Obese kids: Blame behavior, not genetics

The problem with childhood obesity is well documented. But too many parents still won’t face reality when they bring their children into a chiropractic office for help with health issues. Rather than admit that their kids overeat, don’t get enough exercise, and consume the wrong types of food, parents frequently blame genetics. “It’s in her genes,” or “he gets it from his father,” are frequent refrains.

When faced with this type of parental belief, chiropractors can help educate their patients by sharing with them the results of a recent University of Michigan study, which concluded that behavior – not genetics – was the real culprit in childhood obesity. The study was published in the American Heart Journal.

Check-ups of 1,003 Michigan 6th graders in a school-based health program showed children who are obese were more likely to consume school lunch instead of a packed lunch from home, and spend two hours a day watching TV or playing a video game.

The results were compiled by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center (UMCC) and suggest unhealthy habits are feeding the childhood obesity trend.

Study senior author Kim A. Eagle, MD, a cardiologist and a UMCC director, explained that “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.”

U-M researchers found that 58% of obese children had watched two hours of TV the previous day, compared to 41% of non-obese children. While 45% of obese students always ate school lunch, only 34% percent of non-obese students ate school lunch.

Significantly fewer obese kids exercised regularly, took physical education classes, or were a member of a sports team.

Because the eating and exercise patterns of obese children were so different than their normal weight peers, researchers concluded that lifestyle was more closely linked with childhood obesity than genetics.

In the U-M study, 15% of the middle school students were obese, but nearly all, whether overweight or not, reported unhealthy habits.

More than 30% had consumed regular soda the previous day, and less than half remembered eating two portions of fruits and vegetables within the past 24 hours. Only one-third of students said they exercised for 30 minutes for five days in the prior week.

“It’s clear that opportunities to improve health abound for the majority of our students, not just the 15 percent who are already obese,” said study co-author Elizabeth Jackson, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at the U-M Cardiovascular Center.

The prevalence of obesity among US children ages 6 to 11 increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008.

SOURCE: “Health status and behavior among middle-school children in a Midwest community: What are the underpinnings of childhood obesity?” American Heart Journal, Vol. 160, Issue 6, December 2010. (www.ahjonline.com/article/S0002-8703 (10)00888-4/abstract)