Obesity Childhood Causes

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (2005), the incidence of obesity in children has doubled since 1980. During this same period, adolescent obesity tripled. Obesity in children has gone from being relatively rare to commonplace, as have many of the health conditions associated with obesity.

What causes obesity in children? The cause of obesity cannot be narrowed down to a single factor. Lack of exercise for children, parental influence on nutrition for kids, genetics and environment all play roles in the cause of obesity.

Causes of Childhood Obesity - Childhood Obesity

Obesity and Energy Intake

Obesity in children occurs when children eat more calories than they burn during daily activity. Put very simply, most cases of obesity in children occur because they are eating more and moving less. Such an explanation is, however, ultimately too simple: Many factors influence children’s eating habits and activity levels.

Nutrition for Kids

Unhealthy eating habits are a common cause of obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2004) report that only 21 percent of children eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Of the fruit and vegetables consumed, 46 percent were fried potatoes.

At the same time, consumption of easily accessible and high-calorie fast food is common amongst both children and adults. Soda consumption is especially high: According to the CDC (2004), 32 percent of teen girls and 52 percent of teen boys consume over 24 ounces of sugary soda a day.

Here are some other trends in nutrition for kids that contribute to obesity in children:

  • Children eat breakfast less than they did in previous decades
  • Kids are more likely to eat outside of the home
  • Kids commonly snack on high-calorie foods.

Exercise for Children

While nutrition for kids is increasingly dominated by high-calorie, convenience food, exercise for children has dropped. Popular forms of recreation, including video games, computer use and television, are all sedentary activities that encourage snacking.

In addition, exercise for children in schools has fallen, and the CDC (2008) found that only one-third of children receive daily physical education. The study also discovered that 10 percent of children were completely sedentary, and that exercise for children decreases as they age.

Parental Influence and Obesity in Children

Parental influence affects obesity in children. Parents tend to pass their eating and activity habits onto their children. Parents may also use food as a comforting or rewarding agent, encouraging poor nutrition for kids.

Genetic Cause of Obesity

Medical professionals are conducting many studies researching a genetic cause of obesity in children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010) reports that hereditary factors increase the risk of obesity by 5 to 40 percent. A child with one obese parent has a 25 to 50 percent chance of being overweight, a risk that rises to 75 percent if both parents are obese.

A genetic predisposition to obesity, however, is not an irreversible cause of obesity in children. Proper nutrition for kids and exercise for children are sufficient to counter most genetic causes of obesity. Only in very rare cases will genetics alone cause obesity in children.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2008). Obesity in children and teens. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/obesity_in_children_and_teens.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Childhood obesity. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/child_obesity/.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Physical activity and good nutrition essential elements to preventing chronic disease and obesity. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/aag/pdf/aag_dnpa2004.pdf.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Youth media campaign longitudinal survey, 2002 to 2004. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from www.cdc.gov/youthcampaign/research/PDF/ymcls_user_manual.pdf.

Ferry, R. (2007). Obesity in children. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/obesity_in_children/article_em.htm.

National Center for Health Statistics. (2005). Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents: United States, 1999-2002. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/overwght99.htm.