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Your one stop shop for everything you need to know about obesity. Discover the health risks of obesity, how it can be caused by genetic factors, and put common obesity myths to rest, once and for all.

What Causes Childhood Obesity and How Do I Prevent It?

It goes without saying that overweight and obesity rates continue to grow, even with our countries’ youngest population. In fact, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Being overweight or obese as a child not only raises their risk of chronic disease during their youth, but astronomically raises the likelihood to develop harmful diseases as an adult. But what actually is causing this accelerated growth of childhood obesity and how may it be prevented?

What Causes Childhood Obesity and How Do I Prevent It?

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

The casual links to obesity keep evolving, from environmental influences to genetic factors. While evolving research is commended during this obesity epidemic, fixating on the primary causes of weight gain still offers promise towards prevention. Weight manipulation is essentially an energy (or calorie) balance equation, with energy input weighing greater than output to facilitate weight gain. Decades ago, youth meant climbing trees, playing kickball at recess, and snacking on an apple picked from the tree. But time has changed along with the most recent painted picture of our youth. Rather than being active, you may envision children dazed into electronics while snacking on highly processed, innutritious foods and excessively filled with sugar.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), American kids obtain an average of 16 percent of their daily calories from added sugars with the average child or adolescent aged 2 to 18 consumes an average of 80 g added sugar daily. The actuality of sugar consumption is astronomical compared to the guidelines set by the American Heart Association (AHA), specifying children and adolescents aged 2 to 18 should consume no more than 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, suggesting over a 300 percent intake compared to the recommendation. In sum, the rise of obesity can be assigned to several contributors although the rising intake of calorically-dense, innutritious food paired with a sedentary lifestyle holds significant accountability.

How to Prevent Childhood Obesity

From childcare settings, to government agencies and food industries, all the way to social media platforms, preventing childhood obesity requires efforts by all. Although portions of the external environment are taking steps toward better health and nutrition, the process is fairly gradual and allows for time. Rather than awaiting the future of health, make changes you can personally adopt and implement. Ideally, preventing childhood obesity should rise from creating a healthy environment and building long-lasting family health habits. And while the beginning changes and phases may be the hardest, remember the impact it can have on children and generations to follow.

Build A Healthy Eating Environment
Create and promote a healthy eating environment to your greatest ability. Try reducing convenience snack foods and load the kitchen with colorful fresh fruits and veggies. On most nights, sit down to a family meal, turn off all electronics, and focus on the meal in front of you and your loved ones circling the table. Additionally, children growing up with family meals may be more likely to set the dinner table for their family as grown adults.

Experiment in the Kitchen
Go against the rules and “play with your food!” From retrieving ingredients to prepping meals, involve kids in the total process. Whether varying in cooking techniques or trying new recipes, have fun experimenting with foods! Along with the experimentation, research ingredients and their health benefits to strengthen a healthy relationship with food.

Lead by Example
Also proposed as “practicing what you preach,” lead by example. Childhood is more than trying out different foods, but trying out different hats and roles. While they have their own right to develop into their own person, children exposed to healthful habits may be more likely to harness them. But if you personally need assistance to a healthy lifestyle, do not feel ashamed or resistant to seek out the guidance of dietitian or nutrition expert. Their professional expertise can equip you with lasting skills and knowledge which can in turn trickle down to children.

Monitor Social Media
As a guardian, it is important to stay aware of the social media content displayed at your child’s fingertips. Edited and biased body standards on various platforms can significantly distort their perception of a healthy body image, ultimately imposing the risk of poor self-esteem. Employ open communication with children, discussing the importance of health rather than a number on the scale.

Get Active
Along with building a healthy relationship with food, grow an interest towards exercise. Being active as a family can not only prevent weight gain, but strengthens bonds and creates memories. It is important to remember exercise does not need to be, or have to be, anticipated as a chore. From hiking a park to shooting hoops at the basketball court, remember there really is no wrong way to be active, just as long as you are!

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on August 31, 2017. Updated on October 22, 2019.


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