Addressing Root Causes of Childhood Obesity: How to Help Your Child Maintain a Healthy Weight

Be sure you know the main causes of childhood obesity so that you can help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

Unhealthy habits during childhood are associated with a myriad of health problems later in life.

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Unfortunately, childhood obesity is increasingly becoming a problem. With easy access to fast food, soda, and unhealthy snacks, combined with more and more time spent sitting watching TV or playing video games, many kids aren’t get the nutrition and physical activity they need to stay healthy. And unhealthy habits during childhood are associated with a myriad of health problems later in life.

Be sure you know the main causes of childhood obesity so that you can help your child to live a healthy lifestyle. 

Causes of childhood obesity

  1. Genetics. In some cases, genetics can influence obesity. However, genetic factors account for less than 5% of childhood obesity cases.[1] More commonly, lifestyle factors are the cause.
  2. Poor diet. Too much fast food, unhealthy snacks, and processed foods, along with a lack of nutrients from healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, are major reasons for unhealthy weight in children.[1]
  3. Lack of physical activity. Along with unhealthy food intake, not enough physical activity and exercise is a large contributor to childhood obesity. Kids are too often doing sedentary activities like watching TV, and they are not moving their bodies enough.[1]
  4. Soda consumption. Another huge problem that causes weight gain in children is sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. Sodas and other sweet drinks are known to increase BMI in children, as well as cause many other health problems.[1]
  5. Gut microbiota imbalance. The composition of bacteria in the gut promotes health in a variety of ways, including helping to maintain a healthy weight and to control appetite. There is growing evidence that the gut microbiome is altered in people that are obese, which may be a major factor in weight control.[2,3]
  6. Bad eating habits. Aside from just improper food choices, habits revolving around eating and mealtimes can contribute to childhood obesity as well. For example, too large of portion sizes, excessive snacking, and not sitting down to a family meal are all associated with childhood obesity.[1]

3 easy and natural solutions to help prevent childhood obesity

Besides genetic factors or other underlying health conditions causing weight gain, most of the causes of childhood obesity can be prevented by lifestyle changes to daily habits. Here are three simple and effective tools to help your child to maintain a healthy weight:

  1. Cook at home and eat family meals together. By making food at home, you can help instill healthy eating habits in your kids. Eating out too often puts you and your family at risk of eating food laden with extra fats, carbs, sugar, and sodium. Home cooked food is often much healthier, and it allows you to choose what and how much of it your family eats. And eating around the dinner table as a family has its benefits, too. In one review study, kids who ate at home at least three times per week were 12% less likely to be overweight compared to those who had shared family meals less than three times per week. Additionally, the kids who more often ate with their families were less likely to eat unhealthy foods and more likely to eat healthy ones.[1,4] To read more about the health benefits of cooking at home, go here.
  2. Limit TV time to under an hour and promote physical activity instead. Even small amounts of time spent in front of the TV can be very detrimental to a child’s health. In a study presented in April at the Pediatric Academic Society’s annual meeting, researchers found that kindergarteners that watched as little as one hour of TV per day were 50% to 60% more likely to be overweight and 58% to 73% more likely to be obese compared to those who watched for less than an hour daily.[5] So limit screen time to one hour, and replace TV with more active choices, like playing outside, doing sports, or going on a family walk.
  3. Include prebiotics and probiotics into your child’s diet. As gut microbiota likely plays a large role in appetite and food intake, keeping the flora in your child’s digestive system healthy will help them to control their weight. Probiotics seem to hold a lot of promise in helping to prevent and treat childhood obesity, as do prebiotics.[2,3] Probiotics are healthy, live bacteria, and prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that help those healthy bacteria to grow and proliferate, at the same time helping you feel fuller and lose weight. To read more about prebiotics and probiotics, as well as how to get them into your child’s diet, read more here.

Build healthy habits now

The roots of a long, healthy, and disease-free life start in childhood. Get started today in helping your child to learn healthy habits that will allow them to prosper as they grow and develop. Start by instating new rules about TV time, and find a way to incorporate more exercise into your child’s day. Then, work on cooking more at home, making sure to get your family around the dinner table as much as possible.

Share your experience

What are your best tips for keeping yourself and your family healthy? Do you have any favorite recipes that your family loves? What kinds of things do you do to get active with the whole family? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[1] J Family Med Prim Care. 2015 Apr-Jun;4(2):187-92.

[2] Front Immunol. 2015 Feb 24;6:76.

[3] Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Dec 23;12(1):162-75.

[4] Pediatrics. 2011 Jun;127(6):e1565-74.

[5] American Academy of Pediatrics Press Room. 2015 April 26.

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UHN Staff

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  • One of my three children put on a great deal of weight this summer when she was visiting her grandparents for a month. She is not a naturally active child and really fights efforts to get her to move. Instead, she likes to play video games on her iPad while her sisters play on the trampoline. So here’s what I’m going to try: I bought a treadmill with an iPad holder. As long as she is moving, she can play on the iPad. She used to go to the gym with me and loves walking on a treadmill, so it’s something she’s looking forward to much more than being outside in the heat.

    I’m also looking forward to using my treadmill desk to walk while I work!

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