Child Obesity Causes and Prevention

Measuring Waist Child Obesity has a variety of causes but, put simply, it is caused by eating more energy than is used up. Obesity can be caused by eating too much or eating a lot of 'sometimes' foods. These days we tend to eat larger food servings, we snack more and we consume more high-calorie, low-nutrition food. Problem foods include soft drinks, chips and lollies, and snack bars. Inadequate physical activity is also a key contributor to obesity. To prevent obesity in children and to lead a healthy life they should be encouraged to follow a healthy diet and lot of physical activities.

In general children’s overall physical activity has decreased because:
Children are less likely to walk or ride bikes to get to places.
Parents are more likely to drive their children around.
Families spend less time outdoors.
Many houses have small backyards. Parents, concerned about safety, discourage outdoor play both at home and in public parks.
Daily tasks around the house don't require as much physical exertion as they did in the past.
Finally, obesity is rising because children are spending too much leisure time in low-energy pastimes, such as watching TV and playing computer games.

As with adult-onset obesity, childhood obesity has multiple causes centering around an imbalance between energy in (calories obtained from food) and energy out (calories expended in the basal metabolic rate and physical activity). Childhood obesity most likely results from an interaction of nutritional, psychological, familial, and physiological factors. What is required is a balanced nutritional diet.

The Family

The risk of becoming obese is greatest among children who have two obese parents. This may be due to powerful genetic factors or to parental modeling of both eating and exercise behaviors, indirectly affecting the child's energy balance. One half of parents of elementary school children never exercise vigorously.

Low-energy Expenditure

The average child spends several hours each day watching television; time which in previous years might have been devoted to physical pursuits. Obesity is greater among children and adolescents who frequently watch television (Dietz & Gortmaker, 1985), not only because little energy is expended while viewing but also because of concurrent consumption of high-calorie snacks. Only about one-third of elementary children have daily physical education, and fewer than one-fifth have extracurricular physical activity programs at their schools (Ross & Pate, 1987).


Since not all children who eat non-nutritious foods, watch several hours of television daily, and are relatively inactive develop obesity, the search continues for alternative causes. Heredity has recently been shown to influence fatness, regional fat distribution, and response to overfeeding (Bouchard et al., 1990). In addition, infants born to overweight mothers have been found to be less active and to gain more weight by age three months when compared with infants of normal weight mothers, suggesting a possible inborn drive to conserve energy (Roberts, Savage, Coward, Chew, & Lucas, 1988).

Preventing kids from becoming overweight means adapting the way your family eats and exercises, and how you spend time together. Helping kids lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example.

Causes of Overweight

A number of factors contribute to becoming overweight. Genetics, lifestyle habits, or a combination of both may be involved. In some instances, endocrine problems, genetic syndromes, and medications can be associated with excessive weight gain. Much of what we eat is quick and easy — from fat-laden fast food to microwave and prepackaged meals. Daily schedules are so jam-packed that there's little time to prepare healthier meals or to squeeze in some exercise. Portion sizes, in the home and out, have grown greatly. Plus, now more than ever life is sedentary — kids spend more time playing with electronic devices, from computers to handheld video game systems, than actively playing outside. Television is a major culprit.

Kids younger than 6 spend an average of 2 hours a day in front of a screen, mostly watching TV, DVDs, or videos. Older kids and teens spend almost 4 hours a day watching TV, DVDs, or videos. When computer use and video games are included, time spent in front of a screen increases to over 5½ hours a day! Kids who watch more than 4 hours a day are more likely to be overweight compared with kids who watch 2 hours or less. Not surprisingly, TV in the bedroom is also linked to increased likelihood of being overweight. In other words, for many kids, once they get home from school, virtually all of their free time is spent in front of one screen or another. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends limiting the time kids over 2 years of age spend in front of a screen to no more than 1-2 hours. The AAP also discourages any screen time for children younger than 2 years.

Many kids don't get enough physical activity. Although physical education (PE) in schools can help kids get up and moving, more and more schools are eliminating PE programs or cutting down the time spent on fitness-building activities. One study showed that gym classes offered third-graders just 25 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Experts recommend that kids over 2 years of age should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.

Genetics also play a role — genes help determine body type and how your body stores and burns fat just like they help determine other traits. Genes alone, however, cannot explain the current obesity crisis. Because both genes and habits can be passed down from one generation to the next, multiple members of a family may struggle with weight. People in the same family tend to have similar eating patterns, maintain the same levels of physical activity, and adopt the same attitudes toward being overweight. Studies have shown that a child's risk of obesity greatly increases if one or more parent is overweight or obese.

There are three main ways to prevent overweight and obesity in your child:

Promote healthy eating at home: keep only 'everyday' foods in the cupboard, avoid or limit 'sometimes' foods, and talk to your child about health and nutrition. Children are more likely to develop healthy eating behaviours when they are provided with a choice of healthy foods in their home environment. So put healthy foods on your shopping list and prepare nutritional meals and snacks for the whole family. Having fewer unhealthy foods (like soft drinks, chips and lollies and snack bars) in your cupboard means you won't have to ‘police’ what your children eat.
Eat breakfast, never miss it. Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. Eat meals together at the table or kitchen bench (rather than in front of the TV. Allow enough time so that meals can be eaten in a relaxed and unhurried way.
Develop an active family lifestyle: you don’t have to engage in strenuous exercise all the time. Instead, make exercise a fun part of your family’s daily routine, for example, by walking to school or sport, kicking a football together in the park, or taking stairs instead of lifts or escalators. Getting active is a great way to spend positive family time together!
Limit low-energy activities: make some family rules setting boundaries on the amount of time you spend watching TV or playing games on the computer.

Remember that children do as you do, so it’s important to model an active lifestyle and healthy eating patterns. You can help your child establish healthy habits from birth. If these habits are established early as part of your family's lifestyle, a natural part of the way you do things, you won't have to impose healthy patterns. This will help your child avoid problems with being overweight and obesity. Remember to acknowledge your child whenever he chooses healthy foods. You can do this by giving him some good positive feedback.

Try these ideas to promote a healthy family lifestyle and help your child avoid problems with being overweight and obesity.