Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol that may materialize as adult problems.
Obesity simply means having too much body fat, and it is different from being overweight (which means weighing too much). However, in both cases, a person’s weight is greater than what’s considered healthy for his or her height and/or age.
Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression, and many obese children become obese adults, especially if one or both parents are obese.
The problem with childhood obesity is that children grow at different rates, so it isn’t always easy to know when a child has obesity or is overweight.
It is always important and necessary to involve the whole family in healthy habits so your child doesn’t feel singled out later in life. Encourage healthy eating by serving more fruits and vegetables, and buying fewer soft drinks and high-fat, high-calorie snack foods.
Also, make sure your child eats breakfast every day and a habit of eating fast food less often. Do not use food as a reward, and encourage them to participate in physical activities, which is also very important.
Kids need about 60 minutes of physical activities each day, and it does not have to happen all at once. Several short periods of activity during the day are ok.
Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents alike. Children who are obese are usually above the normal weight for their age and height.
Childhood obesity remains an epidemic, and statistics suggest that more than 12 million U.S. children are obese (that is: one out of every six children). Obese children have an increased risk of developing health problems like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are both risk factors for heart disease.
Obesity can also lead to sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and chronic health conditions such as asthma and type-2-diabetes.
An obese child is at increased risk of being bullied and suffering from depression and is also likely to grow up to be obese adults.
Socio-economic factors have also been found to be strongly correlated with childhood obesity.
What Really, Is Childhood Obesity?
In order to scientifically describe obesity, the concept of body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio between an individual’s weight to height relative to their gender and age was developed.
Generally, BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, but it is not a measurement of fat, as an individual who has more than the average muscle mass for a given height (e.g, weightlifters) will have an elevated BMI but will not be obese.
An individual is overweight when their BMI is between 25.0-29.9 and obese when the BMI is greater than 30.0. Many websites have calculators to measure BMI.
BMI is not used for children under 2 years of age, and growth charts are used instead, to identify any weight issues.
Childhood Obesity Facts
- Childhood obesity has sharply increased substantially in the last 30+ years.
- The vast majority of obesity is caused by an imbalance in calories ingested versus calories expended. Other causes of obesity, like metabolic, medicines, and other diseases are very rare.
- Losing body fat requires both caloric restriction and daily physical exercise.
Causes Of Childhood Obesity
Most obesity cases are caused by excessive daily caloric intake relative to daily caloric expenditure. Excessive intake of calories is most commonly associated with poor food-quality choices or may also result from over-ingestion of “healthy foods.
The simple biological fact is that all excess calories ingested into the body will be stored by the body and only as fat. Attempts at only reducing caloric intake without increasing caloric utilization will only help for the short term, since the body’s metabolism may adopt a conservation mode and learns how to get by on fewer calories.
Adding physical activity encourages the breakdown of excessive carbohydrate and fat stores, allowing for more functional and long-term health fix.
Body weight is a reflection of genes, metabolism, behaviors, culture, and socioeconomic status, and like their adult counterparts, most children in the United States are not eating enough nutritious foods or getting sufficient physical activity.
Family and environmental factors are vital in childhood obesity, as some children have limited access to safe places to play, while others live in food deserts where there is the scarcity of places where their parents can buy affordable, healthy foods to serve their families.
A study found that the odds of a child becoming obese or overweight increases by 20% to 60% if the child lives in a neighborhood with unfavorable conditions such as:
- poor housing,
- unsafe surroundings and/or
- limited access to sidewalks, parks and recreation centers.
Also, unhealthy foods are heavily marketed to children, and efforts to prevent childhood obesity must address all of these factors.
Childhood Obesity Symptoms And Signs
Measurement of height and weight are the most commonly used tools to appraise the proportionality of children. These parameters allow calculation of the body mass index (BMI).
It is important to consider the physique of the individual, since certain individuals may be over-muscled. While having a weight in excess of what would be expected for a certain height is most commonly documentation of excessive fat tissue, certain individuals like weightlifters may be over-muscled.
The idea of an individual’s excessive weight due to having big bone is a fable, with the exception of very rare bone diseases.
Not all children that have extra pounds are obese, as some children have larger than average body frames. Since children normally carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development, you might not know just by looking at your child if weight is a health concern.
Risk Factors For Childhood Obesity
There are several substantial risk factors for the development of obesity.
Regular consumption of high-calorie foods can easily cause your child to gain weight. Such foods include fast foods, baked goods, and vending machine snacks, candy and desserts. Also, more and more evidence points to sugary drinks, including fruit juices, as culprits in obesity in some people.
Lack Of Exercise
Children who don’t exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn off as many calories as they should in relation to their calorie intake.
Too much time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games, also contributes to the problem of Obesity.
Children from a family of overweight people may be more likely to put on weight, and this is especially true in an environment where high-calorie foods are always available and physical activity isn’t encouraged.
Parental and family stress can increase a child’s risk of obesity since it is known that some children overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions, such as stress, or to fight boredom.
People in some communities have limited resources and limited access to good foodstuffs from supermarkets. As a result, they may opt for convenience foods such as frozen meals, crackers, and cookies. Additionally, people who live in lower income neighborhoods might not have access to a safe place for recreation and exercise.
Complications, And Long-Term Health Effects Of Childhood Obesity
The consequences of childhood obesity may be grouped into physical, mental, and economic. The known physical side effects of obesity include the following:
- Increase in risk of developing type 2 diabetes, due to excessive insulin secretion and organ resistance to insulin
- Menstrual irregularity
- Infertility in some cases
- Heart attack and stroke due to hypercholesterolemia, and
- Pulmonary issues arising from asthma and obstructive sleep apnea
- Orthopedic issues of bowed legs and hip instability, e.g, slipped capital femoral epiphysis.
- Metabolic issues like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastroesophageal reflux.
Psychological consequences include:
- Low self-esteem often accompanied by teasing and bullying at school as well as the recurring ideal physique displayed by the media and entertainment industries.
- Depression, which may lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa
The economic consequences of childhood obesity are not often considered, but include the following:
- The direct costs of medical visits, diagnostic studies, and therapeutic services, plus
- Indirect costs from a decrease in productivity, absenteeism, and premature death. Studies estimate that over $147 billion is spent annually on the direct and indirect costs associated with obesity.
When To See A Doctor
If you’re worried that your child is putting on too much weight, talk to his or her doctor, so that he (the doctor), will consider your child’s history of growth and development, and where your child lands on the growth charts. This can help determine if your child’s weight is of health concern.
Treatment For Childhood Obesity
The treatment for childhood obesity involves determining the potential causes and control or eradicate them. Since the overwhelming numbers of obese individuals are consuming too many calories relative to them burning it off, therapy or treatment is directed toward reversing this metabolic equation.
There are many dietary programs that attempt to address this issue, but none is superior over the long term unless the participant accepts these nutritional changes as part of a larger lifestyle recommitment. Drugs and surgery should be restricted to severe cases of obesity, be it childhood or adult obesity.
How To Prevent Childhood Obesity
Whether your child is obese or at risk of becoming overweight, you can take measures to get or keep things on the right track. Family, Social and cultural changes are necessary to effectively address the pediatric obesity epidemic, the following basic approach should be employed:
- Breastfeed your child during the first year of life, as studies strongly reinforce that breastfed children have a lower risk of childhood and adolescent obesity.
- Try as much as possible to provide safe neighborhood environments which foster outside play activities for your child.
- Limit activities like extended T.V time and others which encourage sedentary behaviors. Limit TV and other screen time.
- Encourage vigorous physical programs for at least an hour, daily.
- Studies had repeatedly demonstrated a link to the rise in pediatric obesity with fast-food restaurants’ adoption of big-sized portions as well as the bundling of food options. Thus, eat meals as a family as often as possible, and limit eating out, especially at fast-food restaurants. Adjust portion sizes appropriately for age.
- Many studies have recommended that the social and cultural changes mentioned above must be accompanied by a strong family and community support system. Thus, you should encourage the development of activity-friendly infrastructures like bike lanes, regional parks, etc. in the communities.
- Limit your child’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, and provide plenty of fruits and vegetables instead.
- Finally, ensure your child sees the doctor for well-child checkups at least once a year. This is to allow early detection of possible signs that your child is at risk of becoming overweight or obese.