Childhood Obesity: Heredity or Irresponsibility?

While working at a daycare in 2006, I became aware of a problem that I had never encountered before, childhood obesity. Two children who attended the daycare, one six-years-old and one 10-months-old, were two siblings who were both drastically overweight. Their weight, however, wasn’t surprising when I witnessed their mother bringing them McDonald’s for breakfast and packing Lunchables, chips and soda for their lunches.

Childhood obesity on the rise
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last thirty years, raising from 7% of children ages 6-11 in 1980 to 20% in 2008. These numbers are shocking and good reason for concern. With over a third of children and adolescents being classified as overweight or obese, it is clear that obesity is a problematic issue for American children.

Risk factors for childhood obesity
Children who consume diets full of fast food, processed foods, sodas, desserts and other low-quality foods are more likely to gain weight. These foods, although fine in moderation, can become problematic if they account for a large portion of a child’s diet. Additionally, children who do not get enough exercise are at a greater risk of gaining weight. This is especially concerning in our digital age where kids are glued to video games and television shows, rather than running and playing outside. Children who come from poor families, or families who have a history of obesity are more likely to become overweight. This is especially true if exercise, physical activity and a healthy diet are not encouraged in the home.

Childhood obesity isn’t just genetic
While working as a daycare attendant, I heard every excuse in the book from parents of overweight children. The most common excuse was “It’s genetic.” Many parents mistakenly believe that if being overweight or obese runs in the family, that the child will suffer from these conditions as well and there is nothing they can do to prevent it. This simply isn’t true.

Although it is true that some children may struggle with their weight more due to heredity, most cases of adolescent and childhood obesity can be linked back to bad health habits, often times modeled for children by their parents. If the child’s mother and father are obese due to a lack of exercise and making poor nutritional decisions, such as eating fast food several times a week, it isn’t any surprise that the child struggles with his or her weight. After all, the nutritional behaviors modeled to them by their parents have been poor examples.

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