Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States. It affects more than 18% of children, making it the most common chronic disease of childhood.
Obesity in children and adolescents should be taken just as seriously as adult obesity. Obesity can affect children into adulthood and can negatively impact their physical and mental health.
With more and more children being diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension and other obesity-related conditions associated with obesity, it’s important to know what factors contribute to childhood obesity.
Environment – Today’s environment plays a major role in shaping the habits and perceptions of children and adolescents. Some of the more prevalent problems in childhood obesity are portion sizes, consuming good outside the home and beverages such as soda and boxes.
Today, it is estimated that approximately 40% to 50% every dollar that is spent on food is spent on food outside the home in restaurants, cafeterias, sporting events, etc. In addition, as portion sizes have increased, when people eat out they tend to eat a larger quantity of food (calories) than when they eat at home.
Beverages such as soda and juice boxes also greatly contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic. It is not uncommon for a 32-ounce soda to be marketed toward children, which contains approximately 400 calories. The consumption of soda by children has increased throughout the last 20 years by 300 percent. Scientific studies have documented a 60 percent increase risk of obesity for every regular soda consumed per day. Box drinks, juice, fruit drinks and sports drinks present another significant problem. These beverages contain a significant amount of calories and it is estimated that 20 percent of children who are currently overweight are overweight due to excessive caloric intake from beverages.
Lack of Physical Activity – Children in today’s society show a decrease in overall physical activity. The growing use of computers, increased time watching television and decreased physical education in schools, all contribute to children and adolescents living a more sedentary lifestyle.
Another major factor contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic is the increased sedentary lifestyle of children. School-aged children spend most of their day in school where their only activity comes during recess or physical education classes. It’s important to implement physical activity at home as well as the average child should be getting 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day.
Heredity and Family – Science shows that genetics play a role in obesity. It has been proven that children with parents affected by obesity are more likely to be affected as well. Estimates say that heredity contributes between 5% to 25% of the risk for obesity.
However, genes alone do not always dictate whether a child is affected by excess weight or obesity. Learned behaviors from parents are a major contributor. Parents, especially of those whose children are at risk for obesity at a young age, should promote healthy food and lifestyle choices early in their development.
Dietary Patterns – Over the past few decades, dietary patterns have changed significantly. The average amount of calories consumed per day has dramatically increased. Furthermore, the increase in caloric intake has also decreased the nutrients needed for a healthy diet.
Food portions also play an important role in the unhealthy diet patterns that have evolved. The prevalence of “super-size” options and “all you can eat” buffets create a trend in overeating. Combined with a lack of physical activity, children are consuming more and burning off less.
Socioeconomic Status – Children and adolescents that come from lower-income homes are at greater risk of being affected by obesity. This is a result of several factors that influence behaviors and activities.
Lower-income children cannot always afford to partake in extracurricular activities, resulting in a decrease in physical activity. In addition, families who struggle to pay bills and make a living often opt for convenience foods, which are higher in calories, fat and sugar.
Educational levels also contribute to the socioeconomic issue associated with obesity. Parents with little to no education have not been exposed to information about proper nutrition and healthy food choices. This makes it difficult to instill those important values in their children.
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