Obesity is the most common health problem facing children, child health experts say. Twenty-two percent of children and teens are overweight, and over 15 percent are obese.
Children whose parents are overweight or obese are at higher risk for becoming obese themselves, studies have shown. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics, for instance, found five independent risk factors for childhood overweight. The main risk factor was parental weight.
Nearly 80 percent of obese 10- to 14-year-olds with an obese parent will be obese as adults. Currently, 34 percent of adults have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, classifying them as obese.
By adolescence, a child's obesity, rather than the parents' obesity, is the most important predictor of being an obese adult. Nearly 65 percent of obese adolescents will still be obese as adults, even if neither parent is obese.
Genes play a role in the increased risk for obesity, but lifestyle factors also have influence. Poor eating habits are often established during childhood, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 60 percent of young people eat too much fat, and less than 20 percent eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
The activity level of children and teens has dropped. They spend much of their leisure time watching television, playing video games, or using a computer, and, as a result, their weight has increased.
For children who are predisposed to gain weight, prevention is critical, says the CDC. Obesity increases the risk for other health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer, gallbladder disease, and arthritis.
Obesity can be prevented or managed with a combination of proper diet and adequate exercise.