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The Contributions of The Nature Versus Nurture Theories in Child Obesity

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Nature-Genetics and Biological Factors
  3. Nurture-Environmental Factors, Diet and Adult Influences
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


Obesity is defined as an individual being at or over the body mass index (BMI) according to their height and weight. It is also described as the excessive accumulation of fat that poses health risks. Child obesity has been an ongoing problem which has steadily increased since the 1970’s, affecting the middle childhood stage in development. The nature aspect that causes child obesity has to do with genetics and biological factors such as metabolism and hormone interactions. Nurture contributes to child obesity due to how parents raise their children, societal standards and socioeconomic status.

Nature-Genetics and Biological Factors

Child obesity is caused by changes in certain chromosomal genes in the body. The Genome-wide association studies organization (GWAS) has discovered that a mutation of the LEP gene within the hypothalamus aids in the loss of appetite control and has a dominant effect on gaining excessive adiposity especially in children (Chesi et al, 2015). Since the brain is the control center of our bodies, the hypothalamus located at the base of the brain is responsible releasing hormones and sending messages that prompt certain genes to begin a specific activity.

In this case, LEP is a gene that provides instructions for making a hormone called leptin, which is involved in the regulation of body weight by inhibiting hunger (NIH, 2013). A child becomes obese when there is a mutation in the LEP gene and hunger is not controlled. A high amount of leptin released by the LEP gene is a result of overaccumulation of fat in the body and becomes problematic when the hypothalamus does not relay the signal to stop hunger.

The nature aspect of child obesity is genetic and cannot be controlled because there is little gene therapy that has been discovered to help fix this LEP mutation. Furthermore, a person’s weight can be affected even before he or she is born. According to Clinical Epigenetics, it was recently reported that a pregnant obese mother has a significant impact on placental development (Nogues et al, 2019). This discovery further proves that the nature perspective in child obesity cannot be controlled because the child is not able to control the mother’s weight and nutrient contributions in the womb, so he or she inherits traits that cause them to become obese.

Hormones can be said to play a major role in metabolic regulations of the body. Like the hormone leptin, the thyroid hormone regulates body weight by keeping the body’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) in a state of rest… Patients who had problems with their thyroid glands were found to have low BMRs, while patients with overactive thyroid glands were found to have high BMRs. Studies conducted later confirmed these observations, using measurements of thyroid hormone levels and concluded that low thyroid hormone levels resulted in low BMRs and high thyroid hormone levels resulted in high BMRs (American Thyroid Association).

Consequently, if the basal metabolic rate decreases and the thyroid hormone decreases, this can cause a hormone imbalance and weight gain.” In general, 5-10 pounds of body weight may be attributable to the thyroid, depending on the severity of the hypothyroidism” (American Thyroid Association). A decrease in thyroid hormone secretion is known as having an underactive thyroid condition, or hyporthyroidism. This condition contributes to child obesity in a way that the thyroid gland is not able to produce enough thyroid hormone and decreases metabolism, making it hard to get rid of calories consumed. These genetic and hormonal conditions mentioned above are biological causes of child obesity whereby the child has limited control of how to balance their desired weight.

Nurture-Environmental Factors, Diet and Adult Influences

Nurture plays an important role in child obesity. The types of foods we choose to eat, how much we exercise and parental influencers all contribute to obesity. According to the Centers for disease control, 13.9 percent of 2-5-year-old children are obese, while 18.4 percent of 6-11-year-old children are obese (CDC, 2019).

Poor diet is a major contribution to obesity. It is imperative that children get a balanced diet growing up, which includes equal proportions of macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats. An imbalance of nutrients can lead to wight gain especially in a scenario where there is an increase in any of them. For example, too much carbohydrates leads to a rise in insulin levels in the body which promotes weight gain by accumulating more fat. Harvard University explains this phenomenon in more details as follows, “The focus on carbohydrates was based on the “carbohydrate-insulin model” of obesity, which states that high insulin levels that result from eating a high glycemic load diet (i.e., highly processed carbohydrates like refined breads, crackers, cookies, and sugars) causes energy from the food to be stored more easily as fat, and may increase hunger and food cravings, lower energy expenditure, and promote weight gain (, 2018)”.

The most relevant environmental factor that also contributes to child obesity is the socioeconomic status of the child’s family. Families who live in neighborhoods that not have easy access to healthy food sources like fresh foods or organic supermarkets are subject to eating unhealthy diets that include a lot of processed and fatty foods that lead to obesity. Family dynamics also contribute greatly to child obesity and is often overlooked.

A child is prone to junk food self-medication if he or she is from an unhappy or troubled home. Some factors that cause children to seek happiness in junk food are lack of emotional bonding, violence and punishment, low education, low self-esteem, negative belief systems and financial hardships. Evidently a growing body of literature suggests that the relationship between socioeconomic status and development of childhood obesity is growing strongly with an ever-widening gap in obesity rates between low and high socioeconomic groups.

In a lot of developed countries, the rates of childhood obesity have stabilized in higher socioeconomic groups, while lower socioeconomic groups have increased. These facts highlight the role of a low socioeconomic status as a critical risk factor in child obesity. Finances also play a role because a family that has a low income and cannot afford healthy food fall victim to feeding their children whatever they can afford. It is no secret that the salad you can buy at the grocery store costs three times as much as the starchy noodles.

In this case, parents living with low incomes consequently contribute to the obesity of their children. In that same respect, it is all about choices and knowledge. Children are often at the mercy of another adult such as parents and it is the responsibility of the adult to make sure the child is eating a healthy diet. However, if the adult caregiver is obese themselves, it is more likely for the child to also become obese.


Nature vs Nurture both play important roles in the contribution of child obesity. However, Nurture takes prevalence on which side affects children the most. Although there are genetic factors which we cannot control, we do have the upper hand in taking precautions to prevent child obesity. The choices we make in our every day lives affect children who are not mature enough to make the right decisions about diet an exercise to prevent their obesity.

Prevention methods like frequent exercise should be encouraged by adult, for children who are strong enough to exercise. Parent should get educated on better eating habits in order to know how to take better care of their children. Adults or caregivers with low financial stability should research healthier alternative methods and not hesitate in asking for government assistance when needed. I believe making changes like this can have a positive impact on the health of children.


  1. Chesi, A., & Grant, S. F. (2015). The Genetics of Pediatric Obesity. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 26(12), 711–721. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2015.08.008
  2. Childhood Obesity Facts. (2019, June 24). Retrieved from
  3. Hemmingsson, E. (2018). Early Childhood Obesity Risk Factors: Socioeconomic Adversity, Family Dysfunction, Offspring Distress, and Junk Food Self-Medication. Current Obesity Reports, 7(2), 204–209. doi: 10.1007/s13679-018-0310-2
  4. LEP gene – Genetics Home Reference – NIH. (2013, December). Retrieved from
  5. Nogues, P., Santos, E. D., Jammes, H., Berveiller, P., Arnould, L., Vialard, F., & Dieudonné, M.-N. (2019). Maternal obesity influences expression and DNA methylation of the adiponectin and leptin systems in human third-trimester placenta. Clinical Epigenetics, 11(1). doi: 10.1186/s13148-019-0612-6
  6. Obesity. (2014, September 5). Retrieved from
  7. Staff, A. (2018, November 27). Effects of varying amounts of carbohydrate on metabolism after weight loss. Retrieved from
  8. Thyroid and Weight. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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