Media depictions of fast food make that particular lifestyle choice more desirable, and the emphasis on its convenience and deliciousness over healthy food socializes children into shifting their behaviors to favor unhealthy food and fast food (Eisenmann et al., 2008).
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