Understanding The Causes Of Obesity In Children
By Michelle Bery
It’s no secret that as a nation we struggle with our weight. The rise of the fast food industry - as well as packaged and processed food, and the shift towards a more sedentary lifestyle has resulted in a nationwide battle of the bulge. As adults we wrestle with our diet and exercise habits in order that we avoid the various diseases associated with obesity. But when that obesity exists in a child, there is a greater responsibility to change lifestyle habits and avoid the possibility of disease at such an early age. But in order to make changes, it is first necessary to understand the causes of obesity in children.
Childhood obesity is defined by a more than 25 percent body fat percentage in boys and a more than 32 percent body fat percentage in girls ages 6-11. The causes of obesity in children are varied and focus mainly on lifestyle and genetics. Obviously if there is a medical reason for uncontrollable weight gain in a child – such as an issue with the thyroid - then those factors can be addressed medically. Often, with appropriate medication, the weight can be controlled and brought back within healthy limits. Additionally, genetics can play a large role in the propensity for weight gain. If the child’s parents and other family members struggle with obesity, chances are the child will also have similar tendencies. But genetics only gives us a clue as to what we are up against; controlling weight is still a matter of lifestyle modification.
Some of the more common causes of obesity in children include poor diet - including unhealthy choices and portions that are too large - and a sedentary lifestyle that includes too little physical play or exercise. Unfortunately both of these lifestyle issues are a direct result of the modern society in which we live; a society in which children play computer games and watch television rather than play outside; and a society in which convenience foods have replaced natural foods.
Addressing these causes of obesity in children require focusing on these lifestyle issues and making modifications while the child is still young enough to ingrain these new habits into their life. Limiting television and computer play and encouraging sports, exercise, and physical play is the first step. The other step is minimizing processed, high fat foods and instead focusing on whole, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Additionally, soft drinks and high-sugar fruit juices should immediately be replaced with water or low-fat milk.
Clearly, these are not easy changes to make. If they were then adults would not have their own weight issues with which to contend. But if we are able to proactively face the causes of obesity in children while these children are still young then we can help them make the changes necessary to ensure them a long and healthy life.
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