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Childhood Obesity And Everything About It

Written by Dr. Pramod Mane on Mon, 28 November 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Burtseva Tamara Viktorivna

Key Highlights

  • Obesity is responsible for 4.7 million premature deaths each year.
  • People of all ages and even children can be affected by obesity.
  • The key contributors to obesity are a poor diet and physical inactivity.
  • Studies have shown that overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults.
  • Body mass index (BMI) is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters.
  • Obesity in children is preventable and it can be managed with consistent efforts from both parents and the child, with a proper diet and exercise, routine weight can be managed.
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Childhood obesity statistics are staggering. One-in-five children and adolescents, globally, are overweight. The scourge of childhood obesity has led us to being an unhealthy generation. But children’s weight can be managed with some nutritional changes and regular exercise.

Lack of proper eating habits and laziness are the main causes of childhood obesity. The abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that impairs good health is termed as being overweight or obese. This fat accumulates over some time and can be a reason for various health conditions in the future. But worry not.

Managing the child’s diet and making them do physical activities can lead to childhood obesity prevention. Read on to know more.

Staggering facts

Childhood obesity statistics are soaring high. Here are some eye-opening facts regarding obesity:

  • Obesity is responsible for 4.7 million premature deaths each year.
  • 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020.
  • One in five children and adolescents, globally, are overweight.
  • Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.

Symptoms of obesity

Here are some symptoms of obesity that can be seen in children as well:

Symptoms of obesity

Obesity: A Worldwide Pandemic

Obesity is a worldwide problem affecting billions. People of all ages and even children can be affected by obesity. This was not the case in the past. However, modern times and our changed lifestyle have brought this upon us.

The three main causes of childhood obesity are as follows:

  • Inexpensive calorie-dense foods: We live in a society where fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts cost us a substantial amount but snacks, fast foods, and takeaway foods like chips, biscuits, candy, fries, burgers, pizzas, and Chinese foods, etc., are extremely cheap. This has led to the mass consumption of unhealthy foods by choice or due to economic reasons. It is damaging our health and causing lifestyle diseases like obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc.
  • Technologies that reduce or replace physical activity: In today’s world, there is a machine for everything. This has diminished physical labor. People prefer a scooter or a car even for a short distance. There are robots like Roomba for simple tasks like sweeping and cleaning the floors. Our physical activity has reduced due to the convenience of these appliances. This is taking a toll on our bodies and, in the long run, our health.
  • Inexpensive non-physical entertainment: Earlier entertainment was limited. People spent more time outdoors to seek entertainment in the form of dance, music, plays, community activities, and so on. Today, everything is available online and at our fingertips. This has led to an increase in non-physical entertainment like social media, video games, online binge-watching, etc. This has not only reduced our physical activity but also affected our capacity of performing outdoor tasks.

We are not the only ones suffering the consequences of our choices. Our children and young ones are growing up in the society we build. This has opened the doors for another evil called childhood obesity.

Understanding childhood obesity

Influenced by genetics, biology, psychosocial factors, and health behaviors, overweight and obesity (OW/OB) in childhood is a complex public health problem affecting the majority of developed countries worldwide. The key contributors to obesity are a poor diet and physical inactivity. Paying attention to these factors can help us in preventing health issues in the youth, youth deaths, chronic disease, and economic health burdens.

Obesity is rampantly growing in children and young adults. Being overweight is bad news for your child. You might feel that it's just baby fat and they'll grow out of it. However, you need to remind yourself that you are responsible for your child's health and wellness during these crucial growing years.

Studies have shown that overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults. This increases their risk of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Just like us adults, children gain weight and become overweight when they eat more calories through food than they burn. Children are in their growing ages and need nutrients and energy for their optimum growth. They must get this energy from nutritious and healthy food. Eating fatty, sugary, and salty foods filled with unhealthy calories is what causes uncontrolled weight gain in children.

Most children don’t require to be put on a diet as the only problem in their lifestyle is the lack of exercise. Indulging in daily exercise can help your child attain an optimum weight. Some kids get taller with age and grow into their weight. This can help them steadily get closer to a healthy weight while growing up.

Physiological factors influencing childhood obesity

Here are some factors influencing childhood obesity:

Physiological factors influencing childhood obesity

  • Excess intake: Taking in more calories than required leads to uncontrolled weight gain. The body stores excess calories in the form of fat. Only exercise and diet control can help with getting rid of this fat buildup in the body.
  • Genetic factors: Genetic factors can play a role when it comes to childhood obesity. Being surrounded by elders with weight issues can put the child in the same environment. Genetic factors cannot be changed but can be managed with a proper diet and regular exercise.
  • Prenatal and postnatal influences: Mothers who smoked or were overweight have children who are more likely to grow up as overweight adults. Other factors such as maternal stress also affect the growing baby.
  • Unhealthy diets: Consistently indulging in an unhealthy diet is bound to cause weight gain. Fatty, salty, and sugary foods are the main cause of weight gain all over the world. Reducing the intake of these foods can help in weight loss.
  • Too much television: Watching television can have us glued to our seats for hours. Snacking while watching TV is a normal occurrence. These are unhealthy habits that promote a sedentary lifestyle. Avoid watching the television for longer hours and indulge in some active entertainment instead.
  • Reduced physical activity: The lack of physical activity in your child's lifestyle is a primary reason for their weight gain.
  • Unhealthy sleep routine: Not sleeping on time, sleeping for very long periods, or sleeping too little are some reasons that can cause weight gain. A regular sleep cycle is necessary for maintaining good health.

Keeping these factors in mind, doing self-evaluation for yourself and your kids can help you rectify the problems causing the weight gain.

How to know if your child is obese

We can see excessive weight on a child and know that they are overweight or obese. However, in some cases, the child might healthy but still weigh more than they should.

One measure of being a healthy child can be determined by the BMI.

Body mass index (BMI) is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. It is an inexpensive and easy-to-perform method of screening for weight categories. This can help in detecting problems that may lead to health problems.

For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age. In children, a high amount of body fat can lead to weight-related diseases and other health issues. Being underweight can also put one at risk for health issues.

A high BMI can indicate high body fatness. BMI does not measure body fat directly, but BMI is correlated with more direct measures of body fat.

For children and young people aged 2 to 18, the BMI calculator takes into account age and gender as well as height and weight.

Overweight children are thought to be at increased risk of a variety of health conditions, and they're also more likely to be overweight as adults.

The BMI calculator works out if a child or young person is:

  • underweight – on the 2nd centile or below
  • healthy weight – between the 2nd and 91st centiles
  • overweight – 91st centile or above
  • very overweight – 98th centile or above

A child’s BMI is expressed as a ‘centile’ to show how their BMI compares with children who took part in national surveys.

For example, a girl on the 75th centile is heavier than 75 out of 100 other girls her age.

Measuring waist size is not routinely recommended for children because it does not consider their height.

See a GP if you’re concerned about your child’s weight. They may be able to refer you to your local healthy lifestyle program for children, young people, and families.

How to manage obesity in children

Childhood obesity prevention and management is possible with consistent efforts from both parents and the child.

With a proper diet and exercise, routine weight can be managed.

Ways to eat healthier

Eating healthy food can help your child eat a better, nutrition-rich diet that will keep them satiated for longer hours. Cutting out the problematic foods is the first step in starting a clean diet. Consider these steps that lead to eating healthier:

Ways to eat healthier

  • Choose the right carbs for your day. There is no need to cut out carbs completely. Include whole grains in your diet.
  • Include fish, poultry, nuts, and beans in the diet as they are essential protein options for your child.
  • Choose foods with healthy fats like plant oils, nuts, and fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat, and avoid foods with trans-fat.
  • Choose a fiber-filled diet, rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Focus on calcium-rich foods, as they are essential for growing children and their bone and muscle development. It is healthy to include yogurt, buttermilk, milk, cheese, etc., in your child's diet.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Hydration is the key to weight loss and good health. Avoid all sugary drinks, milk, juice, etc., and choose water each time.
  • Eat colorful fruits and vegetables like red, yellow, green, orange bell peppers, dark green vegetables, etc. These contain lycopene which is a great antioxidant for the body.
  • Reduce the salt intake. Choose more fresh foods over processed foods and preserved foods.
  • Include vitamin and mineral supplements in your child's diet after consulting your physician. These can boost your child's health and prevent any dietary deficiencies.

Inculcating exercise in your child’s routine

Here are some ways you can encourage your child to indulge in daily physical activity:

  • Be a role model: Your children watch and mimic your habits, good and bad. When you exercise and focus on fitness, you can motivate your child to do the same.
  • Use your legs: Let your child walk, bike, and roller skate to nearby places as it promotes physical activity.
  • Family activities: Outdoor activities like adventure sports, swimming, playing sports, etc., are great ways to have family time and get some exercise.
  • Focus on fun: Children love to have fun. Put on some music, have dance parties, visit parks and zoos, and let kids exert themselves physically.
  • Motivate your kids: Motivate your kids to do better every day. Reward them when they have made progress.
  • Include kids in household activities: Let your kids help you in household activities like gardening, moving things up the stairs, sweeping the house, washing the car, etc.
  • Promote physical activity: Rollerblades, bicycles, ice skates, soccer balls, and even active-play video games make great gifts that promote physical activity. Activity-tracking apps and technologies are also fun choices for kids.
  • Go for a hike: Hiking, off-road cycling, kayaking, camping, or snorkeling are great ways to get some exercise. Do these activities with your child to show them how the outdoors can be fun too.

Exercise helps in

Regular physical activity can be fun for children and it also has many health benefits. They are:

  • Helping with weight management
  • Strengthening bones
  • Preventing chronic diseases
  • Managing blood pressure
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Improving overall lifestyle
  • Boosting confidence

Conclusion

Childhood obesity is a serious problem that risks the lives of children all around the world. Serious chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, and muscle and bone problems arise due to obesity. This not only affects the child’s physical health but also takes a toll on mental health. Lack of confidence, anxiety, and depression are some problems that obese or overweight children can face.

With proper diet and nutrition, childhood obesity prevention is possible. Be there for your child, practice a healthy lifestyle yourself, and make efforts to provide your child with healthy food at all times. Limit TV time and sedentary lifestyle. These causes of childhood obesity have to be stayed away from. Inculcate the importance of exercise in your child’s life and let them see that it can be fun to be outdoors.

The childhood obesity statistics mentioned in the article above should serve as a cautionary tale. With these small changes, you will soon see how obesity can be managed with just a little bit of effort, hard work, and consistency.

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Dr. Pramod Mane

A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Pharmacology., currently based in Mumbai, India, Dr Pramod Mane, comes with an experience of more than 20 years of working in Medical Affairs in the Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceutical Industry. Director of Medical Services at Mega Lifesciences since 2008, Dr Mane has been associated with several MNCS in the areas of Medical Affairs, Medical Services, Medico-marketing, Pharmacovigilance & Clinical trials in his illustrious career.

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