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Five Factors Contributing to the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Children are often unaware of the patterns or conditions that cause obesity, therefore, placing the responsibility on adults to lead them in the right direction.

Junk food, candy and sugary beverages may be tasty and rewarding to children, but how do they contribute to their overall lifestyle? What effect do these snacks, along with genetics and varying levels of physical activity, have on their bodies? While children have fewer weight-related health issues than adults, obese children do have a predisposition to grow into overweight adolescents and adults. Therefore,  becoming at-risk for high cholesterol and blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.    

Today, an estimated 1 in 5 school-age children are considered obese (a term determined by Body Mass Index, or BMI). When compared to children of the same sex and height, obese children rank in the 95th percentile or above. Many factors contribute to this epidemic such as genetics, unhealthy habits, lack of physical activity and environmental difficulties. Children are often unaware of the patterns or conditions that cause obesity, therefore, placing the responsibility on adults to lead them in the right direction. Below are ways adults can support children throughout their development and help lower the risks of childhood obesity. 

  1. Genetics
    Genetics is tricky when it comes to childhood obesity. While the presence or absence of genetic factors can protect a person from or predispose a person to obesity, it is not the only determining factor. The CDC states that to be explained, the obesity epidemic must consider both genetics and the environment in which a person lives. Studies show that genetics account for less than 5% of obesity cases. This information reaffirms that while genetics can influence weight-gain, they are not the reason for the dramatic increase in childhood obesity. Because of this, we need to take the following factors into account.
  2. Food Quality and Quantity
    The consumption of sweetened beverages and junk food plays a role in excessive weight gain in children. Processed foods are often dense in fat, sugar, and salt, which contribute to excess weight gain when eaten in vast proportions. Fast-food restaurants are convenient and affordable for busy families - but higher calories, less nutrition and over-sized portions link these restaurants to the obesity epidemic. Speaking of portions, the National Institute of Health found these have doubled over the last 20 years. By controlling portion-sizes at home, parents can ensure their children enter adulthood with healthy habits.
  3. Parental Perception
    Many people overlook a parent’s perception and how that can take a toll on a child’s health. A study of mothers and children found that an alarming 62% of parents with obese children, perceived their child’s weight as healthy. If a parent doesn’t believe their child’s weight needs to be addressed, they will be less likely to initiate healthier habits at home. For children that depend on a parents’ guidance for nutritional meals, continuing poor habits could have damaging effects on their mental and physical health. It may be difficult for parents to notice or address their child’s weight, but pediatricians can provide information and intervention through consistent physicals.
  4. Lack of Physical Activity
    For healthy exercise, a rule of thumb is calories consumed must be balanced to calories expensed. A lack of physical activity progresses childhood obesity because the body begins to store unused calories as fat. For children, physical activity comes in the form of outside play-time or extracurricular sports. This digital-age brings increasingly popular and accessible video games and television shows. A study within the Journal for Adolescence found a strong correlation between video game usage and weight status within children. There was no correlation between television watching and weight status, but both activities are prevalent in children’s lives and continue to promote sedentary lifestyle choices.
  5. Environmental Resources
    Transportation and neighborhood features affect the resources children have in their fight against obesity. Children who live in unsafe areas with poorly lit walking paths have fewer opportunities to be physically active outside. They may be more likely to ride a bus or have a parent drive them to school, in comparison to walking or riding a bike. A lack of healthy grocery stores also contributes to food consumption and a family’s ability to eat home-cooked meals. Environmental resources play a significant role in how children grow up and the lifestyle to which they are exposed.  

 

Childhood obesity is not a simple issue. It’s becoming more common in America, partially due to these factors listed above. From heritable genetics to environmental surroundings, many children struggle with fighting this disease, and concerned parents may wonder how to address the issue. First, it’s essential to let the child know that as a parent, you will be emotionally supportive of them at any size. According to WebMD, it’s important not to single out an overweight child but instead to focus on addressing the entire family’s physical activity and eating habits. By taking action and educating themselves about the contributing factors to childhood obesity, parents can support a healthy lifestyle for their children and help prevent this growing concern.