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Many Reasons for Childhood Obesity

Why is there such an explosion of childhood obesity these days?

Research has shown what common sense might tell you: There are a lot of reasons why so many children can be classified as obese today.

According to the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), approximately 17% of children ages 6 through 11 are obese. That’s up from 11% in 1988-1994, 6.5% in 1980, and around 4% in 1971-1974. Carrying extra weight can result in type II diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, orthopedic complications, and other physical problems.

Why is this happening? Researchers have identified many risk factors. If parents are overweight or obese, children are more likely to be, too. Genetics and common eating habits are both likely causes. As with adults, a poor diet and limited amount of physical activity often add up to extra weight.

Some researchers have pointed out changes in schools’ food offerings as one reason for larger school kids. Students often have unlimited access to high-calorie, low-nutrition foods such as a la carte items in the cafeteria line and in vending machines. In addition, recess and required courses in physical education also have declined, decreasing the amount of activity and exercise students have as part of their school day.

Also, some research indicates that children in families who do not eat together at the dinner table are more likely to be overweight than those who do. Paying attention to what children eat seems to help.

Another problem: Eating too many chips, candy bars, and other high-calorie snacks. Sugary soft drinks also fall into this category. Fifty-six percent of 8-year-olds consume soft drinks daily and a third of teenage boys drink at least three cans of soda a day. On average, adolescents get 11% of their calories and 15 teaspoons of sugar from soft drinks. Increased soft drink consumption has been associated with decreased intake of nutrient-dense beverages such as milk.

Other reasons:

  • An inability to determine proper portion sizes
  • Eating due to stress, boredom or other reasons besides hunger
  • Eating too much fast food
  • Not participating in enough activity or exercise outside of school

Dietitians recommend that parents, educators, and health-care providers work together to make healthful foods more available and decrease access to foods with little nutritional value. Parents can help by eating together as a family at the dinner table at regular times as often as possible, paying attention to what their children eat, and encouraging children to engage in an hour of physical activity daily.


For More Information:

This article originally appeared in Chow Line (12/29/02), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2009.

For more information:

Go to the Obesity and Weight Management health topic.