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"Making life better"

(from  The Developing Person through Childhood, by Kathleen Berger & Ross Thompson)
  • Genetics play a part. Children of obese parents are more likely to become obese themselves.
  • Activity level. A second factor is leading a sedentary lifestyle - obese children are less active.
  • Types of food. In North America, poor families are more likely to eat foods which are high in fat or fried versus steamed or broiled and to eat starches more than fresh fruits and vegetables. It's simple, really. Macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches will fill your kids up a lot more cheaply than lettuce and tomatoes.
  • Television watching: This relates to both inactivity and the choice of improper foods, since ads are heavily focused on snacks, sugared cereals and soft drinks.
  • Overfeeding in infancy and late childhood.
    "For most of life, the number of fat cells in a person's body remains relatively constant, no matter what that person eats. .. However, in the prenatal period, and the first two years of life, and again during early adolescence, when total body fat increases in anticipation of the rapid growth that follows, the number of fat cells is likely to increase. ... This is one more reason why fat babies and adolescents become adults who want more food and gain weight more easily than adults who were not overfed as children."

    CAUTION: Okay, even though I just quoted that, I want to caution you not to, and not to recommend putting an infant on a diet EVER without consulting a pediatrician or other health care professional. Normal babies have a certain amount of fat. You would be well-advised to check and see if your baby's weight is significantly above average before starting him or her on a diet and do so only under medical supervision. As far as middle childhood, well I have many resources to recommend. Keep reading.  

  • Precipitating event.: A traumatic experience such as moving, death of a parent or divorce can cause children to look to food as a source of comfort.
  • Metabolic problems: While you will often hear people use as an excuse for obesity "I (or my child( just have a slow metabolism", in fact, fewer than 1% of cases of obesity are due to physiological problems.

    My three older children are prime examples of these factors at work. One daughter is a cheerleader, on the track team,  and leads a relatively active social life. When she and her friends go out (which is often) they spend hours walking around the malls, with an occasional stop at a movie. She is about average weight, or slightly below.  Her diet is fairly typical for a teenage girl, meaning that sometimes she skips meals because something much more important (in her view, anyway) is going on, and other times she pigs out on junk food.  The third child is very thin. She is extremely involved in sports and has been practicing in one organized sport or another at least ten hours a week since she was six years old. She eats an embarrassing amount. For example, at a birthday party tonight, she ate two pieces of cake and drank SIX boxes of juice. She would have had more if I hadn't stopped her. In the past year, she has grown four inches taller and gained one pound.

    blue and orange NEXT arrowMore examples of the effect of behavior on weight

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