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Obesity: Is It All In The Genes?

Your weight may be the biggest predictor of whether your child will be overweight. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports on the first of a three-part series on childhood obesity.

The latest study from Stanford University found that having overweight parents is the biggest risk factor for childhood obesity. In fact, the study found that 48 percent - almost half - of children with overweight parents became overweight themselves, compared to only 13 percent of children who had parents of normal weight.

Clearly, genetics has a lot to do with this. Tall parents have tall children, slim parents have slim children, and yes, overweight parents have overweight children. But there's a lot more to it than that. This study found a couple of interesting things.

Overweight Factors:

Researchers found that a child's temperament could influence his weight. Parents with emotional children tend to give them food to calm them down. It's a familiar story - give little Johnny ice cream so that he stops crying.

Secondly, sleep plays a role. They found that on average, overweight children got 30 minutes less sleep than normal-weight children. They're not quite sure why this happens, but one theory is that overweight children expend less energy during the day, so they need less sleep.

And thirdly, this study found that lack of parental concern contributed to kids' weight problems. Children don't control their food intake or their activities, so if mom and dad aren't worried about their child's weight, they may not be eating healthy foods and playing ball and doing gymnastics and other activities that burn lots of calories.

A recent survey found more than 30 percent of children are considered overweight or obese, and the number of children who are severely overweight has doubled in the last 20 years. This is serious because of all the other health problems that stem from obesity. Pediatricians are reporting a lot more cases of type-2 diabetes, asthma and hypertension, diseases that used to be considered adult conditions, in children. In fact, type-2 diabetes used to be called "adult onset diabetes." Not any more.

Another survey of 1,700 eighth-graders found that more than half had at least one problem that put them in a high-risk group for diabetes and premature cardiovascular disease. Eighth-graders who already have problems with things like cholesterol and blood pressure are on the brink of all sorts of adult health problems.

The message then is that parents have to be concerned about their own weight – for their children's sake. How they approach food, model exercise, and transmit feelings about our own bodies will all make a big impact on how children view their bodies.

Overweight children become overweight adults. They're developing problems early that lead to serious diseases in adulthood. Many of these problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart disease and a host of other problems.

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