How does childhood obesity work?

Risk Factors for Obesity

If your kid says P.E. is boring, invest in a trampoline (and then teach him or her to use it safely).
If your kid says P.E. is boring, invest in a trampoline (and then teach him or her to use it safely).

If you hopped into a time machine and made your way back to 1977, you'd think someone had shrunk all the snacks in the vending machines. That's because soft drinks went from an average 12.2 ounces to a whopping 19.9 ounces between 1977 and 1996, and salty snacks went from an average 1-ounce serving to 1.6-ounce serving [source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services]. This increase in portion sizes leads us to our next topic: contributing risk factors for childhood obesity. Bad nutrition choices and lack of physical activity sit right at the top of that list. Let's examine these two and other risk factors more closely.

Poor diet is one risk factor for childhood obesity that we all know. Overeating causes a child to take in more calories than he or she needs to function, which leads to weight gain. The large (read: too big) portion sizes you find on restaurant plates don't help. Foods that are packed with sugar, fat and calories, such as candy, fast food and soft drinks, mean excess calories, too.

Not getting enough physical activity is another risk factor. Thanks to television, video games and recreational computer use, children are finding more reasons to settle into a comfy chair. They aren't moving around in physical education classes, either. In fact, as of 2003, just 28 percent of adolescents took part in daily physical education classes [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

In addition to diet and exercise, there are other significant risks that factor into a child's chances of being obese:

  • A family tree of relatives who were or are obese
  • A genetic predisposition to being overweight
  • Psychological challenges, such as coping with stresses
  • Socioeconomic factors (Low-income individuals without the time and resources to support healthy activities are at greater risk.)

Combine any of these risk factors with a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle and you have a dangerous mix. Once a child has moved from risk to reality, there are health issues and life challenges that he or she is more likely to confront than children who aren't obese.