What are the Causes of Childhood Obesity?

Greer Hed

The causes of childhood obesity are usually related to lifestyle choices, although they may also be caused by biological or genetic factors. Lack of exercise and poor diet are the most common causes of this condition. Childhood obesity can lead to a multitude of other health problems in children, including such conditions as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, a child or adolescent is considered obese if his or her Body Mass Index (BMI) is greater than 30.

Foods that are high in fat and calories, like pizza, can cause weight gain and other health problems.
Foods that are high in fat and calories, like pizza, can cause weight gain and other health problems.

It is generally believed that one of the primary causes of childhood obesity is lack of physical activity. A 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that most children spend an average of 44.5 hours a week either watching television or using a computer or game console. Many children also do not walk to school, and spend the majority of their school day sitting behind a desk. These children continue to consume calories, but do not burn those calories with exercise. Therefore, the excess calories are converted to fat.

Potato chips are high in fat and calories but offer little nutritional value.
Potato chips are high in fat and calories but offer little nutritional value.

Television viewing often goes hand in hand with snacking on empty calories, another of the primary causes of childhood obesity. Studies conducted at the University of North Carolina show that junk food and snacks make up almost a third of the average daily calorie intake of most American children. High calorie snacks and beverages are often available to children from vending machines at school. Since the snacks are convenient and often appealing to children, they frequently fill up on unhealthy fare rather than eating complete nutritional meals.

Eating unhealthy foods, like junk food, can cause obesity in people of any age.
Eating unhealthy foods, like junk food, can cause obesity in people of any age.

Another poor diet choice that contributes to childhood obesity is the frequent consumption of fast food. For many children and adolescents, going to a fast food restaurant is the most convenient way of getting a quick and inexpensive lunch. Fast food advertising is often directed at children and teens, and young children are sometimes further enticed by the promise of a toy surprise with a meal. The fare at fast food restaurants is usually caloric, providing fat, protein and carbohydrates but lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Playing video and computer games instead of getting outside adds to childhood obesity.
Playing video and computer games instead of getting outside adds to childhood obesity.

Some causes of childhood obesity appear to be linked to the health of the pregnant mother. A mother who smokes while pregnant is more likely to have an obese child, as is a mother who is overweight during her pregnancy. Studies have also shown that babies who are breast-fed are less likely to become obese or overweight.

Children should be encouraged to drink more water to prevent obesity.
Children should be encouraged to drink more water to prevent obesity.

Genetic causes of childhood obesity are sometimes difficult to diagnose. In some families, poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle are passed from parents to their children. However, some children do have a genetic predisposition for overweight. Research suggests that some obese children share a genetic abnormality that may be the cause of their weight gain.

Children need to exercise, preferably outdoors, to maintain a healthy weight for their height and age.
Children need to exercise, preferably outdoors, to maintain a healthy weight for their height and age.
Research shows that children and adults tend to eat healthier foods when sitting down to a family meal.
Research shows that children and adults tend to eat healthier foods when sitting down to a family meal.
Too much screen time in front of a computer or television can limit a child's activity and lead to weight gain.
Too much screen time in front of a computer or television can limit a child's activity and lead to weight gain.
Not eating enough fresh fruit can contribute to obesity.
Not eating enough fresh fruit can contribute to obesity.
Children who consume fast food may be more prone to obesity and juvenile diabetes.
Children who consume fast food may be more prone to obesity and juvenile diabetes.

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Discussion Comments

ams441990

The statistics surrounding childhood obesity in the U.S. are so shockingly terrifying they could motivate almost anyone to jump on a treadmill or eat a salad. Recent studies have shown that one third of American children aged 2-19 are overweight or obese (2011). Why is it that American children are at such a great risk in developing this disease? The U.S. prides itself on being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world however these advancements are a detriment to our activity level as a society.

We have used automation and industrialization to do the work for us instead of having to do large amounts of manual labors in the days of old (i.e. walking to the market to buy farm produce, churning our own butter, etc.). So in theory, the prevalence of obesity in America is a testament to our superior technological advances. This is a contradiction because as technology improves, so should societal health. We have essentially industrialized our way into preventing work and promoting excess eating and inactivity.

American society needs to put more emphasis on leisure time activity because physical activity is no longer a staple in employment. The daily exercise that the American workforce was getting in pre-industrial society is no longer necessary, therefore physical activity must be implemented into leisure, and this is where we Americans are missing the mark. Our food production increases as does our sedentary lifestyle. The availability of food and the unnecessary nature of physical work are a dangerous combination that have led Americans to the state they’re in today; burdened by the juvenile plague of childhood obesity.

ysmina

I completely agree that the wide use of internet and TV advertisements for junk food and fast food restaurants is responsible for increasing obesity in children.

In my childhood, we actually had healthy snacks and sweets like fruits, nuts and honey. I know there are parents who are careful about their children's diet and that is great. But most of these natural and healthy snacks have been replaced with processed treats that just have too many calories, fat, sugar and salt. Even kids think that it is to norm to have these foods on a regular basis and think that fruits and vegetables taste bad and are undesirable.

The worst part is that they are not active as much. I spent my whole childhood playing outside, swimming and running. Now kids spend their time on the internet or playing video games. I just feel very sad about this because I think that this lifestyle and eating habits will create unhappy and unhealthy adults in the future. It's America's future, we need to realize this.

fify

I was an obese child and I think it was due to inactivity. My mom always had home-cooked meals for us so I didn't really have much fast food or junk food. I was not very active though. I remember most of my friends being a part of some kind of extracurricular activity like sports teams, gymnastics or dancing.

I was a very shy child and had little self confidence. Since my parents didn't suggest that I play sports or take dance classes, I also didn't ask them about it and spent most of my time studying or watching TV.

Things started to change for me when I was in Middle School though. We had a required gym class where we exercised and played sports for one hour every day. That made a huge impact for me and I started being more active at home. I was riding my bike, taking walks with my mom or just dancing around the house. I lost weight thanks to these activities.

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