Causes of obesity and what parents can do to prevent it

No doubt that obesity is one of the biggest health issues around the world, and the cause of several preventable diseases. In the United States, obesity accounts for 9 percent of all medical spending or $147 billion per year. People who are obest spend almost $1,500 more each year on healthcare and beyond those costa are the disability and early deaths caused by obesity.

We are not born obese, but there are many contributing factors that can lead to this chronic medical disease. 

According to the NY State Department of Health, about 10 percent of 4- and 5-year-olds are overweight. This number is double what it was 20 years ago. But why?

Research has shown that mothers who smoked, drank, or used marijuana or cocaine while pregnant may cause an increased risk of childhood obesity. These substances can subject a fetus to poor nutrition and inadequate blood or oxygen flow that may cause metabolic issues that increase the risk of childhood obesity. 

Infants whose mothers showed less emotional warmth during non-feeding-related interactions were more likely to gain excess weight faster as children. Active and positive playtime with a child mahy help them decrease the risk for becoming obese. 

If parents are obese, then their children are much more likely to become obese, too. This is due to the lifestyle that the overweight parents is passed along to the children. Poor eating habits such as consuming heavily processed foods are a contributing factor. 

These foods may taste good, but they are heavily engineered and designed to get people addicted. The sugar and high-fat content in junk food stimulate the reward centers in the brain and are often compared to abused drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and nicotine, causing addiction in susceptible people. Sugar changes the hormones and biochemistry of your body when consumed in excess. In many cases, children are becoming obese and diabetic before they are even old enough to make healthy food choices for themselves.

Parents can help children make good choices to maintain a healthy weight by:

  • Limiting sugary drinks including apple juice, orange juice and sports drinks. 
  • Making sure they have a nutritious breakfast every day, and asking them what they had for lunch at school (or making them a healthy lunch to take with them).
  • Encouraging them to try new foods and serving fruits and vegetables with every meal. They may not always eat them, but at least they are exposed to them on a regular basis.
  • Preparing meals ahead of time and limiting fast food during a busy weekday schedule.
  • Encouraging physical activity (and less screen time) and playing with them by shooting hoops, riding bikes, or taking walks. An hour a day is recommended.

In the United States, roughly 112,000 deaths per year are directly related to obesity, and most of these deaths are in patients with a BMI of 30 and over. Obesity can lead to many chronic conditions.

  • Insulin resistance
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Gallstones
  • Gout
  • Osteoarthritis of the knees, hips, and lower back
  • Sleep apnea

Obesity is easier to prevent than to treat, due to the high relapse rate. Most people who lose weight regain it within five years. Medications and diets can help, but treatment for obesity is not a short-term fix. It’s a lifelong commitment to eating healthy and exercising regularly. Even losing just 5% – 10% of your weight can bring significant health benefits by lowering blood pressure, and lowering the risks of heart disease and diabetes. You will increase your chances of long-term successful weight loss by working with your doctor and other health professionals including dieticians, psychologists, and personal fitness trainers.

Sources: ABC News, Healthline, and MedicineNet