What Is Childhood Obesity?
Children who have a body mass index (BMI) at the same level or
higher than 95 percent of their peers are considered to be obese. BMI is a tool
used to determine your “weight status.” BMI is calculated using your height and
weight. Your BMI percentile (where your BMI value falls in relation to other
people) is then determined using your gender and age.
Childhood obesity is a serious health threat to children. Kids in
the obese category have surpassed simply being overweight and are at risk for a
number of chronic health conditions. Poor health stemming from childhood
obesity can continue into adulthood.
Childhood obesity doesn’t just affect physical health. Children
and teens who are overweight or obese can become depressed and have poor
self-image and self-esteem.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
Family history, psychological factors, and lifestyle all play a
role in childhood obesity. Children whose parents or other family members are
overweight or obese are more likely to follow suit. But the main cause of
childhood obesity is a combination of eating too much and exercising too
A poor diet containing high levels of fat or sugar and few
nutrients can cause kids to gain weight quickly. Fast food, candy, and soft
drinks are common culprits. The U.S.
Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) reports that 32 percent of
adolescent girls and 52 percent of adolescent boys in the United States drink
24 ounces of soda — or more — per day.
Convenience foods, such as frozen dinners, salty snacks, and
canned pastas, can also contribute to unhealthy weight gain. Some children
become obese because their parents don’t know how to choose or prepare healthy
foods. Other families may not be able to easily afford fresh fruits,
vegetables, and meats.
Not enough physical activity can be another cause of childhood
obesity. People of all ages tend to gain weight when they’re less active. Exercise
burns calories and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Children who aren’t
encouraged to be active may be less likely to burn extra calories through
sports, time on the playground, or other forms of physical activity.
Psychological issues may also lead to obesity in some children.
Kids and teens who are bored, stressed, or depressed may eat more to cope with
Health Risks Associated with Childhood
Children who are obese have a higher risk of developing health
problems than their peers who maintain a healthy weight. Diabetes, heart
disease, and asthma are among the most serious risks.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your body doesn’t
metabolize glucose properly. Diabetes can lead to eye disease, nerve damage,
and kidney dysfunction. Children and adults who are overweight are more likely
to develop type 2 diabetes. However, the condition may be reversible through
diet and lifestyle changes.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure raise the risk of future
heart disease in obese children. Foods that are high in fat and salt may cause
cholesterol and blood pressure levels to rise. Heart attack and stroke are two
potential complications of heart disease.
Asthma is chronic inflammation of the lung’s airways. Obesity is the
most common comorbidity (when two diseases occur in the same person at the same
time) with asthma, but researchers aren’t sure exactly how the two conditions
are linked. According to a recent study
published in the journal Asthma
Research and Practice, about 38% of adults with asthma in the United States
are also obese. That same study found that obesity may be a risk factor for
more severe asthma in some, but not all, people with obesity.
Kids and teens who are obese may also suffer from sleep
disorders, such as excessive snoring and sleep apnea. Extra weight in the neck
area can block their airways.
Your child may also experience joint stiffness, pain, and limited
range of motion from carrying excess weight. In many cases, losing weight can
eliminate joint problems.
Healthy Eating and Nutrition for Obese
Changing the eating habits of obese children is absolutely
essential. Parental influence shapes your child’s eating patterns. Most kids
eat what their parents buy, so healthy eating needs to start with you.
Start your nutrition overhaul by limiting sweets and soft drinks
in your home. Even drinks made from 100-percent juice can be high in calories.
Instead, serve water and lower-fat or nonfat milk with meals. Cut back your
fast food consumption and make a conscious effort to cook more. Preparing a
meal and eating together is not only healthy in a nutritional sense, but it’s also
an excellent way to sneak in some family time.
Center your meals and snacks around fresh foods instead of
processed items, baked goods, or salty snacks. Try:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- lean proteins, such as chicken and fish
- whole grains, such as brown rice, whole-wheat
pasta, and whole-grain breads
- low-fat dairy products, including skim milk, low-fat
plain yogurt, and low-fat cheese
Chances are good that your overweight or obese child will drop
some weight as they transition to a healthier way of eating. Consult your
pediatrician if weight loss doesn’t occur. You may need additional help from a
nutritionist or dietician.
Lifestyle Changes to Fight Childhood Obesity
There are several different strategies that can help prevent
Increase Physical Activity
Increase your child’s level of physical activity to help them
shed weight safely. Use the word “activity” instead of “exercise” or “workout”
to keep them interested. Playing hopscotch outside, for example, may be more
appealing to a 7-year-old than jogging around the block. Consider encouraging
your child to try a sport for which they’ve expressed an interest.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get at
least one hour’s worth of exercise daily to remain healthy.
More Family Activities
Find activities the entire family can enjoy together. This is not
only a great way to bond, but it also helps your child learn by example. Hiking,
swimming, or even playing tag can help your child get active and start on the
path to a healthier weight. Be sure to vary activities to prevent boredom.
Cut Down on Screen Time
screen time, too. Kids who spend several hours a day watching television, playing
computer games, or using their smartphones or other devices are more likely to
be overweight. According to studies reported by the Harvard
School of Public Health, the reason for this may be twofold. First, screen
time eats into time that could be spent doing physical activities instead. And
second, more time in front of the TV means more time for snacking, and more
exposure to ads for the high-sugar, high-fat foods that make up most food
Outlook for Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is a serious issue in the United States.
However, with proper education and support, children can learn healthier ways
to cope with their problems, prepare meals, and stay active. This support must
come from the adults in their lives: parents, teachers, and other caregivers.
Help your children stay healthier for longer by preparing nutritious foods for
them and encouraging them to get plenty of exercise.