Childhood Obesity: Why It Happens and How to Overcome It

Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic that does not discriminate. It affects infants, toddlers, kids and teens; it grabs hold of children from all races, backgrounds and households. In fact, it is making its way into more households than ever before, with childhood obesity being reported to have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

Why is this happening to so many of our children, and how can we overcome it? Dr. Rohn Rigby from Ogden Clinic says that healthy habits begin with the parents. “Do not blame the child, because he or she did not choose to gain weight,” Rigby says. “We, as parents, need to find solutions, not fault. Involve your children in the types of changes and methods you want to start at home.”

Is my child overweight or obese?

The CDC defines overweight as “having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water” or a combination of these. Obesity is “having excess body fat.”

What factors cause childhood obesity?

Multiple factors are risks of childhood obesity, Rigby states. These include genetics, such as being a certain ethnicity or strong family history of weight-related issues. Others include pregnancy habits of the mother…

  • Parental obesity prior to and during pregnancy
  • Smoking during pregnancy

…circumstances surrounding the birth:

  • Premature birth (less than 37 weeks)
  • Being large at birth

…and habits during childhood:

  • Early introduction to solid foods
  • Increased screen time
  • Drinking larger amounts of sugary drinks
  • Eating sugary processed foods
  • Limited physical activity
  • Being rewarded with sweet rewards

Why is it so prevalent in the USA as opposed to other countries?

Americans lead the world in obesity across all ages, birth to the elderly. Rigby attributes this to several reasons:

  • Higher consumption of processed foods and lower of true whole foods
  • Low consumption of water and healthy fats
  • Hidden sugar in food under 56 different names
  • Increase in fast foods
  • Sugary drinks
  • Increased stress
  • Increased screen time
  • Limited physical activity
  • Less sleep

What are the health consequences of childhood obesity?

“Childhood obesity causes multiple problems affecting many different systems of the body,” says Rigby. The heart, kidneys, lungs, muscles, gastrointestinal system, endocrine levels, joints, psychological health and many other parts of the body and mind are affected by obesity.

How can I prevent a child from becoming obese?

There are multiple ways to prevent obesity. However, “you need to evaluate what is going on in your home that could be adjusted to decrease risk factors,” Rigby says. He tells parents to encourage:

  • Play time or physical activities in ways that your child enjoys, such as going for a walk or hike, playing at the park, playing sports, dancing or going for a bike ride (and join them!)
  • Healthy home-packed lunches
  • Drinking more water and eating whole vegetables
  • Eating when you are truly hungry, not when you’re bored, mad, stressed, etc.
  • Eating together as a family
  • Decreased meal sizes
  • Focus on health rather than taste

…and to discourage:

  • Too much screen time
  • Eating while watching TV or other screens
  • Eating out
  • Negative food cues and triggers by removing them
  • Skipping meals if you are hungry
  • Eating if you are not hungry
  • Eating by the clock (you should eat when you’re truly hungry)
  • Too much sugary drinks (sodas and fruit drinks)

Rigby also suggests to “ask about things such as bullying or abuse that could have happened at school, at home, with friends or at other activities that they are involved in. These might be underlying reasons why your child may be finding solace in food or have increased stress.”

If I have a child who is already obese, what steps can be taken to better their health?

Rather than focusing your efforts solely on the child, Rigby suggests focusing on changing things in the home for the whole family. “Be a good role model in the home,” he continues, and utilize the same encouragements and discouragements above to help your child, and your family, better their health.

If you are concerned that your child may be struggling with childhood obesity, you are not alone, and the professionals at the Ogden Clinic may be able to help you and your child overcome this the right way.


Dr. Rigby practices at Ogden Clinic’s Davis Family Physicians location. To schedule an appointment, please click here or call (801) 397-6150.