Identifying the Causes of Childhood Obesity

In order to lower your child’s risk of becoming overweight, it’s important to understand the causes of childhood obesity. While genetic and hormonal factors can be reasons for childhood obesity, the most common causes of obesity in children stem from lifestyle and diet. To put it simply, most obese children eat more calories than they are able to work off.

Identifying Risk Factors

Why do some kids develop childhood obesity and not others? Consider the following risk factors, which often work in tandem to increase a child’s risk of becoming overweight:

  • Unhealthy Diet. Poor diet leads to weight gain. Children who regularly consume fast food, baked goods, and high-calorie snacks are more likely to put too much weight on. Soft drinks and candy are also high in sugar, fat, and calories that make it harder for kids to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Family History. Children who come from a family of overweight people may be more likely to put on excess weight. This may be attributed to an environment where unhealthy food is always available and physical activity isn’t the norm.
  • Psychological Factors. Children who are bored, stressed, or suffering from emotional strains may eat to cope with their feelings. If parents have similar emotional eating habits, kids may pick up on these habits at an early age.
  • Family Life. Families who frequently shop for and cook processed foods and high-calorie foods put children at risk for unhealthy weight gain. Lack of adult supervision and fewer sit down family meals can also contribute to unhealthy habits at home.
  • Socioeconomic Factors. Children from low-income backgrounds can be at a greater risk of developing childhood obesity. Unlike adults, however, this connection is not black and white. For example, young black male adolescents have higher obesity rates in non-poor families, whereas older black male adolescents have higher obesity rates in poor families. Higher socioeconomic status is associated with decreased obesity prevalence among white girls but not among black girls. This variability has experts confused, but either way it is true that families require time and resources to offer kids appropriate exercise opportunities and nutritionally satisfying meals. In addition, fresh produce is more costly and at times unavailable in poorer areas.

What About Medical Reasons?

While they are less common, medical issues can become causes of childhood obesity. These include:

  • Metabolic factors, such as a slow down during the prepubescent period of development.
  • Genetic diseases and hormonal disorders such as Prader-Willi syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome.
  • A poorly functioning thyroid (a condition known as hypothyroidism) can be a medical cause of obesity if left undetected and untreated.
  • Deficiency in Vitamin D can be caused by weight gain, and can make it difficult to lose weight for a variety of reasons.
  • Insulin resistance (a condition that occurs when the right amount of fat deposits in a child’s midsection) can make it extremely difficult for a child to become full on a normal amount of food. Elevated insulin in the bloodstream can trigger hunger and turn off fullness signals in the body. This makes a child eat more, and have difficulty getting full, which leads to a viscous cycle of weight gain. It can also lead to rapidly dropping blood sugars that can increase cravings for the wrong kinds of foods.

What Next?

Because of these potential risk factors, it may be difficult to begin combating the causes of childhood obesity.

Examine your family’s lifestyle, as well as your child’s lifestyle.

  • Does your child spend a lot of time watching TV, playing video games, or using the Internet?
  • Do the adults around your child model active lifestyle choices and healthy food choices?
  • Does the family eat on the road or in restaurants more often than it should?
  • Is fast food more of a staple than a rare treat?

Make a list of the unhealthy lifestyle factors you want to change. If you work together as a family, you can eliminate risk factors one by one. Take control of your family’s future by fighting childhood obesity together.