New study explains factors that contribute to childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes

Some aspects of modern lifestyle may be encouraging childhood obesity and putting young people at a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life, according to new research out of Binghamton University.

The researchers said that over-reliance on prepared meals and fast food has caused many young people to eat unhealthy diets. Additionally, efforts to keep children safe, such as telling them to avoid drinking from water fountains or restricting their outdoor activities, may encourage lifestyles that make obesity more likely.

After studying a group of third graders from elementary schools throughout Binghamton, New York, the researchers noted some troubling trends. Seventy percent of the children drank between two and five sugar-sweetened beverages per day, 85 percent watched between two and five hours of television and 42 percent ate two or more fast food meals each week.

The researchers said that these numbers should not be surprising, given some of the ways these children are raised. Many have been told to avoid water fountains due to fears of contagions, which may explain their reliance on sweetened drinks. Parents these days often restrict the outdoor activities of their children in order to avoid injury and many schools have eliminated gym classes in order to help students perform better on tests, both of which contribute to inactivity.

Additionally, hectic schedules are often cited as a reason for consuming fast food meals. Lead researcher Susan Terwilliger, who is also a pediatric nurse practitioner who has worked in schools, said that all these factors spell trouble for the future health of young people.

"I now have 13-year-olds with type 2 diabetes," she said. "I saw this huge increase [in childhood obesity] from 5 to 30 percent over about a 10-year period when I was in the school-based health centers."