Childhood obesity is becoming a dangerous trend across the United States. “Data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people in the United States has obesity” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). Nature and nurture both play key roles in this ongoing issue. On the nature side, genetic factors such as leptin deficiency, mutations in POMC, the melanocortin-4 receptor, hypothyroidism, and Albright’s hereditary osteodystrophy. On the nurture side, environmental factors such as prenatal overnutrition, consuming high-fat and sugar-containing foods, reduced physical activity, and socioeconomic status are all linked to childhood obesity.
Kids who are obese have multiple genes that make it easier for them to gain weight. “One gene is the fat mass and obesity-associated gene, which is found in up to 43% of the population” (Obesity Medicine Association, 2019). When food is easily accessible, those with this specific gene are more likely to become obese from an excess amount of calories. This gene and other genes can cause constant hunger, a slow metabolism, and an inactive lifestyle (Obesity Medicine Association, 2019).
“Leptin deficiency is a condition that causes obesity within the first few months of life” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013). Individuals are born with a healthy weight, but are persistently hungry and have rapid weight gain (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013). Beginning at an early age, individuals become obsessive over food. Hoarding food, binge eating, and fighting other kids for food are common signs of this condition (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013).
Being deficient in proopiomelanocortin is another health condition that will cause rapid weight gain at an unusually early age. (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2014). Similar to leptin deficiency, individuals are usually a healthy weight at birth, but are constantly hungry, which leads to excessive eating. This excessive eating leads to obesity by the age of 1 and they remain obese for life (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2014). Having light skin is a common symptom of this condition, as well as having red hair. However, not every individual with POMC deficiency has these features (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2014).
The melanocortin-4 receptor helps to keep your body at a stable weight, managing food consumption and the amount of energy used (American Diabetes Association, 2013). A deficiency of this receptor can cause obesity. Fortunately, there is treatment for this deficiency through a receptor agonist that reduces appetite (American Diabetes Association, 2013). However, possible side effects, including a rise in heart rate and blood pressure, are caused by the treatment (American Diabetes Association, 2013).
When the thyroid gland is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone, it is known as hypothyroidism. (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2019). Someone who is suffering from this condition may have fatigue, increase in body weight, constipation, stunted growth, and many other problems (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2019). Hypothyroidism can be congenital or it can be developed later on in a child’s life. This condition runs in families and can be inherited from parents (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2019).
Albight’s hereditary osteodystrophy is a condition with several signs and symptoms. A few of these could include having stunted growth, being overweight, and stubby extremities (Genetics and Rare Diseases Information Center, 2018). People with this disorder usually lack parathyroid hormone. This causes calcium deficiency in the bones and blood. “Deficiency of calcium in the blood can cause numbness, seizures, cataracts, dental issues, and tetany” (Genetics and Rare Diseases Information Center, 2018).
Approximately 17% of children in the United States today are obese. (Suwannee River Area Health Education Center, 2012-2019). Obesity is defined by the CDC as having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile (Suwanne River Area Health Education Center, 2012-2019). Children’s activity and eating habits are becoming worse than ever, and it is up to parents to make a change. Instead of allowing your child to sit in front of the television with a soda and chips, encourage them to get some fresh air and to snack on a fresh piece of fruit or some celery with peanut butter. With that being said, the nurture category of obesity would include many factors such as food quantity and quality, eating schedule, physical activity levels, and socioeconomic status.
A child’s diet plays a big role in why they are obese. Total food intake, type of food ingested, and eating patterns are all associated with obesity. As a parent, the amount of food you eat is critical. It is common for overweight parents to give their children more food and foods high in fat (Student Psychology Journal Volume 2). The theory of social learning says that children will observe and learn from the actions of people around them, especially their parents (Student Psychology Journal Volume 2). If the parents are subconsciously teaching unhealthy eating habits to the children when they are young, it will likely result in increased fat intake when they are older (Student Psychology Journal Volume 2).
Eating schedule and patterns may also have an effect on the increasing obesity rate in children. Children are more likely to gain weight when they do not eat breakfast and eat the most at dinner and before bed. “An uneven energy distribution throughout the day, where less is eaten at breakfast and lunch, and more is eaten at dinner may influence weight gain” (Student Psychology Journal Volume 2). Insufficient daily intake of vegetables, fruit, and milk, and eating too many high-calorie snacks, play a large role in childhood obesity. “Grain products provide the highest percentage (31%) of daily calories, followed by “other foods” which have limited nutritional value (22% of daily calories). Snacks account for 27% of total daily calories, which is more than the calories consumed at breakfast (18%) and lunch (24%), but not dinner” (31%) (U.S National Library of Medicine, 2007).
Another factor of childhood obesity is physical activity. With the advent of television, video games and electronics children have become less active than ever before. In fact, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a staggering 26% of American children are now unlikely to engage in physical activity and typically watch four hours or more of television daily (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006). “In a 2002 Youth Media Campaign Longitudinal Survey, 4,500 children 9 to 13 years of age and their parents were polled about physical activity levels outside of school hours. The report indicated that 61.5% of 9 to 13 year olds did not participate in any school activities and 22.6% did not partake in non-organized physical activity outside of school” (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006).
Furthermore, financial resources may play a role in increasing childhood obesity as well. Less availability to recreational programs and parks and being unable to access full service grocery stores has a large impact on the nation’s childhood obesity rate (Michigan Medicine, 2016).