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Roots of Childhood Obesity

By Charles Hopkins Published 09/20/2007 | Nutrition
The causes of childhood obesity can be loosely grouped into both adjustable and non-adjustable factors. The former include those that when changes are applied, they can result in children losing weight or simply remaining physically fit. Concerning the latter, there are very limited options.

Among the adjustable factors that impact childhood obesity are lack of physical activity, a sedentary lifestyle (for example, more TV viewing than engagement in sports), constant exposure to advertisements of high calorie junk food, and questionable eating habits.

Every food we eat supplies the human body energy in the form of calories. When we do not expend these calories, they are stored internally as fat. The role of exercise and physical activity in general is to use these excess energy sources in our bodies and, in the process, decrease our physical girth. This cycle is no different in children.

Trends in recreational interests for children have changed fairly dramatically over time. Active participation in sporting activities is often replaced with video games and TV. Consequently, the hand becomes the most exercised part of the body! Since the body in low-exertion movements uses only minimal energy, a significant percentage of body calories are converted to fat - the result over time is childhood obesity.

Today we live in an era of convenience. Instead of walking to school or to town as children did in prior generations, they can ride a school bus, use their own vehicles (or have parents do the driving), and can easily use public transportation when needed. So children's muscles, rather than being pushed to walk and run, remain relatively idle. Most of their time is spent sitting with minimal movement. Thousands of calories lay dormant, and waistlines balloon to obesity.

It does not help children that heavily advertised junk food, such as chips and soda, are so popular among the snacks available to them. These types of foods combined with the lack of physical exertion lead far too many children down a weight retention trap.

Ever notice how much children eat even when they are neither hungry nor active? And when they do, typically the food is not nutritious. These two factors alone simultaneously contribute significantly to the child obesity problem. Such ingrained habits markedly increase their risk of long-term weight struggles, even well into adulthood.

Concerning non-adjustable childhood obesity factors, the primary is genetics. Scientists have observed for years that obese children frequently have obese parents. Thus when a tendency toward obesity is inherited, concerned parents must provide more stringent measures to prevent - or at least minimize - obesity in their children. In such scenarios, regular exercise, a nutritious lifestyle diet, and the other adjustable obesity factors become all the more critical in their childhood rearing considerations.

Ultimately, parents must simply accept influences that cannot be changed (e.g. genetics, flood of junk food commercials) while being diligent to engage in other available means of helping their children's general health, particularly in curtailing obesity.