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What Is Parental Obesity?

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  • Written By: Kelly Ferguson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Parental obesity is a determination of whether or not a child has obese parents. Although it is not a guaranteed indicator, parental obesity can be one of the major factors used to predict whether a child will be obese when he or she is an adult, due to genetic or environmental reasons. Children of a healthy weight are less likely to become obese as adults when compared with children who are already obese, but this can be dramatically affected by parental obesity. One study has shown that if a child under ten years old has obese parents, he or she is more than twice as likely to be obese as an adult, even if the child is still at a healthy weight for his or her age. In some cases, obesity of the grandparents can also help determine a child's risk of becoming overweight or obese.

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Part of this strong association may have to do with genetic factors passed along from parent to child that affect the tendency to be more or less overweight than others. Aside from genetic factors, there are many environmental reasons why parental obesity is likely to affect the child's future weight. The family's food choices, eating habits, and even family recipes can all affect how a child learns to eat, which most likely determines how he or she will eat throughout life. Also, a physically active family that takes part in sports and other outdoor activities together will likely shape different habits and recreational preferences for the child than a family that spends a large amount of time watching television or on the computer. Even looking in adoptive families and other relationships that do not share a genetic tie can provide clues about the environment the child is raised in.

It is important to evaluate a child's risk of being overweight or obese as an adult, even if he or she is not yet obese during childhood. Due to the large number of health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease that obesity causes, knowing a child's risk of developing obesity can let doctors and parents know in advance to take preventive measures against weight gain. Education may help parents and families be able to teach their children good exercise habits and healthy eating practices early in life, so that there is a greater chance of these good habits to continue throughout life.

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