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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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7.1 Causes of childhood obesity

The causes of obesity are complex and identifying interventions to reverse obesity are challenging. As is often the case, there isn’t one reason, and many of the reasons overlap and affect each other.

As well as the intake of too many calories being a major cause of obesity, societal changes that have influenced childhood are thought to have contributed to the increase in obesity. Fears about children’s safety have meant that children are kept under closer adult supervision, and this has reduced children’s opportunities to play and take part in outdoor physical activity. Much of children’s play and entertainment activities take place indoors and are likely to be more sedentary.

Additionally, the restrictions caused by the global pandemic meant that for many children their access to outdoor space was limited, meaning that their physical activity was curtailed. This led to an increase in obesity for children living in homes with no or limited outdoor space, and no access to outdoor areas in their education setting because of closures. Many children live in an obesogenic environment, that is an environment that encourages weight gain rather than is conducive to weight loss; the influence of living in obesogenic environment is explored further in Session 5.

As already stated, the reasons why so many children are obese and overweight are complex, and this makes finding solutions to reversing and preventing childhood obesity very difficult. While there is a need for adults to take responsibility for achieving this aim, it is critical that interventions are conducted in sensitive ways and without judgement. This will be explored further in Session 7.