Sedentary lifestyle, not genes, cause childhood obesity

As the waistlines of children in the United States continue to grow, scientists continue to seek causes of the childhood obesity epidemic. One University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health researcher has published a new theory that he says explains why infants in the United States are being born heavier than at any time in our nation’s history.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

“Childhood obesity is the major public health problem of the 21st century and will continue to be until we fully understand why children are becoming obese. My theory offers that understanding,” said Edward Archer, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Nutrition Obesity Research Center and Office of Energetics.

There are three main findings:
1. Obesity is the result of fat cells’ out-competing other tissues for the energy consumed through food.
2. A woman’s physical activity and body composition before, during and after pregnancy have evolutionary consequences because both determine not only her metabolism and risk of disease but those of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
3. Mothers in many subpopulations have evolved past a “metabolic tipping point” that makes obesity and poor physical fitness almost inevitable for their children and their children’s children.

“My theory says that obesity is the result of nongenetic evolutionary forces, for example social/cultural evolution, that have led to the competitive dominance of fat cells,” Archer said. “Beginning in the 1960s, mothers became increasingly physically inactive, sedentary and heavier. This altered their bodies’ metabolism during pregnancy. With less competition between fat and muscle cells due to inactivity, more energy was available to increase the number of fat cells in their unborn children. The result was a dramatic increase in the risk of obesity and disease in infants and children.”

Archer says these findings demonstrate that the typically highlighted reasons for childhood obesity are not the root cause, and the issue began with earlier generations.

Read full original article: Novel Theory Connects Mothers to Childhood Obesity: Evolution Is the Cause, and Moms Are the Cure

 

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