“Causes of Childhood Obesity”
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Bastin, Sandra. “Perils of Childhood Obesity.” American Academy of Pediatrics Quarterly. Volume 31 (11/2001): 44-49. Retrieved Medline 9 April 2005. 1-5.
Buffington, Cynthia. “Causes of Childhood Obesity.” Beyond Change: Information Regarding Obesity and Obesity Surgery. Volume 17 (12/2003): 12-17. Retrieved Academic Search Elite 9 April 2005.
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Services. “Special Issues: Childhood Obesity.” Online Posting 7 July 2003. Accessed 9 April 2005. 1-5.
Reading, Richard. “Increasing prevalence of obesity in primary school children: cohort study.” Child: Care, Health & Development; Vol. 28 Issue 2 (03/2002): 189-197 Retrieved Academic Search Elite 9 April 2005
Rush, Traci. “Childhood Obesity.” Online posting 13 October 2002. Accessed 9 April 2005. 1.
When speaking of her 8-year old daughter’s obesity, a prideful mother replies “Oh its no big deal, she just still has her baby fat.” Unfortunately, chances are that the daughter’s obesity is really no cause of her baby fat, but can be contributed to a combination of diet, genetics, and a sedentary lifestyle. Studies show that obesity among children 6-17 years of age, has increased by 50% in the last 20 years, with the most dramatic increase seen in children ages 6-11 (Axmaker, 1). This obvious epidemic has raised great concern in the medical community because widespread childhood obesity has increased the prevalence of the once rare juvenile diabetes and pediatric hypertension (Bastin, 45). This concern has prompted intense investigation of the causes of childhood studies, aside from socioeconomic status, three major causes have been shown: diet, genetics or biological factors, and lifestyle.
Because fat must have a source from which to increase, diet is an obvious contributor to obesity in children. Dietary guidelines recommend that children between the ages of 6 and 11 should receive about 1800 calories a day, with 50% from carbohydrates, 30% from fat, and 20% from protein (Bastin, 47). With the ready availability of high calorie/high carbohydrate soft drinks, fruit juice, and high carbohydrate snacks, children’s diets have become increasingly less nutritious. Surveys conducted among children and teenagers have shown that 7 out of 10 children eat fruit once a day, and 5 out of 10 teenagers eat fruit once a day (Bastin, 47). Because children are replacing the missing fruit servings with high calorie snacks, weight gain will occur dramatically over time. An over consumption of 50-100 calories can lead to a gain of 5-10 pounds a year (Oklahoma Cooperative, 1). Many parents mistakenly encourage carbohydrates with a high-glycemic value as substitutes for fat and protein. High-glycemic carbohydrates prevent fat breakdown and drive fat into fat deposits, causing fat to accumulate, which occurring in high levels is obesity. The era of home cooking has all but disappeared from our society, with meals being replaced with pizza, or fast food creating yet another innutritious aspect of children’s diets. Carbohydrates also take far less time to empty from the stomach than do those foods high in fat or protein, causing hunger (Buffington, 14). A child having eaten a bowl of cereal for breakfast is likely to be hungry by mid-morning with the need for a snack. At school, he or she may satisfy their mid-morning hunger with yet another high carbohydrate food such as a soda, candy, cookies, or a bag of chips. These poor food choices are contributing to the increasing epidemic of childhood obesity.
Everybody knows the child that can eat any type of food all day and never seem to gain weight. This occurrence has led researchers to investigate the role that genetics plays in childhood obesity. Not all children who are inactive or who eat poorly are obese, much in the same way that some obese children eat fairly healthy, and exercise moderately. Heredity has recently been shown to influence body fat percentage, regional fat storage, and the body’s response to overeating (Rush, 1). Children who have obese parents are 80% more likely to be obese than their lean parented counterparts (Buffington, 16). This familial correlation is contributed to genetics as well as the parents eating habits. Children with obese parents typically aren’t taught the correct way to choose when and what food to eat, leading to poor eating habits and eventually obesity. Many genetic defects can have a significant effect on obesity such as variable thyroid activity and pituitary defects. Abnormalities in any one of these regulators could be responsible for appetite abnormalities and weight gain. Furthermore, obesity leads to defects in appetite regulation, hormone production, and metabolic events (Oklahoma Cooperative, 4) that are responsible for further weight gain, setting in motion a vicious cycle whereby obesity begets obesity. Something unknown to most is that it is likely that most people have the genetic code that would cause them to be predisposed to obesity (Bastin, 49). Why then has the prevalence of childhood obesity increased nearly 50% over the past 20 years (Axmaker, 1)? Again, this fact demonstrates that genetics is only one of the causes of childhood obesity.
Researchers suggest that a sedentary lifestyle is the greatest cause and predictor of childhood obesity (Bastin, 46). This sedentary lifestyle is due in large part to television, computers and video games occupying much of a child’s time that would otherwise be spent in physical activities. Some studies have shown that children and teenagers spend up to 25 hours a week in front of the television, not including the time spent using computers or playing video games (Bastin, 46). With the increased time of television viewing, not only are children’s lifestyles becoming more sedate, but they are eating higher calorie foods in these drastically reduced times of activity. Researchers have found a very close correlation between Television viewing and the consumption of high calorie snacks (Oklahoma Cooperative, 3). When children combine extended periods of inactivity with consumption of high calorie snacks, a recipe for obesity is created. Studies conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics have shown that with every hour of television a child watches daily, chances of becoming obese increase by 2% (Bastin, 47). Years ago children typically spent this time outside engaging in physical activities. Not only did children get more exercise at home, but 80% of children were involved in physical education, while currently only 20% of children are involved in some type of physical education (Rush, 1). Educators hope to increase academic performance by decreasing emphasis on physical aspects of education, disregarding that recess fosters free and creative play, a component necessary for children to develop properly (Axmaker, 3). Much like in dietary respects, sedentary lifestyles can create a cycle in which, inactivity promotes obesity, and obesity promotes inactivity, making it difficult for a child to overcome obesity.
Because of the drastic increase in obese children as well as adults, the issue of child obesity is finally being given the attention warranted. While many people may suggest that only one factor contributes to a child’s obesity, scientists know that it is a conglomerate of factors all playing a role in whether or not a child will become obese. While diet and genetics play a large role, scientists are finding more and more that the factor with the greatest effect on obesity is a child’s lifestyle. Children’s television viewing time should be limited, while active play should be encouraged. If parents and children alike can create a healthy balance between genetics, diet and lifestyle, the growing issue of obesity may one day be no longer a concern, and generations will live to be healthier.