There is no one single factor that can cause childhood obesity. A number of factors work in tandem to make a child obese or fat.
Bad eating habits and lack of physical activity are the most common reasons. There are other far less common reasons such as genetic and hormonal causes.
Childhood Obesity Causes
The leading cause of childhood obesity is an increased intake of calories with decreased utilization of calories. This simply translates to increased intake of high-calorie foods and decreased physical activity.
1) Bad Eating Habits
Eating bad foods is the leading cause of childhood obesity. The type of calorie-rich foods and drinks that the children are exposed to in school and outside nowadays are different than those in previous times.
There is greater variety, more decked up appearance of the foods and drinks, which appeals to the eye and a host of inviting advertisements and banners at the eating places.
Secondly, the portion size of the servings is large, making it that much easier to gulp in more calories.
This is enough to lure the young child to go for it – more often. The density of food and snack vending outlets is high and availability is therefore easy.
The fast-food industry (like McDonald’s) spends millions of dollars on promotion with a high success rate resulting in the consumption of calorie-dense foods at regular intervals by children.
Type of foods that cause childhood obesity
The dietary factors that are responsible for childhood obesity include consumption of fast food, sugary drinks, snack foods, and big portion sizes.
- One of the important causes of obesity in children is eating fast food or processed foods, which are high in fats, especially trans fats. Fast foods tend to contain a high number of calories, which have low nutritional values
- A diet high in carbohydrates especially simple carbohydrates (bad carbs) causes weight gain.
- Simple carbohydrates are found in sugars, fructose, soft drinks, beer, wine, sugary drinks, etc. Sugary drinks include soda, juices, and other sweetened beverages. These are rapidly absorbed into the blood and cause a spike in blood sugar levels. The excess blood sugar is converted into fat and stored as such. Secondly, sugary drinks are less filling and you tend to eat yet again, which results in the consumption of more calories.
- Complex carbohydrates, the good carbs, on the other hand, are gradually absorbed and the sugar from these foods is absorbed slowly and used as energy. Complex carbohydrates are found in bananas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, oats, sweet corn, whole grain cereals, and yams. These carbs do not contribute to obesity.
- Not eating high fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables is another factor that significantly contributes to your child gaining weight. An increased intake of fibre rich foods is one of the factors that are useful for the treatment of obesity. Consuming fibre-rich food is a primary solution to combat obesity. It is usually satisfying without being rich in categories.
- An obsession for eating processed snacks to pass time and eating even when full.
2) Lack of Physical Activity
That children and adolescents watch television overtime is an established fact, at least in most of the households. On an average, a child spends approximately four hours watching television.
This habit of sitting for prolonged periods does tend to make one lazy. Taking up some physical activity or exercise is shunned and calories remain to be burnt while excessive intake continues. Excessive storage of calories in the body results in increased fat deposits and obesity.
Previous generations played games after school while today the number of children doing that continues to dwindle.
Computer usage, video games, watching television are the past times of children today as compared to playing games in the previous generations when these new facilities did not exist.
This sedentary lifestyle is an important cause of childhood obesity and a sedentary lifestyle in children very often results in a sedentary lifestyle in adulthood.
3) Genetic Causes of Childhood Obesity
Obesity genes are also responsible for the child developing obesity. Obese parents, very often, are an obesity cause. Being overweight and obese tends to run in families.
If one or both parents are obese, chances of their children being obese are 3 times higher than children whose parents are not obese. These genetic causes are also because families do share food habits and physical activity habits, which pass onto the children.
What are the obesity genes?
Studies have found that 80% of children of two obese parents were obese as compared to only 10% of obese children of parents of normal weight.
High-calorie foods and physical inactivity may be the custom of the house whereby children, too, are exposed to those foods and a sedentary lifestyle. The obesity gene also determines what type of fat build-up will be there in the children – whether it will be cellulite or abdominal fat or subcutaneous fat.
However, switching over to healthy food and physical activity by the family reduces the chances of obesity in children.
Genes also determine your appetite and fat-storing tendency. Obesity genes can make you a voracious eater and can also make your body store more fat than somebody else.
4) Leptin and Childhood Obesity
Certain hormones involved in fat regulation are also controlled by our genes. Leptin is a hormone present in the fat cells, which controls our appetite, curbing it when the fat stores are high.
Genetic variations can cause leptin deficiency leading to loss of control on the appetite. This causes the child to overeat and become obese.
Leptin and child obesity, therefore, are inversely proportionate to each other – meaning if leptin decreases, appetite and subsequently, obesity increases.
However, when the obesity gene is not present, child obesity is linked to high levels of leptin.
Fat cells produce Leptin. Due to more and bigger fat cells in obese children, more leptin is produced. And, the reason for overeating in spite of high leptin levels is believed to be due to the development of leptin resistance in obese children.
5) Medical Causes of Childhood Obesity
Certain hormonal diseases like Cushing’s Syndrome and hypothyroidism cause obesity. Polycystic ovarian syndrome when present in teen girls can also cause weight gain.
Certain medicines cause childhood obesity through their actions.
- Antidepressants used to treat depression
- Anticonvulsants such as Tegretol, Equetro, Carbatrol used to treat seizures
- Prolonged use of corticosteroids such as Prednisolone
- Medicines used to treat juvenile diabetes such as insulin
- Certain medicines used to treat high blood pressure
- Antihistamines used to treat common cold and allergy
5) Psychological Causes of Childhood Obesity
Depression and low self-esteem make the child look for comfort in some activity and he or she finds this comfort in eating. This makes the child spend more time eating, resulting in the consumption of more food and calories.