Combatting obesity in children requires more than just counting calories and cutting out sugary foods, suggests new research from New York Times columnist Jane Brody. In fact, factors influencing obesity in children are present before the mother even becomes pregnant—namely, the pre-pregnancy weight of the mother and the father. While genetic inheritance is nothing new, childhood obesity rates reached epic proportions in the 2000s. So what's different about the new millennium?
"Children today are surrounded by a surfeit of unwholesome, easy-to-consume calorie-dense foods and snacks accompanied by a deficit of opportunities to expend those extra calories through regular physical activity," writes Brody in the second installment of her Times column on the childhood obesity epidemic. "And countering a calorie-rich, sedentary environment is now harder than it should be, with the current heavy emphasis on academics, parental reluctance to let children play outside unattended, and intense competition from electronics."
While obesity genes have always run rampant in some families, our increasingly sedentary way of life allows these genes to flourish. The 23 genes known to influence obesity in children are presenting themselves earlier and earlier in children's lives—they can even accelerate weight gain in infancy and in middle school–aged children.
To counteract these influences, David S. Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Boston Children's Hospital, recommends modeling good eating habits as parents. "If you do it, they'll do it. Young children are like ducklings, they want to do what their mothers do." Dr. Daniel W. Belsky, an epidemiologist at Duke University School of Medicine, places the emphasis on active play. "Being physically active encourages a healthy metabolism," he explains. "[Allow] children in institutional settings—in day care, preschool, and elementary school—to be as active as they choose to be rather than forcing them to sit quickly in chairs most of the day."
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