Causes of Obesity in Children

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Obesity is not only one of Australia’s most prevalent issues, but it is also one of the most dangerous. This epidemic affects millions of people every day and the number of reasons for it is astounding. However, there may be a misconception when it has to do with obesity, this comes from the idea that obesity is caused by overeating; this is certainly true but there may be other factors that contribute to obesity as well. It is important to look at family structure and parenting skills when it comes to children’s weight. Parents are the people who are buying the food, cooking meals, and providing a structured environment for the child. This allows an observer to assume that when it comes to childhood obesity, parenting must be the first thing looked at.

Contributing Factors of Obesity in Children

Children are exposed to food that holds no nutritional value on a daily basis. Whether it is vending machines in school, advertisements on television, or the parents of the children feeding them non-nutritional food, a parent or responsible adult needs to be aware of what the child is taking in for food. They also need to be responsible for the atmosphere that the child grows up in. Whether the child is on a regimented schedule or if the life of the child is a bit all over the place can deeply affect their health. If a child becomes obese it can only be blamed on the parenting conditions in the household. Naturally, it is right to assume that almost all parents are to blame for their children’s diets and daily activities or at least should be, and this is the biggest contributing factor. When it comes to children’s mealtimes and snacking, whoever is feeding the child is responsible for the nutritional value of the meal. However, it is not the only diet that affects obesity rates, but other factors such as lack of exercise, mood changes or depression, and as CDC (2013) suggests “limited access to healthy affordable foods,(and) increasing portion size.” Each category that affects a child’s weight must be investigated with the idea of parenting being a contributing factor involved.

Lack of Access to Healthy Food

When it comes to children pertaining to obesity, the focus is mainly on the nutritional value of the food. Naturally, the diet of each person should be a priority, and that obviously includes finding the correct food for each individual's specific dietary needs. Although there are obviously other factors, diet and nutritional value of the food consumed seems to be the biggest problem when it comes to obesity in children. Both The American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2003) and The Journal of CardioMetabolic Syndrome (2008) suggest that it isn’t so much the intake of food that is affecting the waistline of children worldwide, but the negative nutritional value that the foods ate offer. There are a number of different reasons that children may not be getting the food they need and one of them is the price of high-quality food. It is reasonable to assume that a large number of families cannot provide the best food available, nutritionally, to their children. The foods that may be in a family’s budget are cheaper and cheaper food ironically comes with larger portions, another factor in obesity. The nutritional value of a lower-cost food is obviously less than an organic food or more expensive food, and when a moderately sized family is working off of a budget, it may seem lucky that food is even on the table.

Unfortunately, in lower-income living areas, the food quality is not the best and neither are the grocery stores. They provide lower-cost food which is effective and beneficial for families with lower budgets, so financially it is helpful. However, health-wise it becomes a major issue because it begins to contribute to gaining weight. It is important to understand the quality of the food ingested by children because their health depends on it. Fast food restaurants are ensuring that children not only want fast food but crave it. By providing hundreds of commercials and using the media, children are constantly convinced that fast food is what they want. The ability to create a healthy atmosphere is, unfortunately, more difficult than one would expect on a lower budget. According to The International Journal of Obesity “Promotion of a healthy lifestyle targeting overweight families, particularly in lower socio-economic groups, should be a priority.” (p.147) This should be something that is heavily prioritized in Australia as obesity rates climb.

Knowledge and education on the subject of obesity and diet should certainly be a priority as well, it will not only encourage correct behavior from children, but it will help families as a whole to learn about proper health care. In the same token an article in Public Health Nutrition (2006) proclaimed similar reasoning on the education of health for children, stating “Intake of sweetened beverages was associated with overweight and obesity in this population of Australian schoolchildren and should be a target for intervention programs aimed at preventing unhealthy weight gain in children” (p.152) Heavy, unhealthy foods slow down many of the bodies processes and this leads to slower metabolism as well as influencing the child to be lazy. If these problems could be counteracted by education on the problem, perhaps a decrease in weight would be seen throughout the country and an increase in exercise.

Exercise and Obesity

It can clearly be determined that exercise and obesity are closely linked and that the benefits of exercise benefit weight loss immensely. This aspect may be the most important in the fight against obesity, especially obesity in children. The lack of areas that are available to children for daily exercise are considerable, especially depending on the living situation they are in. For example, if a child lives in the city there is much less recreationally for them to participate in. According to an article in Europe PubMed Central (2001), a study was conducted to test the participation of children in exercise activities, “These findings suggest that efficacy perceptions regarding exercise, awareness of, and access to, community physical activity outlets, and parental modeling of physical activity are potential targets for physical activity intervention programs involving overweight children.” This study clearly represents the necessity to educate children on obesity as well as preventatives for it. It also introduces the idea that there are not many places for children to exercise and that there should be more of an interest in providing areas specifically for kids to play.

When it comes to parental guidance and exercise, there must be strict regulations that parents have to follow to provide an atmosphere where children not only want to exercise but are forced to at least do some daily physical activity. These guidelines should be taken seriously, as parents are currently lacking in their ability to enforce these types of rules. Perhaps cutting down children’s screen time, such as television or computers would encourage outdoor behavior. Stacy Schmidt (2012) of the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that exercise improves one’s mood significantly. This confirms that not only would this be supplying the child with exercise and freedom outside, but it would enhance their mood as well.

Mood Disorders and Low Self Esteem

When it comes to mood disorders or self-esteem being a cause for obesity, it is hard to understand which came first, the chicken or the egg. Low self-esteem can be a big reason for a child gaining weight, however, it is unclear if their self-esteem is low because they are heavy, or if at one point they were confident until they gained weight, thus decreasing their self-esteem. Either way, what is clear is that once affected by obesity, children who are overweight lose confidence and in most cases, continue to gain weight because of it. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2006) found in their research of Australian children that “Obese children are at particular risk of low perceived competence in sports, physical appearance, and peer engagement.” (p.2481)

This problem also becomes associated with parenting styles because it is morally up to the parent to provide a healthy environment that encourages the child to succeed. Emotional support and stability should also be provided when it comes to the mental health of a child as well. Developing children are extremely sensitive to the atmosphere they are put in and it is up to the parent to try and provide the necessities to ensure a healthy future. Unfortunately, when it comes to the child being at school and away from the parent, this no longer pertains to parenting skills; however, once the child is home the parent should be intuitive and conscious if they seem to be a change in mood. The correct steps should be taken to help the child recover from what they’re going through in order to help prevent unhealthy acts from taking place. These acts could include behaviors that would be considered lashing out, as well as unpredictable eating habits that lead to obesity.

Conclusion

Obesity in children is a serious concern for Australia but also around the world. The same reasoning for Australia’s obesity rates is typical of many other countries as well. Knowledge and education on the subject are becoming a necessity because the contributing factors to obesity are growing rapidly. Lack of access to healthy food, lack of exercise, poor diet, and mood disorders all play very large roles in the obesity epidemic. Although obesity rates continue to climb, so does the fight against it.

References

A Growing Problem. (2013, April 17). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/problem

Family lifestyle and parental body mass index as predictors of body mass index in Australian children: a longitudinal study. International Journal of Obesity, 25(2), 147-157. (2001).

Franklin, J., Denyer, G., Steinbeck, K. S., Caterson, I. D., & Hill, A. J. (2006). Obesity and Risk of Low Self-esteem: A Statewide Survey of Australian Children. Pediatrics, 118(6), 2481-2487.

Nicklas, T. A., Yang, S., Baranowski, T., Zakeri, I., & Berenson, G. (2003). Eating patterns and obesity in children: The Bogalusa Heart Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 25(1), 9-16.

Sanigorski, A. M., Bell, A. C., & Swinburn, B. A. (2006). Association of key foods and beverages with obesity. Public Health Nutrition, July 2007, 152-157.

Schmidt, S. (2012). Obesity and Exercise. American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM Fit Society, 1.

Trost, S., Kerr, L., Ward, D., & Pate, R. (2001). Physical activity and determinants of physical activity in obese and non-obese children. International Journal of Obesity, 25(6), 822-829.

Witkos, M., Uttaburanot, M., Lang, C. D., & Arora, R. (2008). Costs of and Reasons for Obesity. Journal of the cardiometabolic syndrome, 3(3), 173-176.