In a previous article we discussed generational obesity and the risks inherent to children when their parents have obesity. The most impactful factor on children’s weight is the weight of their parents. However, addressing weight issues from birth can have a lifelong impact. In addition, restrictions associated with COVID-19 have contributed to childhood obesity in several ways, but even as normalcy resumes and a new school year gets underway, multiple factors play a role in childhood obesity. Among them are:
- Cuts to physical education programs: Few elementary and middle schools in the country meet the national recommendations for physical education.
- Socioeconomic status: Lower socioeconomic status is linked to obesity for people of all ages.
- Increased sedentary behavior: Children age eight and older spend between four and nine hours per day using screens.
Parents are the most Important Factor in a Child’s Weight and Eating Habits
A mother’s weight is the strongest predictor of obesity in her children, and this influence starts pre-conception and continues throughout the child’s life. If the father also has obesity, the impact on their children’s weight is even greater. And while treatment of childhood obesity may be in the purview of pediatricians, the link between obesity in parents and the likelihood of overweight or obesity in children is clear. As a result, parents are the single most important factor in both a child’s weight and the eating habits, and the patterns they develop at very young ages will contribute to or help them avoid obesity. This is evidenced by outcomes from a program called the First 1,000 Days that found that intervention starting essentially from birth yielded improved infant weight status with lower odds of overweight, as well as improved postpartum care.1
This is critically important because children with obesity are highly likely to become adults with obesity. From birth to five years is a critical time for developing obesity and children who begin kindergarten with obesity are five times as likely to become overweight or obese adults. Those with obesity by the time they are 10 to 13-years old have an 80 percent chance of carrying that with them into adulthood.
How can a Very Low Calorie Diet help Childhood Obesity?
The first step to healthy-weight children is to address obesity and health-related issues in parents. A Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), such as the New Direction® Program, offers options for a wide range of patients, including both women2 and men with such issues as fertility, diabetes, kidney disease and other weight-related medical conditions. A program incorporating VLCDs and increased physical activity can help parents reduce their weight and, importantly, change their lifestyle and eating habits in a way that can have a lasting impact on their children.
Awareness of the long-term cross-generational impact is imperative for the medical well-being of the entire family. The challenge of considerable weight loss may be too daunting for some adults to consider worthwhile for themselves, but knowing that it literally could have a lifelong impact on their children might be the motivation some parents need to take the first step to necessary changes.