Causes And Contributing Factors Of Childhood Obesity

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Childhood Obesity

It has been said that childhood obesity is currently one of the most serious public health challenges and can lead to a wide variety of adverse consequences including chronic illness, psychological and social effects. This report aims to assess whether this statement is valid and addresses the relevant contributing factors (including technological, social and economic) as well as measures to be taken to prevent this lifestyle-related disease.

What is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is an excess accumulation of mass occurring in children and teenagers which can cause many negative health effects. This occurs when a child weighs 20% or more than their recommended weight. (Childhood Obesity Foundation, 2015)

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Childhood obesity is also defined by The World Health Organisation (WHO) as a child’s weight-for-height measurement exceeding a z-score of 2 as seen in Figure 1 and Figure 2 below. (World Health Organization, 2019)

Figure 1. Weight-for-height graph of boys aged Birth to 5 years old. (World Health Organization, 2018)

Figure 2. Weight-for-height graph of girls aged Birth to 5 years old. (World Health Organization, 2018)

Causes and Contributing Factors of Childhood Obesity

Technological Factors

Currently, in today’s society, there is an immense amount of influence on a person’s eating habits and lifestyle choices from the media and technology due to an environment that relies on technology to display advertisements, recipes and promotions.

Children are spending increasingly large amounts of time on social media and technology-based activities such as online or video games. These gaming activities are usually accompanied with advertisements which may be promoting food-related items. These advertisements may stimulate a child’s sense of hunger which may lead to unnecessary eating and consumption of an excess amount of kilojoules than needed by the child.

By spending this amount of time participating in technological activities it means that children are spending less time doing physical activities such as playing outside. This puts these children at risk because they are not burning as much energy as they should be (from exercise) which means they are consuming more kilojoules than their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) requires. This means that their excess kilojoules are converted to fat and stored in their body as adipose tissue. This is a serious health risk because this fat accumulates around their organs and can cause health issues such as childhood obesity. (Adam, 2018).

Social factors

Children are constantly under pressure from their peers and from the environment in which they live. Children are constantly making decisions based on what their friends and their family do and how they behave. One such decision is what they choose for lunch or what they choose to eat during the day (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). For example, if a child has an apple in their lunchbox and their friend (who has a bar of chocolate) offers to share their lunch with this child, the child may choose to eat the chocolate instead of the apple. Thus making an unhealthy food choice due to his/her peer’s influence.

According to (Burke, 2011), a child’s schooling environment can impact their food choices and eating patterns. Many school serve lunches which are high in fat and of a large portion size. This means that children may be eating too much energy-rich food and not getting the correct amount of essential nutrients.

(Burke, 2011) also mentions that the family environment in which a child belongs influences a child’s weight and lifestyle. Children, from a young age, develop a preference for the foods that they are exposed to at their home. For example, if a family eats unhealthy, fast or convenience foods often then the children in that family may become familiar with these foods and develop a preference for foods that are not highly nutritious, such as these, as well as the child may become obese and malnourished due to an excess of energy-rich foods and a lack of micronutrient-dense foods in their diet.

Economic factors contributing to Childhood Obesity

The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016) mentions how the income of a family can dramatically affect the type of foods that that family eats. Families which have a low socio-economic status cannot afford to spend money on luxury foods and foods which are not basic and essential food items because these foods are generally more expensive.

A family spending pattern also contributes to the diet of the children in that family, according to (Sydenham, 2019). She also mentions how food items available to lower-income households tend to be more starch bases foods which have a higher Glycaemic Index (GI). These foods are digested quickly and do not have a high satiety which may cause people to become hungry sooner than low GI foods. This may lead to overeating and excess consumption of nutrients in a child’s diet.

Other Factors influencing Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity may also be influenced by a genetic component which causes the body to not make enough insulin or to not know how to use its insulin (Sydenham, 2019). There is a metabolic factor which contributes to possible childhood obesity. If a child has a low metabolic rate, then they will burn calories slower than a child with a high metabolic rate. This means that they burn less calories during exercise. This factor may cause a child to become obese due to not burning sufficient calories during physical activity.

The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016) notes that certain types of mediation may also stimulate a child’s appetite causing them to feel hungry because of this false stimulation. This may cause children to consume more food than necessary and thus take in more kilojoules than they require, influencing childhood obesity.

Preventative Measures

In order to ensure that childhood obesity does not occur, many possible preventative measures may be put in place and practiced daily.

The (World Health Organization, 2019) states that it is essential to be able to identify whether or not a child has this disease in order to cure and further prevent it. They also say that there needs to be a correct “energy balance” which can be continuously monitored throughout the child’s lifetime. Children also need to consume a fewer amount of fats and sugar in their diets and they need to increase the amount of physical activity they do daily.

(Langley, 2019) and (Sydenham, 2019) both suggest that a family (including the children) should follow the South African based Dietary Guidelines quite strictly, eating less fast and convenience foods because these are generally not nutrient-dense foods and following a balanced diet which includes correct portion sizes. One can also make exercising more fun and enjoyable for children.

(Sydenham, 2019) notes that some helpful tips towards helping prevent this disease are consuming more soluble fibre in the diet, eating more foods which have a low Glycaemic Index and using different cooking methods. Foods which contain soluble fibre are beneficial because soluble fibre lowers cholesterol and slows down digestion. Foods with a low Glycaemic Index have a slower rate of acting on blood sugar levels than high Glycaemic Index foods this allows for efficient energy use. By using alternative cooking methods which are healthier (for example, using an air-fryer to cook food instead of deep frying it) can reduce an intake of unhealthy fats and retain nutritional value.

Families can also monitor and keep track of a child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) by ensuring that their BMI score is between 18.5 and 24.9 (McCarthy, 2018). Body Mass Index is measured by the following equation: BMI=(Weight (in kgs))/(Height (in m) ×Height (in m) ).

However, it is essential to be aware and informed of the warning signs of this disease and to lead a healthy lifestyle with healthy habits and practices (Burke, 2011).

Long and short term health risks of Childhood Obesity

The (World Health Organization, 2019) has related childhood obesity to be a “Double Burden” in our society. This is because childhood obesity is often caused by a lack of nutrition as an infant then an increase of high-fat foods which cause obesity and ultimately consequences from this burden.

Short term health risks

Along with childhood obesity, come many serious health risks such as difficulty breathing, physical exhaustion, sleep disturbances, gallstones and gout. Children may also develop skin infections (such as chaffing) due to moisture being trapped in the folds of their skin. Children may also develop poor communication skills due to isolating themselves and possible bullying (Childhood Obesity Foundation, 2015).

Childhood obesity may also result in hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint problems and a higher risk of disease currently and in the future (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).

Long term health risks

Childhood obesity is known to cause more serious and damaging health issues such as strokes, fatty liver disease, depression, cardiac disturbances, Diabetes Type 2 and a lower life expectancy (Childhood Obesity Foundation, 2015).

Childhood obesity can ultimately result in premature aging, cancers (such as endometrial cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer), chronic health issues and premature death, according to (World Health Organization, 2019).

Role of technology

Technology plays a vital role in influencing the children of the 21st century. Children spend less time playing outside due to being on social media or on technology thus they spend less time being physically active therefore they burn less kilojoules than necessary and this, in turn, means that they take in too many kilojoules than needed. This creates an inactive lifestyle for the children, according to (Adam, 2018).

Social media’s influence on a child’s appearance can affect their diet and can cause many issues which may lead to stress and/or comfort eating. Technology also enables people to order fast and convenient foods online and get it delivered to your location. This negatively impacts a person’s health because it makes it easier and more convenient to order unhealthy and energy-dense foods without having to walk in the shop to buy it. Recipe videos prioritize quick-and-easy recipes over recipes which are nutritious and have a high nutrient density (Sydenham, 2019).

Children also replace activity with social media and technology. This also affects a child because often children are the target market of food-based advertisements such as McDonald’s advertisements portraying a lot of colour and ‘fun’ (Layton, n.d.). This is negative because they may develop a preference for unhealthy foods on these advertisements.

Mental Health issues related to being obese

With childhood obesity comes an accompanying stigma because other people view people with obesity as a form of disgrace or shame. People with obesity may develop a low self-esteem and may feel isolated because of the way that their peers and the people in their environment view them and how they are treated by these people. This may be a contributing factor to possibly developing depression and anxiety. They also may have a low self-esteem (from being teased and having an immense amount of peer pressure), they may develop mental exhaustion and a negative self-perception from constantly being self-conscious about their body or weight.

People who are obese may develop an obsession with eating and their appearance. This may lead to very serious eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia and may ultimately lead to other serious health risks.

Validity of results

I believe, to the best of my ability, that my results are results which are mainly based on facts and not opinion because I have used sources which are reliable and peer-reviewed such as the World Health Organization and Harvard Health. These sources are not biased and are not anecdotal which increases their reliability. These sources are also well-known, accredited sources which are primarily based on fact.

Finally, the information collected shows that childhood obesity is a very serious issue which can cause immense damage physically, emotionally and socially. Childhood obesity is also a disease that is life-threatening and can lead to chronic illness. For these reasons it is evident that the given hypothesis is correct.

However, this investigation can be improved by looking at an unbiased sample size of statistics or using information from various types of sources such as research journals, textbooks and so on.


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