Essay on Applying the Social-Ecological Model to Solve Childhood Obesity

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1750 Words
Date:  2022-03-15


Exposure to particular different conditions by human beings causes different health issues. Natural conditions can cause some, while social conditions cause others. When people interact with the social and biological conditions in different ways, their body responds differently to these conditions, which result in health disparities. To understand the contributing factors of health disparities, health professionals have come up with a model known as the Social-Ecological Model (SEM). This model is useful in developing approaches to promote positive health outcomes. In this essay, levels of influence of the SEM model will be used to attempt to reduce the health disparities present in childhood obesity. Out of the five SEM levels of influence, the most critical level of intervention to solve obesity in children will also be suggested.

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In the past, the issue of obesity was prevalent in adults. However, in the recent past, the number of children with obesity has been rising among children and adolescents, which puts more people at risk of suffering more health complications. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2019a), the percentage of children and adolescents between the ages of 2-19 years is 18.5 in the United States. CDC also noted that childhood obesity was more prevalent among specific communities than others. This raises the need to apply the SEM to find a solution to this issue of obesity in children.

Levels of Influence of the Social-Ecological Model

Individual Factors

Individual factors are the characteristics of an individual that influence their behavior change. Examples of the characteristics include their attitude, developmental history, self-efficacy, economic status, sexual orientation, among others (Brown, 2011). For most children, most of their characteristics get influenced by the adults around them. Due to this influence, the individual factors that contribute to obesity in children are not purely individual. However, in her dissertation, Brown (2011) explained that any intervention by physicians such as nutritionists and physical educators would be considered an individual factor. Obesity in children or adults is caused by an energy imbalance where an individual eats more calories than they can burn over a long period. It can also be caused by biological factors such as inherited genes that are prone to energy imbalance from their parents. In children, this energy imbalance can be caused by individual factors.

When people become overweight or obese, one of the recommended ways of losing the extra weight is through exercising. However, some children have a negative attitude towards exercise, such that they feel that exercising is like a punishment. Controlling the issue of weight in such children is challenging, and this contributes to health disparity. In many schools, physical exercises are part of the curriculum, and this plays a part in preventing the issue of obesity. However, in other schools, the emphasis is on academic achievement; in-active children are exposed to the risk of becoming overweight (Williams & Greene, 2018). When this inactivity in some children is extended for an extended period, it becomes their behavioral characteristic, an individual factor in the SEM model. The consequence is a disparity in childhood obesity.

Interpersonal Processes and Relations with Primary Social Groups

These are processes and relations that can directly influence a child's behavior, such as social networks, family, friends, religious networks, traditions, among others. Depending on these relations, a child may be at risk of developing obesity. An example of these relations is family relations. During childhood, the family plays a significant role in influencing a child's health behavior. This includes healthful eating and physical activity. A parent or other family member can either cause or prevent obesity in children through how they carry out nutritional and dietary patterns. They can also prevent or cause obesity in their children through encouraging or discouraging a physically active lifestyle (Callahan, 2014).

Research shows that family structures can also put children at risk of becoming obese. In the past, the norm in a family structure was that one parent was working while the other would stay at home and take care of children. However, in the recent past, both parents are usually at work, and the children are taken care of by other people who could instill specific behavioral patterns that expose the children to obesity. For example, children who live with their grandparents have been found to have higher BMIs than children who live with their parents (Callahan, 2014). The level of a parent's knowledge and their health attitude can also influence a child's weight, as explained by Callahan (2014) in her dissertation. To provide proper nutrition to a child, a parent requires a certain level of nutrition knowledge.

Institutional Factors

The school attended by a child falls into this level of the institutional factor. Between the ages of 2-17, the institution that a child has the most contact with is the school, and it plays a vital role in shaping a child's life. Some factors associated with school, such as physical environment, physical activity, type of food eaten, knowledge acquired, among others, can expose a child to obesity (Callahan, 2014). In the past, schools were mostly all about academic excellence. However, with time, this has changed, and more schools have introduced physical activity in the curriculum. Some schools are also teaching children how to adopt healthy eating. In some demographics, the old curriculum of academic excellence only is still practiced, and this, in some way, promotes obesity in children, further contributing to the health disparity.

Considering that children are at school almost every day the day, schools have the opportunity to alter a child's eating habits (Callahan, 2014). A school can promote healthy eating by providing the appropriate food or can unknowingly promote unhealthy eating. If a school is providing foodstuffs that could promote obesity like providing meat every day and then, on the other hand, the children get little opportunity to engage in physical activity, children will be at risk of becoming obese, as explained by Callahan (2014) in her dissertation. Obese children also face the issue of bullying and prejudice. Bullying sometimes forces the children to skip school time, and it could affect their situation. For example, a child may miss the physical exercise session to avoid bullying by other children during the exercise. This could worsen a child's obesity issue, further promoting health disparity.

Community Factors

This SEM level is associated with the surrounding community environmental setting. It includes factors like the distance from home to school, means of travel to school, availability of parks, proximity to shopping centers, neighborhood security, among others. All the above factors can contribute to childhood obesity in one way or the other (Callahan, 2014). For example, children who live just next to the school or who live in school are at risk of becoming obese, comparing them to other children who have to walk for a long distance to school. A child who does not walk to school and does not get involved in any physical activity in school or at home will be at more risk of becoming obese. The neighborhood security can also promote obesity. In some areas, children cannot go to exercise outside their compound because of security issues in the neighborhood. Others are forced to commute to school even when the distance is short simply because it is not safe for them to walk to school. This promotes an inactive life, and it could contribute to childhood obesity.

Public Policy

In this level, certain groups of the public have already realized that there is a problem in child obesity, and something needs to be done. Governments intervene to create healthier environments that discourage obesity. More research funds are devoted to coming up with effective measures of controlling childhood obesity (Callahan, 2014). Most of the interventions focus on children when they are at school. For example, CDC (2019b) has proposed a school wellness policy through which schools can refer to when creating school nutrition and physical activity programs. Such interventions can help address the issue of childhood obesity.

SEM Model Level that Would Best Solve the Issue of Childhood Obesity

Considering all the levels of the SEM model discussed above, there is not any single level that can be regarded as useless. Any level depends on other levels in one way or the other. However, considering that children have most of their childhood time spent in school, the institutional level is the best intervention level to solve the issue of childhood obesity. Since many factors cause this issue, solving the issue is also challenging (Callahan, 2014). The school is the best intervention because it can employ physicians who can change the child's behavior at an individual level, like changing their attitude towards physical activities. Schools also have the opportunity to implement any public policy issued by other institutions such as the CDC that promote a healthy lifestyle. In situations where the parent at the interpersonal level lacks the knowledge to adopt a healthy lifestyle, the school can be able to intervene through feeding the child with the necessary knowledge for a healthy lifestyle. This places the school or the institutional level in a better position to intervene and address the issue of childhood obesity.


It is the goal of every human being to live a healthy lifestyle. However, a life that is entirely free from health issues is next to impossible. Some people experience health issues more than other people due to different exposure to causative conditions. To attempt to solve these health issues, health professionals have done a wide range of research and have come up with methods to solve the issues. The SEM model is one of these models which can be applied to solve health disparities such as the one in childhood obesity. The SEM model has several levels of intervention as discussed earlier. Each of those levels is important, and if intervention is done at each level, the issue of childhood obesity would be solved.


Brown, S. L. (2011). Using a social-ecological model to examine obesity interventions. Retrieved from

Callahan, K. (2014). Assessing the social and ecological factors that influence childhood overweight and obesity (Doctoral dissertation, East Tennessee State University). Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, June 19). Local school wellness policy. Retrieved October 21, 2019, from

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, June 24). Childhood obesity facts. Retrieved October 21, 2019, from

Williams, S. E., & Greene, J. L. (2018). Childhood overweight and obesity: affecting factors, education, and intervention. Journal of Childhood Obesity, 03(02). doi:10.21767/2572-5394.100049

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