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Obesity and Children

How do kids become obese or overweight?

Like most chronic health problems, obesity is caused by complex interactions between genes, environment and behavior/habits.

Many studies have shown that there is not a big difference in the amount of food eaten and physical activity between obese and non-obese kids.  Probably small differences in eating and activity over time really add up and lead to weight gain.   Obese children do tend to eat larger portions or higher calorie foods, like high-fat foods.

Physical activity and inactivity are very important factors.  Many studies have shown that kids who spend more time watching television [23] and playing video games are at higher risk of becoming overweight.  One in three high school youth do not engage in vigorous physical activity.  Less than 30% attend daily gym class [24]. Sprawling development that discourages physical activity and makes walking and biking difficult or dangerous is also a factor [25].

Kids in families with obese parents tend to be obese themselves.  If one parent is obese or overweight, their teen has an 80% chance of being overweight.  This is probably because of a combination of genetics and family behavior and habits.  Children of moms who have diabetes are more likely to be overweight.

Very rarely, obesity is caused by an underlying medical condition.  Illnesses that can cause obesity include endocrine problems and some genetic syndromes.  Your doctor will probably be able to rule out an underlying medical problem by a physical exam and by taking your child’s medical history.  Sometimes lab tests are needed.

Some studies indicate that environmental chemicals may play a role.  Researchers hypothesize that in utero or newborn exposures to chemicals such as endocrine disruptors (for example xenoestrogen bisphenol A—which is in food and drink containers) may damage the body’s weight-control mechanisms and lead to obesity [26] [27].

Can medication help my child lose weight?

None of the new medicines to treat obesity are approved for children or adolescents to use.  They may affect your child’s growth and development, and the risk of dangerous complications is far greater than any benefit they might have.

By far the best approach is helping your whole family—including your child—change their behavior.

How can I help my child lose weight, or stay a healthy weight?

Obesity develops over time and cannot be solved overnight.  Remember that this is not an emergency.  Do not expect dramatic change.  That is unrealistic.

The best way to have a healthy weight is prevention. Be sure your family has healthy habits from the beginning, and prevent yourself and your children from becoming overweight. It is much easier to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose weight.

Make it a whole family effort:

Obesity is not just your child’s problem.  It is a problem that the whole family must be involved in solving.  Your child lives within your family environment.

Chances are, someone else in your family has also struggled with weight or experienced obesity.  They may be able to offer valuable help and support in developing realistic goals for your child.
As a family try to think of problems that you have solved successfully.  This will help you stay positive, and look for other areas that are opportunities for change.

Mealtimes should be family times. Create a relaxed atmosphere around mealtime.  Eat slowly and enjoy your food. Eat together as a family, and don’t watch TV during meals. Families that do not eat together tend to consume more fried foods and soda and less fruits and veggies than families that share meals.

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