Can childhood obesity be eradicated by diet and exercise alone? While this question may cause some to ponder, many will undoubtedly say yes. Yet, when we consider that childhood obesity is at epidemic levels worldwide, the answer should cause us to proceed unbiased and with great thought. The assumption that high caloric diets and sedentary lifestyles is the only road to obesity is a misconception. Social Cognitive Theorist Albert Bandura defines a person's behavior as a triadic, dynamic, and reciprocal interaction of personal factors, behavior, and the environment (Bandura, 1977). Childhood obesity is a disease that combines genetics, environment and behavior. Studies have concluded that obesity is determined by the interaction between the genetic makeup of an individual, and the environment in which that person is living, along with behavior within the environment.(Smith & Ravussin, 2005). While diet and exercise are both necessary treatments, without considering the roots of childhood obesity, the treatment will not be effective.
First, lets take a statistical look at this worldwide epidemic. The scope of childhood obesity must be examined through information provided over a period of time. In 1997 the World Health Organization declared obesity to be a global epidemic. In 2001 the US Surgeon General published a call to action to prevent and decrease the disease ( US Dept, of Health and Human Services. 2001). Yet, 11 years later America is still battling the epidemic of childhood obesity. Within the last 3 decades childhood obesity rates have tripled. In 2006 it was estimated that 46.4% of American children would be obese or overweight by 2010 (Wang, and Lobstein. 2006). The scope of childhood obesity is widespread. It is a global epidemic that must be fought with the full knowledge of the nature of its source.
The role of genetics in obesity can be seen clearly through the systematic review of twin adoption studies as it relates to genetic influences on childhood obesity. A study of 311 pairs of twins who had been raised apart and 362 pairs who had been raised together indicated that the shared childhood environment has little or no influence on obesity (Sorensen, T. 2001, paragraph 2). Furthermore, studies compared the degree of obesity in twins who had been separately adopted. The study concluded that in most cases the twins’ obesity was influenced by their biological relatives over their adoptive families (Sorensen, T 3/2001). Sorensen and colleagues report that the Body Mass Index (which is used to measure obesity) of adoptive twins is more strongly associated with the BMI of their biological parents and biological sibling than that of their adoptive parents and sibling (Lancet, 1992). The similarity of body build between family members suggest that genetic factors are important. Since effects of genetic or environmental influences are first detected in childhood, understanding the earliest precursors of obesity could help in the formulation of preventive strategies (Lancet, 1992).
The argument for a genetic obesity link is by no means one sided. In some research circles, you would be hard pressed to find someone to confirm the link. Although several obesity related genes are already known, they affect specific families and are very rare in the general population. Changes in the genetic makeup of the population occur to slowly to be responsible for the rapid rise of the obesity epidemic. Genes have stayed largely the same. Genetic causes are unlikely to be the reason for this epidemic around the globe ( CDC, 2010). The only so called “obesity gene” that is readily agreed upon is the “energy thrifty genes” which is also strongly linked to environment. The energy thrifty gene helped our ancestors survive occasional famines. This gene multiplied in the past under different environmental...