Obesity rates, which have already reached epidemic proportions in many western countries, are continuing to rise and so it is not surprising that we are seeing an increasing number of overweight children. The dangers of childhood obesity today are all too clear, but what leads to child obesity?
As with many conditions there is no one cause of child obesity and several different factors, usually working together, come into the equation when we are looking at obesity in children.
Frequently a child with obese parents will also be obese and this indicates that there is a possible genetic or inherited link to obesity. This is one area that is currently being researched in a number of medical studies on child obesity. At present however no clearly identifiable genetic connection has been found and it is thought to be far more likely that child obesity is caused by diet and eating habits within the family and not genetics.
Eating habits have altered markedly in recent years with fast food restaurants appearing everywhere, junk food widely and readily available and our supermarket shelves packed with convenience foods that frequently contain very high amounts of sugar. Gone are those days of home cooked meals in many homes, to be replaced by microwave meals or take-away food and ever more parents are choosing to take their children out to eat instead of cooking meals at home.
We have also seen a significant decline in levels of physical activity in many groups of children that has been fueled to a large extent by the introduction of video games, home computers, and now the always present mobile phone. This decline in the level of activity means that all too many children are no longer taking advantage of their natural ability to burn up the calories which they gain from eating. The connection between technology today and child obesity is only too clear to see.
The media (including television and the Internet) also plays a central role. Fast and junk food companies, together with confectionery manufacturers, have not been slow to jump onto the media bandwagon and take full advantage of its clear advertising potential.
There is no doubt that there is a link between junk food commercials and child obesity and the answer to the question 'Is junk food resulting in child obesity?' is most clearly 'Yes'.
There is also a clear connection between social changes and child obesity with many of our children today simply choosing to eat whenever they are bored. We also see them turning to food if they find that they are stressed, depressed, angry or anxious.
Despite the fact that a great deal of research is presently targeted at child obesity, a lot of the strategies to fight child obesity are looking at solving the problem once a child is overweight. Perhaps however the time has come when we ought to be attacking the problem at its roots and preventing our children from getting overweight or obese in the first place.