Although hormonal problems and genetics can contribute to childhood obesity, more often than not it’s caused by children consuming too many calories and not burning off enough of them. Or to put it simply, children are eating too much and exercising too little. That’s the basic deduction, but what factors contribute to the problem?
With fast food, soda, additives, sedentary activities and technology dominating our society, it’s not hard to see why childhood obesity is a growing problem. Fast food is cheap and widely available, and soda has become increasingly popular. Parents often turn to convenience foods because of their busy lifestyles, or because of budget constraints, and children also have access to unhealthy foods and sugary drinks at school, friends’ houses, and other places. Children don’t know how to make the best choices for themselves, and will usually just end up reaching for sweet things or fast food, if given the chance. It’s also not just about what we eat, but also how much of it we eat, and portion sizes have increased over time. Children have also become more inactive in recent years, with the advent of laptops, tablets, handheld video games and other stationary activities.
Having safe and easy access to a place to be active is also a huge part of staying fit and curbing childhood obesity. Many children don’t have a safe space near their homes to be physically active, and their neighborhood may not be suitable. The reliance on cars instead of walking or cycling hasn’t helped fitness matters either. Physical activity used to be a very normal part of daily life, but now people usually set time aside for physical activity, such as going to the gym, or attending a dance class. Convenience often trumps physical activity.
In addition to fast food, soda, and inactivity, advertising is another culprit. Children spend more and more time watching television, and fast food chains often target children in their advertisements. Not just this, but children often eat in front of the TV too, which can take their focus away from their meal and also lead to excessive or unhealthy snacking. Watching too much television also contributes to inactivity.
As with adults, there are emotional, social and medical factors to be considered. Children may use food as a coping mechanism or to comfort themselves through negative feelings or challenges. Not sleeping enough can also affect a child’s appetite, because fatigue can alter the levels of hormones that regulate appetite. Regular meals are also important, to regulate the blood sugar levels. Medical conditions and genetics shouldn’t be ruled out when investigating childhood obesity, although they do not necessarily mean the child will inevitably be obese. It just means that there are extra factors and extra precautions that need to be taken.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem, and obese children often become obese adults, unless there is a change in diet and lifestyle. Treating obesity in children and setting them up for a healthy future is the best way forward.