by L. Bellows and J. Roach1 (05/09)
* Overweight children have an increased risk of being overweight as adults.
* Genetics, behavior, and family environment play a role in childhood overweight.
* Childhood overweight increases the risk for certain medical and psychological conditions.
* Encourage overweight children to be active, decrease screen time, and develop healthful eating habits.
The prevalence of overweight children in the United States has increased dramatically in recent years. Recent reports have reached epidemic levels, with approximately 16 percent of children, 2 to 19 years old, classified as overweight.2 Colorado fares ...view middle of the document...
During their youth, for example, they are more likely to exhibit risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, dyslipidemia, and type 2 diabetes compared with normal weight individuals.4 Additional health complications associated with overweight children include sleep apnea, asthma, and liver damage.4 Further, overweight children and adolescents are more likely to become obese adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80 percent of children who were overweight at 10 to 15 years old were obese at 25.4 Another study found that 25 percent of obese adults were overweight as children.4 This study also concluded that if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe. Finally, childhood overweight has psychological and emotional consequences. Overweight children are at an increased risk of teasing and bullying, low self-esteem, and poor body image.
Contributors of Childhood Overweight
There is not one single cause of childhood overweight, rather it is a complex interaction of many variables. Contributing factors include genetics, behavior, environment, and certain socio-demographics.
Genetics. Certain genetic characteristics may increase an individual’s susceptibility to excess body weight, however, there are likely to be many genes involved and a strong interaction between genetics and environment that influences the degree of excess body weight.5 It has been shown that overweight tends to run in families suggesting a genetic link. In some cases, parental obesity is a stronger predictor of childhood overweight than the child’s weight status alone.5
Behavior. Weight gain occurs as a result of energy imbalance, specifically when a child consumes more calories than the child uses. Several behaviors can contribute to weight gain including nutrition, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors.
* Nutrition - An increase in availability and consumption of high-calorie convenience foods and beverages, more meals eaten away from home, fewer family meals, and greater portion sizes all may contribute to childhood overweight. Further, many children’s diets do not meet nutrition guidelines. For example, only 8 percent of children in Colorado ate vegetables three or more times per day as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.3, 6
* Physical Activity - Decreased opportunities and participation in physical activity is another behavior that contributes to overweight children. Being physically active not only has positive effects on body weight, but also on blood pressure and bone strength.7 It also has been shown that physically active children are more likely to remain physically active into adolescence and adulthood.7 Children may spend less time being physically active during school as well as at home. School physical education programs have decreased and children are walking to school and doing household chores less frequently.