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Childhood Obesity and Adolescent Obesity

Diagnosis of Childhood Obesity

Causes of Childhood Obesity

Effects of Childhood Obesity

Treatment of Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity and the Lap Band

Childhood Obesity

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Causes of Childhood Obesity:

Preventing and treating childhood obesity can be difficult. Causes are different from person to person and are still not fully understood. They include genetics, the environment and behavior.

Genetics:  It has been shown that children with obese parents are more likely to be obese. But is it due to genetic or environmental reasons? One estimate says that heredity contributes between 5 and 25 percent of the risk for obesity. The remaining risk is attributed to environmental and behavioral factors. Others believe that genetics may play a bigger role. Regardless, the interrelationship between genetics and the environment is clear: Parents provide genes, role models, and food.

Dietary patterns:  U.S. dietary patterns have changed significantly over the past few decades. Overnutrition has replaced undernutrition as the largest nutrition-related problem facing both children and adults. Although the percent of calories from total fat have declined over the past 30 years, total calories have significantly increased. Soft drink consumption has also boomed, adding more calories and fewer nutrients to Americans' diets. Our environment also supports "up-sizing" through large portion sizes at restaurants. These trends play roles in the increasing rate of obesity, along with lack of physical activity.

Research studies differ on whether obese consume more energy (calories) than non-obese individuals. Some show they do consume more; others show they may consumer fewer calories. The big difference may be in the type of nutrients that they consume, such as fat. A child's percentage of body fat is positively correlated with their total dietary fat. Some researchers suggest that the reasons are metabolic in origin and that obese individuals "process" foods differently resulting in an increase in body fat. Although how these factors affect obesity are not fully understood, one thing is clear: Obesity results when caloric intake exceeds energy expenditure and is stored as fat.

Parent-child relationships:  Obese children need to learn to listen to their internal cues of hunger and appetite. Parents and childcare providers must help them do so. This includes encouraging children to eat according to these cues, while acknowledging the emotional aspect of feeding and eating. A restrictive diet may make the child feel deprived and neglected, and exacerbate the overeating problem. Parents also need to encourage their children to eat a healthy and well-rounded diet that consists of whole grains, lean meats and vegetables. They simply should not purchase foods high in fat, sugar, or high calories.

Television and Video games:  Simply stated, children and adolescents who watch the most TV are usually more obese than peers who do it less. In general, the more TV that children watch, the greater the prevalence of obesity. There are several ways television and video games contribute to childhood obesity:

  • Watching TV requires no energy above resting metabolic rates.
  • TV reduces the time the child spends in energetic activities, such as running and playing. In other words, it's not what the child is doing but rather what he/she is not doing while watching TV.
  • The foods most heavily advertised on TV are high in calories: candy bars, sugared cereals, etc.
  • The slim figures of TV stars may indirectly suggest to children that high calorie food and drinks have little effect on weight.
  • TV characters are typically snacking, not sitting down for well-balanced meals.

Physical activity:  Studies conducted in the last 20 to 30 years show a strong correlation between obesity and lack of physical activity. Nearly half of youths aged 12 to 21 years old are not vigorously active on a regular basis (20 minutes, three times a week).