Genetics and Childhood Obesity

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Childhood obesity has been one of the more serious problem in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) it puts children and adolescents at jeopardy for other health issues that continue to affect them throughout their lives. Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and liver disease to name a few. The CDC reports that 18.5% of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, that roughly includes 13.7 million children (CDC, 2018). These numbers alert us to the problem, but do not identify a cause as to why so many children are obese. Throughout this essay the topic of nature vs nurture will be discussed in exploring childhood obesity and its causes.

Is Childhood obesity the result of nature or nurture?

With a better understanding of genes and genomes today many scientists believe obesity is the result of family genes. Others point to the fact that children are obese because of personal decisions and choices made regarding nutrition and exercise. Whether nature, nurture or both, it is important that society identify childhood obesity as a disease and realize the urgency in educating the population to prevent it from getting worse.

Researchers have been studying the effect of genetics on a predisposition towards obesity for years. Often twin and adoption studies are used to determine the impact genetics plays on the children becoming obese. The studies show that 40-70% of the variation between children regarding their weight could be attributed to genes (Fleming). These results are closely related to the same variations taken for height, which has been proven to be genetic. When looking at families, research has shown that an obese child is more likely to have obese parents and siblings. Several lab experiments have revealed that genetics does impact obesity. Because genes hold all the heredity information for the body's make-up, it is believed that the underlying answers to obesity are in the genes of individuals. Many studies have shown that 80% of children with obese parents will become obese at some time in their life (Ali, 2012).

TORp51 Some scientist believe this is due to a person's metabolism which is genetic. Most recently, researchers have found a fat gene TOTp52 which causes obesity (Ali, 2012). The fat gene delays the body's ability to feel full because it blocks the hormone Leptin. Leptin tells the brain that we have had enough to eat, and enough fat stored and to burn calories at a normal rate. When the hormone is blocked the person continues to feel hungry and therefore continues to eat and their metabolism slows down. A study was done on the Pima Indians because most of the tribe is obese.

It was found that their metabolism is slower than the average person (Ali, 2012). This is believed to be because they were hunter/gathers. They were able to eat more and store more fat, therefore increasing their chance for survival. The fat gene was passed down through generations of Pima Indians. It is thought that leptin system evolved making the Pima's more likely to survive in their environment. Researchers believe that there is a break in the leptin system that keeps us from starving but no longer keeps us from overeating (Ali, 2012).
Further research has pointed to a protein called GLP-1. They believe that GLP-1 plays an important role in how leptin controls appetite. GLP-1 slows down the movement of the bowel so that more nutrients can be absorbed (Ali, 2012).

However, when mice were injected with GLP-1 they lost their appetite. The mice that were injected could go for days without food and water. TOTp53 Some researchers believe that some people lack the ability to use GLP-1; somewhat like a diabetic cannot use insulin produced by their bodies (Ali, 2012). As we explore the nurture side of childhood obesity we will look more closely at whether it is genetics or the unhealthy behaviors of the family.

Lifestyle changes over the past few years has resulted in children engaging in fewer physical activities. Children are less likely to walk to school or ride a bike, they are usually driven by bus or car. More families have both parents working outside of the home children are spending less time outside playing and more time sedentary in front of a computer or watching television. In addition to less physical activity, children are consuming more calories. Schools are full of vending machines where students are buying pop, juice, chips, candy and high energy drinks. Fast Food restaurants are on every corner offering $1.00 menu's full of calories and nutritionally deficient. Growing up in an environment lacking in physical activity and full of empty calories has contributed to the rise in childhood obesity.

In the book Always The Fat Kid, the author says Obesity is a behavior. It is not a disease or medical condition caused by genetic defect, insidious bacteria, or toxic chemical. Obesity is really an accumulation of hundreds and thousands of bad decisions-nothing more. He goes on to explain that it is a shortfall in impulse control or addiction. He further describes that obesity it is harder to treat than other addictions because you cannot cut out eating. In treating obesity as a behavior, he looked at the behaviors that have changed in children that could be the cause in the rise of childhood obesity (Smalley, 2013).

The following five behaviors are causes for the surge in obesity. The portion size as well as caloric increase of meals consumed. Portion sizes in fast food restaurants, school cafeterias, vending machines has all increased. Society wants more for their money. With the increase in portions there has also been an increase in calories consumed. There has also been a decrease in meals prepared at home. Children and adults today eat more processed and prepared foods.

With working parents, it is easier to eat out or purchase something that is quick and easy to prepare. With the trend being to eat more prepared food, advertisers created commercials to get parents to buy prepared and processed food (Smalley, 2013). Another issue that the author's felt was an issue were the Food Desert. These are usually low-income areas that do not have high quality healthy food available to purchase. In these areas most people get meals from fast food chains or corner stores. Lastly and maybe most importantly is the family's attitude and behaviors toward food and eating. The authors say, unhealthy eating behaviors are passed on as easily as genes to their children (Smalley, 2013).

In battling these behaviors, a balance in how many calories are consumed must be in balance with the number of calories expended. There have been several reasons for the decrease in physical activity in children. Recent studies have shown that three-quarters of all children do not get the recommended amount of daily exercise, and such sedentary lifestyles have been linked to more than thirty-five types of chronic health conditions (Smalley, 2013). P54 ATFK With the increase of technology and video games more children chose to stay inside and play with technology. Children spend more time with technology because parents have substituted these devices as babysitters. Many parents are afraid to let their children play outside without parental supervision, so they lure them inside with technology. We have become a culture of convenience.

Children no longer walk to school or ride a bike. They no longer walk to the store or a friend's house. No one gets up to change the channel on the television, Alexa shuts off the lights, and even household chores that children once did are being done more conveniently. Schools have also done away with physical activity. Because of liability and fear of injury many schools have cut out recess. More time in class improving academics less time engaging in physical activity. Physical Education has also been eliminated in many schools due to budget cuts. Children are left with no instruction on how to live an active healthy life.

Childhood Obesity is a disease or condition that is caused by Nature but Nurture plays an important role in how our genetics react. Obesity tends to run in families and most likely has a genetic source. Yet there are many environmental influences that affect a child's weight. We must take into consideration that family members not only share genes but also consume the same diet and follow similar routines and have habits that may cause the child to become obese. Separating environmental factors from genetic factors is challenging. It is a known fact that we cannot change our genetic makeup, but we can change and control our environment. Some people can eat and not gain weight, others due to a slow metabolism must be very aware of their caloric intake; this is genetically controlled. Our body controls the metabolism and weight of thin people with the same basic organs and it does an obese person.

It may be a hormone, or a protein, or body size and shape that makes one person larger that another. Knowing this we must adapt to our environment. Fast food chains, school cafeterias, grocery stores need to make healthy choices a major part of their advertising and choices. Parents and schools need to offer more opportunities for students to become active. A balance between what we consume and the amount of physical activity we engage in. Change will require tenacity, initiative and sometimes controversial tough decision making. It will take many people coming together to change a society's attitude towards a healthy lifestyle. Change will require parents, teachers, doctors, friends and family. We can no longer transfer the responsibility to whether a child's environment, nurture, has caused them to be obese or throw our hands in the air because genetics controls a child's weight, nature. It is both and society needs to commit to making a change.

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Genetics and Childhood Obesity. (2019, Mar 12). Retrieved March 4, 2024 , from

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