The Causes of Childhood Obesity

Obesity among children in the United States is a national health crisis and a terrifying reality. It can cripple our country for generations to come unless significant changes are made.

Not all obese infants become obese children, and not all obese children become obese adults. However, the older one gets, the more likely it is that one gains weight. Our metabolism slows as we grow older, and we also become less active. In addition, it is very likely that obesity beginning even in early childhood will persist through the life span. In other words, if your 14 year old son is obese, it’s likely that he will carry the extra weight (and put on more weight) during his adult life.

For parents of overweight children, the time to help your kids get in shape is now or never. Obesity presents numerous problems for the child. In addition to increasing the risk of obesity in adulthood, childhood obesity is the leading cause of pediatric hypertension, is associated with Type II diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, increase stress on the weight-bearing joints, lower self-esteem, and altered relationships with peers. Between 5-25 percent of children and teenagers in the United States are obese, according to some studies. Other statistics indicate that 17% of children between ages 6 and 19 are obese.

Childhood obesity is the result of an interaction between food, state of mind, family and the environment.

An imbalance between intake and output. Intake: excessive consumption of fast foods and unhealthy food choices. Output: less time spent playing outside, more time spent on a computer, playing video games or watching TV.

The Family. The risk of becoming obese is greatest among children who have two obese parents. This may be due to powerful genetic factors, the manner in which the child is raised, parental modeling of both eating and exercise behaviors. One half of parents of elementary school children never exercise vigorously.

Low-energy Expenditure. The average American child spends several hours each day watching television; time which in previous years might have been devoted to physical pursuits. Obesity is greater among children and adolescents who frequently watch television, not only because little energy is expended while viewing but also because of simultaneous consumption of high-calorie snacks. Only about one-third of elementary children have daily physical education, and less than than one-fifth have extracurricular physical activity programs at their schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to take walks or otherwise get physical with their children at least once a week, to make up for shrinking levels of physical education in schools.

Fast food companies. It is easy ad inexpensive to buy unhealthy foods from vending machines. The good news is that beverage makers have agreed to pull sugared sodas and whole milk out of all school vending machines over the next three years, as well as diet sodas and sports drinks from machines in elementary and middle schools.

Heredity. Since not all children who eat non-nutritious foods, watch several hours of television daily, and are relatively inactive develop obesity, the search continues for alternative causes. Heredity has recently been shown to influence fatness, regional fat distribution, and response to overfeeding.. In addition, infants born to overweight mothers have been found to be less active and to gain more weight by age three months when compared with infants of normal weight mothers, suggesting a possible inborn drive to conserve energy.