A child holding French fries.
One of the leading causes of childhood obesity is a diet that is high in fast food.

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

In 2019, experts estimated that 150 million children worldwide were obese. By 2025, this number is expected to increase to 206 million. However, childhood obesity is not a simple health issue; there are various factors that contribute to this growing number, starting with the risk factors and causes of childhood obesity. But first, what is childhood obesity?

What Is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is defined as children with a body mass index (BMI) that is well above the average of their peers. As a result, they may battle various chronic diseases throughout their lifetime, as well as become obese adults. It may also result in mental health disorders, such as depression. Ultimately, it is up to you, the parent, to help prevent childhood obesity and understand it. That way, you can help your children lead happy and healthy lives well into their adult years.

The Main Causes of Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity may be a result of several factors. Lifestyle, family history and psychological well-being all play a role when it comes to your child’s health. If parents are obese or overweight, it is more likely that the child will also be obese or overweight. This is often due to lifestyle factors that are exemplified by the adults in their life. For instance, if a child’s parents have a poor diet and participate in little exercise, it is likely their child will follow suit. We learn from the adults in our life.

However, it is important to note that this is not the end-all-be-all to the contributing factors of obesity. A family may not be able to afford to eat healthy or a child may become obese due to stress or depression. Genetic factors may also play a significant role. Further, hormonal imbalances may also cause a person, even a child, to gain weight.

Common risk factors involved in childhood obesity:

  • A diet high in fast food or pre-packaged and processed foods
  • A lack of exercise
  • Environmental or family factors
  • Stress
  • Socioeconomic reasons, such as affordability

The Health Risks

The problem with obesity comes down to the toll it takes on a person’s health. Childhood obesity is not only a physical health problem, it is also a mental one, which we dive into in more detail below.

Physical Risks

  • Type 2 diabetes. Obesity and a lack of exercise may lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, which happens when the body is unable to use glucose properly.
  • Cardiovascular issues. An array of health problems may arise related to the cardiovascular system and its function, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and more.
  • Asthma. Surprisingly, children who are obese are more likely to be diagnosed with asthmatic problems.
  • Sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is a common diagnosis in individuals who are overweight or obese. Excess weight may lead to difficulty with breathing while your child sleeps, resulting in the stopping and starting of breathing and snoring noises.
  • Broken bones and joint issues. With excess weight, the skeletal system faces more stressors than the average-sized child. As a result, your child may be more likely to break their bones, as well as develop joint pain.
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Mental Risks

  • Low confidence. Children who are obese may experience low self-esteem and low confidence, which can drastically impact other parts of their life, such as making friends, excelling in school, going after their goals, and more.
  • Bullying. Overweight children are often the targets of bullies, which can also significantly impact their life, specifically their mental state.
  • Learning or behavioral difficulties. They may develop poor social skills due to the above issues, resulting in learning or behavioral issues in the classroom.
  • Depression. Your child’s low confidence may develop into something deeper, such as depression, where they experience feelings of hopelessness.

Treatment Options

Treatment usually entails making the lifestyle changes necessary to lead a healthy and balanced life. In turn, this may help your child lose weight.

Typically, experts recommend a healthy weight loss of 1 pound per week. For teenagers or those who are severely obese, a weight loss of 2 pounds per week may be recommended. How do they do this?

Frequently, treatment involves lifestyle changes, including engaging in more exercise, watching less TV and eating more healthy foods. To do this with your child, try incorporating:

  • Physical activity your child likes and enjoys.
  • Meals as a family and encouraging healthy eating habits.
  • Teachings about appropriate portions.
  • Being a role model for your children.

In severe cases, medications or weight loss surgery may be recommended. However, most doctors try to avoid this.

How to Prevent Childhood Obesity

The good news is that childhood obesity is also entirely preventable. Often, it comes down to understanding what “healthy” means. As a parent, you can take the proper precautions to instill healthy values into your children, guiding them toward healthy adulthood.

For instance, you can limit the amount of junk food in the house and encourage fruits and veggies for snacks. You can eat in as often as possible, since homemade meals tend to be healthier than restaurant alternatives. You can set a time limit on TV or video games and encourage your children to get outside and be active. It’s also important to ensure they follow a proper and sufficient sleep schedule.

Childhood obesity can quickly turn into a bigger health issue and children are very impressionable. Consider helping your children on the right path toward success and optimal health by setting a good example. Guide them toward healthy habits and encourage physical activity. That way, your children can grow into healthy and happy adults, without various chronic health problems holding them back.