Factors of Childhood Obesity & the Benefits of a Balanced Diet

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Childhood obesity is a complex problem that is influenced by environmental, behavioral and genetic factors. These factors lead to increased calorie intake and decreased physical activity. Learn about these factors and the benefits of a balanced diet in this lesson.

Childhood Obesity

In America today, children have many opportunities for good health and fitness. Modern transportation of goods allows access to healthy fruits and vegetables year round, organized sports are offered to children before they even reach school age and most children have access to quality health care. So, why, with all of these advantages, do we see statistics from organizations like the American Heart Association that reveal today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963?

Well, it appears that our modern society also presents a number of factors that lead to an imbalance between the calories a child consumes through foods and drinks and the calories a child burns off through exercise. This imbalance encourages weight gain and a high body mass index, or BMI, which is a calculation of an individual's weight-to-height ratio. According to the CDC, childhood obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. In this lesson, we will explore the environmental, behavioral and genetic factors that influence childhood obesity and discuss the benefits of a balanced diet during a child's developmental years.

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  • 0:02 Childhood Obesity
  • 1:24 Environmental Factors
  • 3:20 Behavioral Factors
  • 3:57 Genetic Factors
  • 4:35 Balanced Diet
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Environmental Factors

The rapid increase in childhood obesity is not due to changes in our environment alone. However, we can identify certain environmental factors that have changed since the middle of the 20th century that contribute to this problem. A child's environment consists of his or her home, childcare facility or school and community. Home life establishes eating patterns in the early years of a child's life, and children tend to adopt the eating and exercise habits that match those of their parents. This means that if a parent has poor eating habits, then the child will likely adopt those same habits.

Over the years, more women have entered the workforce, which has led to more preschool children entering childcare. Therefore, we see that childcare providers often share the responsibility of building a child's eating and exercise habits during their early years. So, we can conclude that a child is likely to mimic poor nutritional choices displayed by parents and caregivers. A child's health habits are also influenced by school and community factors. While schools provide a good setting to teach proper nutrition, schools require children to sit for long periods. Likewise, a lack of community sidewalks or safe bike paths and parks could prohibit children from playing outdoors.

The Harvard School of Public Health reported that the majority of American youths are not participating in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity a day. 60 minutes a day is the recommended amount established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This lack of activity contributes to the modern obesity problem. We also see that schools and communities can influence a child's nutrition if healthy choices are not readily available or unhealthy choices, such as large portion-sizes and low-nutrient options, are easily available in schools and communities.

Behavioral Factors

We must also look at behavioral factors and how they influence childhood obesity. Sedentary activities such as watching television and playing video and computer games have become major behavioral factors that influence a child's nutrient intake and physical activity level. Sitting in front of a television or computer encourages unhealthy snacking and provides very little physical exercise. It's also thought that this increased time with media causes increased exposure to food advertisements for calorie-dense foods, which encourages poor food selection among children.

Genetic Factors

When discussing factors that influence childhood obesity, it would be wrong to exclude genetic factors. Genetics may play a role in a child's propensity toward obesity. And you may have noticed that many children have a similar body type to that of their parents. However, it's thought that this propensity may need to be paired with one or more of the environmental or behavioral factors before it significantly impacts a child's weight; that is, unless there's a condition present, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, which is a rare genetic disorder that results in a child chronically overeating due to an inability to feel full.

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