Today childhood obesity has already become an international issue and has reached global epidemic scale causing the growing rates of heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. Thus, according to official statistics, about 25% of Australian children aged 5 to 17 years are presently overweight or obese (Olds et al., 2010; Key national indicators of children’s health, development and wellbeing, 2009), while in the USA the number of children with excessive weight has already reached 34% with 17% of children suffering from obesity (Singh et al., 2008; Bühler-Niederberger, 2010). Childhood obesity is surely far beyond the aesthetic and psychological problem, but bears the major risks for all the systems of the body. In terms of endocrinology, obesity means the risk of developing diabetes type 2. If it strikes a child under 18 years old, one’s life expectancy is unlikely to be more than 50 years (Key national indicators, 2009). In addition, childhood obesity in the future is closely connected with both male and female infertility, fatty degeneration of the liver, early atherosclerosis and hypertension. In general, many chronic diseases become significantly younger due to obesity (Goldhaber-Fiebert et al., 2013; Kime, 2012; Crowle & Turner, 2010).
Currently, there are no simple and unequivocal answers on the nature and underlying reasons of childhood obesity. For instance, while in Europe and USA the obesity issue is typical for low-income families, in China it is a problem of rich families (Crowle & Turner, 2010). While the American Psychological Association blames the obesity epidemic on advertising and mass media, French and British scientists are rather more widely focused on the formation of family nutritional habits and generational health culture (Kime, 2012; Singh and Kogan, 2008). The purpose of this paper lies in analyzing the multiplicity of childhood obesity determinants. Basing of up to date studies, we further claim that high childhood obesity rate is most likely the consequence of contemporary life style and nutrition culture which are widely promoted through media, than genetic preconditions.
Sources of childhood obesity
In simple terms, obesity occurs when energy intake exceeds its expenditure (Goldhaber-Fiebert et al., 2013). The reasons for the disruption of this balance vary individually and depend on the nature of food and nutrition, as well as lifestyle, and initial health status. Yet nutrition plays the preponderant role in the development of obesity, so the first solutions are often searched for in this particular area.
Modern dieting habits and nutrition culture
Obviously, there was no such high-calorie and cheap fast food before the beginning of the 21st century. However, it is naive to think that kids get it only in fast food restaurants. Many families no longer cook food but buy semi-finished products stuffed with flavor enhancers which only stimulate the appetite (Forster-Scott, 2007; Kime, 2012). Buying in vending machines with burgers, chips and soda are at the top of popularity rating among students (Kime, 2012). In this case, a very illustrative is the example of France as the only country which in recent years has reduced the incidence of obesity among adolescents due to a special state program. In its framework not only all school vending machines with unbalanced food were eliminated, but special training lessons in proper nutrition were carried out for teenagers and their parents (Bühler-Niederberger, 2010; Crowle & Turner, 2010).
Indeed, in most cases, weight problems are rooted in the family and the settings formed in the closest environment of the child, often due to the lack of knowledge on healthy lifestyles or lack of efforts to introduce them (Forster-Scott, 2007; Kime, 2012). Thus, when during routine medical examinations all children with the identified overweight or obese were offered to come to a consultation again with parents, only 20% of families made the visit (Sacks et al., 2012). Others ignored the problem: some thought that the child would grow and lose weight with age; some did not notice their child’s extra pounds or did not consider it deviation (Goldhaber-Fiebert et al., 2013; Forster-Scott, 2007). As a result, according to the latest data, in most cases a teenager gets to an endocrinologist with the weight exceeding the limit of 100 kg (Sacks et al., 2012; Kime, 2012). At the same time, the parents are convinced that the problem is hormonal because they believe the child eats a little, moves a lot, but for some reason continues to gain weight.
The role of genetic preconditions and their connection with physical inactivity norms
Sometimes the extra weight is really associated with genetic diseases, such as when a child is missing an internal limit in eating, but there are less than 1% of such cases (Sacks et al., 2012). The factor of genetic predisposition also attains no more than 10%. The risk group for obesity includes children whose relatives suffer (or have suffered) from diabetes or other endocrine disorders, children who were early transferred to artificial feeding (especially high-calorie unbalanced mixtures), premature and underweight babies, children with hereditary diseases and endocrine disorders, as well as children whose parents are obese or overweight (Goldhaber-Fiebert et al., 2013; Perez-Rodriquez et al., 2012). For example, if one parent is obese, in 30% of cases the child will reach the same size. When both parents have excess weight, the likelihood of obesity in children already reaches 60% (Goldhaber-Fiebert et al., 2013). But even such situation is not fatal. The specificity of genes responsible for the weight is that they are well-adjusted by physical activity (Perez-Rodriquez et al., 2012).
Basing on the reviewed literature, the reason of excess weight in the rest 90% are the family eating habits and lack of food culture due to a variety of social, economic and ethnic factors. This could include the systematic overfeeding in childhood that stretches the stomach, demotivation of children with sweets, when sweets are used as a reward leading to chocolate addiction, eating on the run, fast food intake and other negative nutrition examples from parents, as well as encouraging the habit of eating while watching TV on the background of the lack of the necessary physical loading (Singh et al., 2008; Kime, 2012; Forster-Scott, 2007; Perez-Rodriquez et al., 2012). It’s hard not to agree that one of the main reasons for weight problems in children is a sedentary lifestyle. Today’s kids get to school by bus instead of having to go on foot or use a bicycle. Then they sit most of the time, first, at the desk, and then doing the lessons and at the computer. Teens spend an average of two hours a day in front of TV or computer (Key national indicators, 2009). About 45% of those who watch TV shows, online video or DVD, and 10% of those who play computer games are spend more than 20 hours a week on this (Perez-Rodriquez et al., 2012). Today, 37% of Australian children aged 5 to 14 do not do sports, and do not even play active games outdoors (Olds et al., 2010; Key national indicators, 2009).
Media influence and unhealthy behaviors promotion
However, such patterns of behavior also have their sources. For example, as recently found by scientists from the University of California, obesity occurs not only from hours of sitting in front of the TV, but also from watching the TV commercials (Goris et al., 2010). The researchers made this conclusion based on the results of a five-year monitoring of more than 3.5 thousand children under the age of 12. It turned out that children who weigh more than their peers give the greatest preference to channels which show ads most often. The detrimental effect of advertising on childhood obesity, according to scientists, is caused by the fact that of the total number of food commercials 95% makes the advertising of products with low-quality nutritional value (Goris et al., 2010). In turn, the specialists of the Australian Health Organization concluded that even the children’s favorite cartoon characters teach the younger generation to eat junk food, bringing them into the patterns of unhealthy eating behaviors (Olds et al., 2010). Having formed a habit of improper eating in childhood, people carry it through life and then pass on to their children; the circle closes.
Childhood obesity has reasons different from that of adults. The fact is that according to statistics ninety percent of overweight children are indebted for the excessive weight to the habits of their parents, and only a small percentage suffers from obese which is caused by a genetic predisposition or diseases of the endocrine system. Creating government programs to improve the health of the younger generation, it is necessary to focus public attention on the fact that obesity is the cause of many chronic diseases, which means that the overweight child is less likely to become a healthy adult. Therefore, parents who do not care about the health of their child need to urgently change their habits rather than look for the reasons in biomedical determinants of obesity.
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