Understanding the contributing factors of childhood obesity is important in helping prevent children from becoming obese. Although not all of the factors that contribute to childhood obesity can be controlled, lifestyle and dietary changes can reduce the likelihood. Three categories, socioeconomic, biological, and behavioral, divide up the contributing factors of childhood obesity.
A parent can not easily control the socioeconomic factors that contribute to childhood obesity. These factors are especially harmful to minorities, specifically Hispanics and African Americans, who largely make up the lower socioeconomic status. In terms of obesity prevalence: compared to 16.1% of white children, 25.6% of Hispanics and 24.2% of African American children are obese. Data taken from the CDC.
Income may be a contributing factor of childhood obesity. High energy, low nutrient foods tend to be less expensive than foods with high nutrients. Think the dollar menu at McDonald’s; food on that menu, while inexpensive, is low in nutrients but will still fill a person up. Compare that to fresh produce from the supermarket which can be double or triple the cost of the dollar menu meal but is high in nutrients and less likely to contribute to childhood obesity. Income determines what food options are easier to obtain.
Where a child lives can also be a contributing factor of childhood obesity. For example, there are some areas or neighborhoods where access to supermarkets or places to find fresh food is scarce or nonexistent; these places are called food deserts. If a child lives in a food desert, then all they might have access to are low nutrient foods like what can be bought at a fast-food restaurant. Food deserts are typically found in lower-income areas.
Not all factors that cause childhood obesity can be avoided, some are inherited. Some children who are obese have inherited genes from their parents that make them gain weight quickly and/or have a slow metabolism.
Behavioral factors that contribute to childhood obesity may be the easiest factors to change compared to all the other factors discussed.
Technology is a great help in our lives and is an easy way to distract a child or get them to stay in one place. However, when a child is on technology, they are not moving which means they are not burning many calories. Being stationary can lead to weight gain. One way to prevent this is to limit the amount of time a child spends on technology a day. This will encourage the child to spend more time each day playing, which will help prevent weight gain.
When sleep deprived a child can crave high-calorie food to compensate. To prevent this, try to make sure your child has a regular bedtime routine, aiming for 9-11 hours of sleep. Another way to get your child to sleep is to take away all their technology at least an hour before bedtime which will encourage the child to be able to fall asleep faster.
Work from both the child and parent lowers stress which is a contributing factor in childhood obesity. Parental tension, strained relationships, and/or negative life events can lead to stress in a child. These stress factors increase the chance that a child uses the coping mechanism of stress eating which may lead to obesity.
Eating unhealthy food is a contributing factor of childhood obesity. Fattening and sugary foods increase dopamine levels. Dopamine, known as the “happy feel-good” hormone, triggers the reward center of the brain leading to excessive eating. Choosing to eat fresh produce can lower the chance of becoming obese.
In conclusion, there is not just one factor that contributes to childhood obesity. Some factors are uncontrollable, like the biological and socioeconomic factors. Other factors, like behavioral, are controllable with lifestyle changes. For more resources and information on how to prevent childhood obesity please visit the CDC website. Also, visit the previous blog post and listen to our podcast for more information.