Childhood Obesity: Causes And Contributing Factors

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Over the past two decades, the number of obese or overweight children has doubled in number due to a number of factors (especially with technological advances on the rise). A child is considered overweight or obese when they have accumulated weight/fat that may have a negative effect on the child’s health either soon in their teenage or adult life. Not only does it have a negative effect on their health but also on the child’s social life among his/her peers. Despite it being associated with wealthy middle-class children, we can see now that even in low-income families too.

Causes and contributing factors

  • The excessive consumption of unhealthy and sugary foods – These foods contain a lot of sugar and rarely contain any nutritional value. Many have hidden sugars such as fruit juice and parents issue them out thinking that they are good for their children;
  • Lack of physical activity – with the rise of technology, children are better entertained by their smartphones and are therefore less prone to do something active. With the rise of crime and child abduction many parents prevent their children from playing outside. This intern encourages children to remain indoors;
  • Family Habits – The eating patterns of your family may be unhealthy especially if the parents are overweight themselves. If this is the case then they may be less concerned with maintaining the health of their children;
  • Culture – In countries such as South Africa young children are encouraged to eat as much as they would like (overeat). This is due to the belief that a fat or ‘chubby’ child is a healthy and happy child;
  • Genetics – In special cases, the child may contract a rare gene disorder from their parents or grandparents which makes them more susceptible to obesity;
  • Portion sizes have increased;
  • The Families Income – Unfortunately these days it is more expensive to eat healthy due to the increase in prices of food. Many citizens in South Africa earn a small income and so they don’t consider whether the food they are buying is good for their children or not. They only consider the price of the food and many unhealthy and additive dense foods are quite cheap;
  • Lack of education – Many people aren’t educated on how to eat or how to maintain a healthy diet especially the parents and older generation. This gap in their knowledge will affect their kids.

To summarise:

  • The cost of (unhealthy) food has decreased;
  • Portion sizes have increased – People are eating more;
  • The use of cars has increased – Drive thru’s provide fast food faster and more convenient and people are walking less resulting in less physical activity and exercise;
  • Physical education has been reduced in the school curriculum – Again less exercise equals unfit children;
  • Cultural beliefs – in many cultures a fat or chubby child is a healthy one;
  • Children spending more money at the tuck shop – encouraging the consumption of convenience food.

Technology has had a hand in this

Due to technological advancements, the mass production of food has never been more efficient and cheaper. This of course comes at a cost.

  • Convenience food – The number of McDonald’s branches in South Africa has over the past decade. Fast food has never been healthy as it is high in salt, sugar and contain many unhealthy additives and stabilizers. However fast food is convenient especially for households where the parent/s are always busy and don’t have time to cook a meal at home. Convince foods are also not as costly and time consuming as home cooked meals.
  • Marketing - We are continuously bombarded by flashy adverts and tempting promotions on offer. At Steers if you purchase a burger using their wacky Wednesday special you are immediately given a free burger. This is attracting to people as it is ‘guaranteed’ to save you money. The truth of the matter is if you are given the option to buy ‘good’ tasting food at a lower cost than normal, you are bound to buy it.
  • Processed foods – Because of our disastrous economy many mothers or fathers will choose convenient food as a means to feed their families. This brings us to processed foods and I am not just talking about viennas and polony. This list includes foods such as potato crisps and high sugar content fruit juices. Due to factories employing less people and more machines processed foods are being produced faster and faster there for they are readily available at all kinds of stores worldwide. Many of these foods contain all kinds of unhealthy stabilizers, additives and preservatives not to mention loads upon loads of glucose and sodium which young children consume all the time.
  • Social media – Younger and younger children are logging into social media these days I would be surprised if 13 years old did not already have their own Instagram accounts. Alongside the dangers of social media such as cyberbullying comes…..influencers! These are people who are usually followed by many people and endorse or promote a certain product for a company. This can range from clothes to edible products. It almost works the same way as adverts on TV and on the radio. Because many people favour the influencer, they want to replicate their lifestyles and so young teenagers usually follow this trend.

Health Risks

Although these health risks develop during childhood, they only become visible when in adulthood. The early signs of these problems are commonly found in Children. Potential health issues for obese children are:

Long term:

  • Type 2 diabetes – it increases risk of kidney disease, blindness and strokes
  • Bulimia or binge eating (eating disorders)
  • Orthopedic disorders – Problems regarding foot structure
  • Liver issues e.g. Fatty Liver
  • Blocked airways in the chest wall can cause breathlessness during exercise (Respiratory disorders)
  • Sleep Apnoea – a condition that causes difficulty breathing when one is sleeping. It also causes snoring and poor sleep which can contribute to poor concentration during the day
  • Cardiomyopathy – caused when the heart muscle needs extra time to pump blood resulting in the heart muscle developing an issue
  • Heart disease – It is easier to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure and suffer a stroke when you are overweight.

Short term:

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  • Joint stress – extra weight will put a strain on joints especially on the knees and hips. This makes it difficult to move and exercise efficiently.
  • If one is overweight and pregnant then they are at a greater risk of pregnancy complications.

And remember: Obesity in childhood results in obesity in adulthood

Mental health issues related to obesity

Food has always been associated with nurture and care. Therefore during periods of distress and pain many turn to food as a form of self-medication. During the menstrual period, many young women indulge in carbohydrate-heavy foods known as “comfort food”. We use food to feel better and fight negative feelings which could lead to overeating and a frequent bad diet which could result in obesity.

Studies have found that depression has a correlation with depression. It’s a vicious cycle as depression usually results in an unsuccessful bid to lose weight. Meanwhile a successful weightless result in a reduction of depression. In 2008 a study found that women who have low self-esteem or body image tend to gain weight.

In addition to anxiety and depression, a study also found that 32.6% of patients who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have obesity which builds on the fact that there is a strong relationship between obesity and PTSD.

Going back to depression and anxiety it was found through a study the patients with anxiety usually eat compulsively and excessively which contributes to obesity. Depressed patients have also found that their appetites increase and depression results in a lack of physical activities. All this contributes to obesity.

Many students either in high school or university are more under pressure to do well these days. The pressure channels its way into anxiety which has resulted in some people developing the night-eating syndrome. We have all had that one busy day where we skipped breakfast and took an energy bar to school then we have a sports match after school then dance practice until 7pm. We still have homework to complete which results in only eating a heavy meal at 10pm. The heavy consumption of kilojoules at a late hour could cause insomnia and your busy schedule disrupts your daily diet.

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Childhood Obesity: Causes And Contributing Factors. (2021, July 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Childhood Obesity: Causes And Contributing Factors.” Edubirdie, 27 Jul. 2021,
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