Kids’ rising obesity rates due to bad habits, not genes: study

Poor eating and activity habits, NOT genetics, are the underlying causes for most cases of adolescent obesity, new research suggests. In other words, couch potatoes and sofa slugs are raised that way … NOT born that way.

The finding stems from an analysis involving more than 1,000 Michigan sixth-grade students who participated in the Project Healthy Schools program, which is in place in 13 middle schools across the state. Here are the details from HealthDay News:

“For the extremely overweight child, genetic screening may be a consideration,” study senior author Dr. Kim A. Eagle, a cardiologist and a director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor, said in a center news release.

“For the rest, increasing physical activity, reducing recreational screen time and improving the nutritional value of school lunches offers great promise to begin a reversal of current childhood obesity trends.”

The study findings were published in the American Heart Journal.

The authors noted that, in 1980, just 6.5 percent of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 years were considered obese, but that percentage rose to nearly 20 percent by 2008.

The recent study found that 15 percent of the participants were obese. And almost all had poor eating habits.

Nearly one-third of all the students said they drank a soda the day before, while fewer than half said they could recall having eaten two portions of fruits and vegetables in the same time frame.

And while 34 percent of non-obese kids consumed lunches provided by their school, that figure rose to 45 percent among obese students.

Only one-third of all the kids reported exercising a half hour for five days during the previous week. Obese children were much less likely than non-obese kids to participate in regular exercise and/or physical education classes, and less likely to be a part of a sports team.

Among obese children, 58 percent reported watching two hours of TV in the past day. That compared with 41 percent of non-obese kids.

The finding comes against the backdrop of the recent enactment of the federal government’s new “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” which is designed to foster healthier school menus for the nation’s 31 million children currently receiving lunch through school-based programs

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3 Responses to Kids’ rising obesity rates due to bad habits, not genes: study

  1. Alecia says:

    This is great stuff Dr. Larimore!

    I do have a question…do genetics play a role at all?!?! My sweet cousin is 13 years old…he’s extremely active. He plays football, basketball and baseball. He’s inside long enough to get his homework done and he’s back outside again. He is incredibly hard on himself as far as his diet goes…he doesn’t want to struggle like his dad but already is at such a young age. Both of his parents are struggling with their weight. His mom was never overweight until she had children and his dad was overweight as a child, then in college dropped weight but has struggled with it for the last several years…his grandfather on his dad’s side is incredibly overweight as well.
    So, what role, if any, does genetics play in our society of obesity?

  2. waltlarimore says:

    Hi Alecia. The role of genetics is very, very small (except in rare occasions). That said, the greatest single risk of a child being overweight or obese is having one or two overweight or obese parents. However, it’s not the genetics from the parents, but the nutritional, activity, sleep, and screen time choices the parent(s) teach their child. You can read more in my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat.

  3. Alecia Shannon says:

    Thanks Dr. Larimore!

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