Biggest Causes of Obesity in Children

The fact that a good chunk of Americans have a weight problem isn’t new or shocking information. According to updated reports from the Center for Disease Control, 38% of American adults are now obese. What’s worrisome, but perhaps not unexpected, is that kids are following in their parent’s footsteps. The CDC reported that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

The cause of childhood obesity can often be traced to various habits and lifestyle choices. These are six of the biggest and most common factors of obesity in children.

1. Diet

Kid being a picky eater

Sugary snacks are not the best reward for good behavior. |

Just as with adults, the major cause of obesity in children is poor diet. With unhealthy lunch options and access to fast food and vending machines, children are literally eating their way to obesity. Research shows that American kids are snacking continually throughout the day, with snacks accounting for up to 27% of their daily calorie intake. As you might have guessed, these snacks aren’t apples and carrot sticks. Kids are sipping on soda and munching on candy, chips, and baked goods. Between 1977 and 2006, kids went from eating an average of 168 calories to 586 calories a day from snacks alone.

2. Exercise

kids exercising

No more video games, children need to run and play to stay active. |

With iPads, video games, TV, and smart phones, it’s getting harder and harder to keep kids moving. However, like poor diet, a lack of exercise is a key cause of obesity. Unlike an adult’s interpretation of exercise, which may include treadmills and dumbbells, kids just need to get outside and run around. Enrolling them in a dance program or an after school soccer club will keep them active. Regular exercise can lower a child’s blood pressure, reduce their blood cholesterol levels, and help them sleep better.

3. Genetics

Family of three sleeping in bed

It may be inherently harder for your kid to lose weight due to genetics. |

Obesity isn’t all about the food you eat or the amount of physical activity you do, genetics also play a role. Some children are at a greater risk of being obese simply because of their genetic make up. If a child’s parents or immediate family tend to gain weight easily, a child may have the same physical genetic disposition for weight gain. However, even genetics cannot cause obesity alone. To become obese, children must eat more calories than they need for growth and daily energy.

4. Bad habits

watching TV

Don’t let you child develop bad habits early. |

Like with adults, children fall into a series of bad habits that lead to weight gain over time. If they get used to Pop Tarts for breakfast and Lunchables for lunch, this craving for processed foods will continue. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends children do at least 60 minute of physical activity every day, but with video games and TV, children develop habits that keep them on the couch after school rather than outside.

5. Environment

Burger King

What you eat will have the greatest effect on your child’s weight. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Since kids are dependent on their parents for food, the environment at home is very impactful on a child’s weight.  If given the option kids, like most adults, will always choose the sugary, calorie laden foods over fruit or sliced veggies. If the pantry is full of chips, cookies, and sugary drinks, that’s what they’ll eat. The key is to create an environment where only healthy snacks are available, as kids will always choose to eat healthy foods rather than be hungry.

6. Sleep

Children jumping on parents bed

Make sure there is a solid bedtime. |

Not many people think of sleep as being a cause of obesity, but a review of studies in the Archives of Disease in Childhood reported that fatigue alters the levels of appetite-regulating hormones in kids, which can lead children to eat more than they need. It’s important to stick to regular sleep and wake-up times that provide children with enough time to get in a full, restful night of sleep. Creating a calming bedtime routine, limiting caffeinated drinks, and ensuring a child’s room is dark and quiet will encourage a deeper night of sleep.