Around 17 percent of children in the United States struggle with obesity. The international statistic shows that the prevalence of obesity in children has reached epidemic proportions in the previous decades.
Obesity in children is directly linked with health problems such as raised blood lipids, hypertension, and mental health problems. Many of these illnesses tend to continue from childhood and adolescence into adulthood.
What Causes Obesity in Children
It is believed that both genes (nature) and environmental factors (nurture) cause obesity in children and adolescents. Obesity in children and adults stems from an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. However, it appears that the effects of these obesity factors are tightly intertwined.
Some studies show that genetics plays a bigger role in a child’s obesity than the environment. In one survey on more than 5,000 non-identical twins, genetics was found to be a more important predictor of obesity than children’s lifestyle. This research found that approximately three-quarters of overweight risk in kids comes from hereditary factors while only one third can be attributed to their environment.
The importance of these findings lays in the possibility to prevent obesity in the early years in children who are at risk.
Psychosocial & Behavioral Factors
On the other hand, studies show that environmental factors such as not getting enough sleep or spending too much time in front of the screen can cause children’s obesity. Also, measures such as reducing the amount of recess in elementary schools can have a negative impact on obesity in children.
Reduced physical activity and sedentary lifestyle are some of the most common factors that increase the risk of obesity in children and youth.
One research by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) compared the weight of children who lived with biological parents and adopted children to that of their biological and adoptive parents. The results showed that the lifestyle of adoptive parents affects obesity in children: when both adoptive parents were overweight, the likelihood of obesity in an adopted child was up to 21 percent higher than in kids whose parents were not overweight.
The researchers also found that children whose biological parents were overweight were 27 percent more likely to be overweight, which is only 6 percentage points more than in adopted children.
How to Prevent Childhood Obesity?
- Encourage healthy eating habits. Encourage your child to eat nutritious foods with an appropriate number of calories.
- Promote the importance of exercise. Engaging in physical activity is the best way to avoid too much sedentary time and promote healthy habits. Regular physical activity has many health benefits such as helping your child with weight management, strengthening their bones, reducing stress and anxiety, and boosting your child’s self-esteem.
- Be a good role model. Remember that children model their parents. Set a good example for your kids. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Add a regular physical activity to your day to day routine will encourage your child to join you.
- Staying hydrated. Choose water over carbonated drinks, staying hydrated helps digestion – See how much water your kid should be drinking and how to spot dehydration in children
Understanding what causes obesity in children can help control obesity and promote healthy lifestyles from a young age.