Genetic or Just Plain Unhealthy?

Researchers find much of childhood obesity problem caused by unhealthy habits rather than genes

(RxWiki News) Genetics can be blamed for some of the more severe cases of childhood obesity. However, new research shows that many children are obese simply because of their lifestyles.

Over the past few decades, rates of childhood obesity have risen dramatically. From 1980 to 2008, the prevalence of obesity among children 6 to 11 years of age grew from 6.5 percent to almost 20 percent. During that same time, the percentage of obese adolescents ages 12 to 19 increased by five percent, meaning that about 18 percent of 12 to 19 year olds were categorized as obese.

Obese youth face an increased risk of health complications such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure (contributors to cardiovascular disease), bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea. If obesity continues into adulthood, they are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and other adverse health conditions.

In light of this growing health problem, President Obama recently signed legislation to create healthier lunch options in schools across the United States. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is intended to reduce salt, fat, and sugar in school meals in order to combat growing obesity trends.

In order to further understand the causes of childhood obesity, researchers at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center studied data from check-ups of 1,003 Michigan sixth-graders. They found that obese children are more likely than non-obese children (58 percent versus 41 percent) to spend two hours a day watching TV. Obese children were also more likely to eat a school lunch rather than a bagged (and possibly healthier) lunch from home.

The researchers also found that obese kids were less likely to take physical education classes or participate on a sports team. Likely as a consequence, obese kids were more likely to exercise less than their non-obese peers.

New evidence points to a certain genetic mutation as a cause of overeating among children. This particular study, however, found less support for the genetic explanation. According to Taylor Eagle, one of the study's authors, nearly all participants in the University of Michigan study, whether obese or not, reported unhealthy habits. Yet only 15 percent of the participants were obese. This may demonstrates that a lack of physical activity, too much TV, and the poor nutritional quality of school lunches are to blame for a great deal of the childhood obesity problem in the United States, says Kim A. Eagle, M.D., a cardiologist and a director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center.

Review Date: 
January 31, 2011