Diet and Nutrition

What is Childhood Obesity?

What is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity refers to when a child or teen is weighing way more than his or her height and age. This is a serious medical complication that usually leads the child to a troubled adulthood as far as health is concerned.

Children are delicate human beings and obesity puts them at risk of serious health complication such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, conditions that were otherwise once confined to adults. This means that these health conditions have a greater impact on children’s health compared to adults who have  stronger immune systems. Obesity also introduces depression and poor self-esteem in children and teens.

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One of the best preventive strategies of fighting childhood obesity is introducing a healthy diet and regular exercises to the entire family. This will prevent the children in the family from being obese now and in the future.


Signs and symptoms

It is rather hard to tell if your child is overweight just by looking at the size of his or her body. It is normal for a child to carry certain amounts of fat at various stages of growth. It is also normal for a child to have a larger body frame than the rest of the family members.

A sure way of confirming a case of obesity in your child is through a medical expert. A doctor can tell if your child is obese or not by using a growth chart or performing other regular tests where necessary.


Effects of childhood obesity

Effects of obesity in children should be put into much consideration simply because they are children. Children’s and teen’s physical and psychological health can be negatively affected by obesity. Here are some of the possible negative effects:

  • Poor body image and low self-esteem.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Development of various eating disorders.
  • Learning and behavior problems.

Children have a weaker immune system compared to adults and they have higher chances of developing other weight related health complications such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension.
  • Asthma
  • Insulin resistance.
  • Early puberty.
  • Sleeping problems or insomnia.
  • Blount’s disease and other orthopedic problems such as capital femoral epiphysis.
  • Low levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood.
  • Inflammation and fatty infiltration of the liver (non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis).
  • High levels of total triglyceride and LDL cholesterol in the blood.

Obese children are also likely to be obese during adulthood, leading to other weight related health conditions associated with adults. Some of these conditions are hypertension, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and cardiovascular disease.


Factors contributing to childhood obesity

Childhood obesity does not come naturally in majority of the cases and there are a number of contributing factors that lead to its development. Some of them are:

  • Food choices- A diet that comprises of foods that are high in simple sugars and fats and contains lower vegetables and fruits leads to weight gain and eventually childhood obesity.
  • Genes- Children whose parents are obese are more likely to develop childhood obesity. There are a number of inherited components that increase the chances of childhood obesity in some children than others. However, even children with genetic risk for obesity will in most cases only become overweight if their calorie intake is higher than the amount of energy they spend. This risk factor can also apply in households that encourage excess eating and less physical activities.
  • Eating patterns- Unhealthy eating patterns like skipping meals or irregular eating schedule may lead to overeating during meals.
  • Diabetes during pregnancy- Children who were born from diabetic mothers are more likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Parental influence- Studies suggest that children whose parents strictly control their eating schedule are more likely to lose self-control over their eating habits, leading to poor eating habits.
  • Low Birth weight- Researchers believe that children who are underweight during birth have a higher chance of being overweight during their childhood.
  • Breastfeeding- Long-term research has shown that children who are naturally breastfed have a lesser chance of being overweight or obese compared to those who were formula fed.
  • Physical activities- Children who are physically active are less likely to become obese compared to those who spend most of their time in one place. For example, children who spend most of their time on the playground have a lower risk of becoming obese compared to those who watch TV all day.


Measuring Childhood Overweight

Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator is the tool used in identifying overweight or obesity in children. BMI is basically the measurement of body weight over height. The measurements can either be in Kilograms (kg) and meters (M) or pounds (lbs.) and inches (in). However, age and sex are included in the BMI calculation in children.

The BMI is in percentage and can be used to tell if a child is obese or not. This is done by comparing the percentage with the CDC growth charts for children of same sex and age. Children with a BMI percentile of between 85% and 95% are said to be at risk of being overweight. If the percentile falls at 95% and above, the child is considered to be overweight or obese.

It is advised that parents with children whose BMI are between 85% and 95%, who are said to be at risk of obesity, should consult a doctor for preventive measures while carefully monitoring their children’s weight. For those children whose BMI falls at 95% or above, who are believed to be obese, their parents are advised to make an appointment with the family doctor or any other qualified pediatrician to discuss the other series of tests required to determine if he or she is overweight.

The BMI is just the first step in confirming obesity and itself alone is not enough to conclude and start treatment. At no time should a child be tested and declared overweight by a non-medical individual such as a parent or teacher. A medical expert should always be involved in childhood obesity cases since excess weight alone is not enough to tell whether a child is obese or not.


Tips to Help Establish Healthy Eating habits in children

  • Children should be allowed to play a role in determining whether to eat and how much to eat. The parent should only choose what to eat and keep them away from unhealthy foods. Giving your child some freedom during meals will enable them to develop self-control when eating.
  • Vegetables and fruits should be readily available in the home instead of foods that are high in calories, such as processed foods.
  • Try a variety of foods during meal times.
  • Children should be given reasonably smaller portions compared to adults.
  • Replace fried meat with baked, roasted or grilled meat.
  • Use low fat dairy products.
  • Keep your family active. Participate in various physical activities together such as swimming, hiking, walking and bike riding.
  • Avoid distractions such as TV while eating. Doing other things while eating might lead to unconscious overeating and other bad eating habits.
  • Encourage drinking of water or low-fat milk instead of sugary drinks like sodas.
  • Provide environments that encourage playing and give enough room for the children to move freely.

Be a good example to your children and the children around you by practicing healthy eating habits.

Key Takeaways

  • It is rather hard to tell if your child is overweight just by looking at the size of his or her body
  • Children have a weaker immune system compared to adults and they have higher chances of developing other weight related health complications 
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator is the tool used in identifying overweight or obesity in children