Nature vs. nurture as a cause for childhood obesity


The number of children classified as obese is growing significantly, with exact causes not particularly published. Various studies have been done with others, pointing to nature as the cause of childhood obesity while others are leaning to nurture. The ones who point to the former argue that genetics plays a significant role in childhood obesity, while those who argue in favor of the latter state that environmental factors majorly contribute to childhood obesity. The nurture factors of childhood obesity may include exercising, patterns of eating. This essay will highlight both nature and nurture and how these two broad factors contribute to childhood obesity before concluding one with the most impact.

Nature as a cause of childhood obesity

A study conducted by Bouchard (2009) found that a person whose parents or sibling has obesity is five times more likely to become obese. This study is in line with Willer et al. (2009), whose research used twins and adopted children to determine how they gained weight; the findings showed that gaining weight was attributed to genetics. Therefore, according to them, using the adopted child as a measure argues that weight gain is a function of genetics hence a major cause of obesity in children. Similarly, according to Silventoinen et al. (2007), obesity has a strong relationship with genes. These studies show that, just like the height of a person inherited, weight can also be inherited, which can predispose a child to obesity. However, this study has a limitation as they do not rule out childhood obesity as being caused by unhealthy eating habits in families and less about genetics.

Alternatively, Farooqi & O’Rahilly (2006) research shows that a gene mutation can cause obesity, thereby affecting leptin production in the body – fatty acids produce this hormone. The effect further affects the release of hormones in the hypothalamus, which are responsible for regulating appetite. One such mutation known as hyperphagia – which is an increased appetite – can make a person eat a lot of food, leading to weight gain and, eventually, obesity. Therefore, this shows that despite a person having no family history of obesity, they can also be diagnosed with obesity if they experience gene mutation, which affects their appetite. Therefore, childhood obesity can be caused by genetic factors, either arising from inheritance or through mutation. However, Bouchard (2009) argues that only less than 5% of childhood obesity cases can be attributed to gene mutation.

Nurture as a cause for childhood obesity

Lifestyle changes have been often associated with childhood obesity; this is because the changes have resulted in children getting involved with less physical exercises. Most children take buses to school; only a few who ride bicycles or walk to school. Additionally, most parents are working throughout, which leaves no room for children actually to have time for physical activities, and thus they end up using all their energy on television. According to Han, Lawlor & Kimm (2010), watching television is associated with overweight; this is because there are too many advertisements on food full of calories. When children view such adverts, they get the desire to order for the food. Taking too many calories and fewer exercises increase a child’s weight to a level of becoming obese if not addressed.

Eating patterns can also cause obesity in children; this is likely to occur in children who take a small amount of breakfast and lunch and compensates it all during dinner by eating a huge amount of food. According to Maffeis et al. (2000), children are usually inactive at night; most of their time is spent on television. Therefore, the energy gained at dinner is not used and increases the children’s weight, and could eventually result in obesity.

Moreover, eating habits have changed in the United States, where children are subjected to fatty foods such as hamburgers, pizza, fresh fries, and other food full of calories (Skelton et al., 2011). When a body takes too many calories and does not engage in the necessary exercises, it becomes difficult to burn up the extra fat in the body, leading to overweight. Drinking sugary juices and beverages also risks weight increase. Therefore, lack of physical activities, eating habits, and patterns can result in a child becoming obese. All these are environmental causes and are driven by parents. Parents or guardians have the responsibility of ensuring that their children eat healthily and that they exercise regularly.


Despite research that has been done on the issue of childhood obesity, there are still no conclusive findings on the causes, with some arguing for nature and others nurture. From the comparison between the two, nurture as a cause of childhood obesity has more convincing findings. This is because there are limitations in arguing on genetics since families with obesity may result from poor eating habits, which could then be adopted by the children. Similarly, the probability of childhood obesity is only 5%. These limitations show that nurture has a major role in childhood obesity, and therefore any measures to mitigate its increase should mainly focus on this factor.




Bouchard, C. (2009). Childhood obesity: are genetic differences involved?. The American journal of clinical nutrition89(5), 1494S–1501S.

Farooqi, I. S., & O’Rahilly, S. (2006). Genetics of obesity in humans. Endocrine Reviews27(7), 710-718.

Han, J. C., Lawlor, D. A. & Kimm, S. L. S. (2010). Childhood obesity. The Lancet, 375,

Maffeis, C., Provera1, S., Filippi, L., Sidoti, G., Schena, S., Pinelli, L. & Tato, L. (2000).
Distribution of food intake as a risk factor for childhood obesity. International Journal of

Silventoinen, K., Pietiläinen, K. H., Tynelius, P., Sørensen, T. I., Kaprio, J., & Rasmussen, F. (2007). Genetic and environmental factors in relative weight from birth to age 18: the Swedish young male twins study. International Journal of Obesity31(4), 615-621.

Skelton, J. A., Irby, M. B., Grzywacz, J. G., & Miller, G. (2011). Etiologies of obesity in children: nature and nurture. Pediatric clinics of North America58(6), 1333–ix.

Willer, C. J., Speliotes, E. K., Loos, R. J., Li, S., Lindgren, C. M., Heid, I. M., … & Lettre, G. (2009). Six new loci associated with body mass index highlight a neuronal influence on body weight regulation. Nature genetics41(1), 25.

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