Obesity indicates weighing more than is healthy for a person’s height, gender, and age.
Childhood obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile compared to other children of the same age and gender.
Some health experts have described the growing number of overweight and obese children as an epidemic.
Corresponding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children and teens being considered obese has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Today, almost 1 in 5 school-aged children in the United States are considered obese.
According to the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is also a problem globally, with more than 340 million children considered overweight or obese.
MEASURING OBESITY IN CHILDREN
Appearance and weight aren’t enough to determine whether a child is obese because children are still growing and have different sized frames.
Carrying extra weight may be considered average at certain times in a child’s development.
For a more accurate measure, doctors use BMI—which calculates weight in proportion to height—to diagnose overweight and obesity in kids.
BMI is determined by dividing the child’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.
Then doctors use charts that plot a child’s BMI by percentile.
For example, a 10-year-old boy who measures 56 inches tall and weighs 102 pounds would be in the 95th percentile for weight and therefore be considered obese.
CAUSES OF CHILDHOOD OBESITY
Kids who are obese often ingest too many calories from foods and sweetened beverages and do not move enough to burn off those calories.
Fast foods, processed foods, sweets, and fried foods contain little nutrition in proportion to the calories they provide.
Kids who rely on these foods for the bulk of their diet are more likely to gain weight.
Children get many of the unhealthy foods they consume outside of their home.
Restaurant portion sizes have increased over the years, contributing far more calories to children’s diets than they did in the past.
In addition to eating an unhealthy diet, children are not getting enough exercise.
Kids today spend more hours each day in front of the television, computer, and video game screens and less time engaging in sports and activities than they did in the past.
They also spend more time sitting at school. Only 8 percent of elementary schools and fewer than 7 percent of middle and high schools in the United States give daily physical education, according to the Obesity Action Coalition.
Spending too much time engaged in sedentary activities prevents children from burning off the calories they consume.
Children learn many of the behaviors that contribute to obesity from the people around them.
When parents and other family members eat unhealthy foods and are sedentary, children tend to copy those behaviors.
Kids are also influenced in their dietary and exercise habits by commercials and websites that advertise sugary, high-fat foods and by-products such as video games that encourage inactive behaviors.
Obesity in families could have a genetic component as well. According to the CDC, although genes do not directly cause obesity, they may play a weight gain.
For example, genetic variations might affect the signals that tell a person when he or she is hungry or influence the body’s rate of metabolism.
Genetic makeup combined with learned behaviors may be why obesity sometimes affects multiple members of the same family.
Socioeconomic status can also play a contributing role in childhood obesity. Children from lower-income families may have less access to a supermarket that sells healthy foods.
They must rely on convenience foods, which tend to be less healthy and higher in calories.
Being from a low-income family may also prevent children from participating in sports and other physical activities.
PROBLEMS RELATED TO CHILDHOOD OBESITY
Children who are obese are more likely to be overweight when they grow into adults.
Obesity increases the risks for health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, asthma, and type 2 diabetes.
More children today are developing these conditions early in life.
Excess weight can also harm a child’s emotional health. Children who are obese have lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression than kids who are at a healthy weight.
They may also have more difficulty succeeding in school.
Parents who are concerned that their child might be obese should consult a pediatrician.
The doctor may determine whether there is a weight problem and identify the best strategies to address it.
Childhood Obesity Prevention
To prevent childhood obesity or help children who are obese lose excess weight, parents can follow these guidelines:
- Keep healthy foods readily available in the home. Good choices include apples, carrot sticks, whole-wheat crackers, and low-fat cheese. Serve meals with lots of vegetables, low-fat protein such as lean chicken and fish, and whole grains.
- Limit purchases of fast foods, packaged foods, sweets, fried foods, and sugar-sweetened sodas, and fruit juices.
- Serve children in smaller portions. Read packages to determine the correct portion size for each food product. At mealtimes, devote at least one-half of children’s plates to fruits and vegetables, one quarter to lean protein, and one quarter to whole grains.
- Do not push children to finish everything on their plate. Let them stop eating when they feel full.
- Dine meals together as a family so that you can monitor what your children eat.
- Avoid eating out whenever possible, especially at fast-food restaurants.
- Limit the time children spend watching TV, playing video games, and engaging with social media to no more than two hours each day, suggests the Harvard School of Public Health[SW1].
- Get active together as a family. Take walks or ride bikes together, throw a ball, or play a game of basketball.
- Ensure that your children get enough sleep. Poor sleep has been linked to weight issues. Kids ages six to 12 should sleep nine to 12 hours a night, while teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep nightly.
- Ensure that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, which is the amount the U.S. Surgeon General recommends.
If your kid is resistant to eating healthy, enlist the help of a dietitian or weight-management program geared to children.
A dietitian can help you plan out healthy meals that everyone in the family can enjoy.
“Behavior, Environment, and Genetic Factors All Have a Role in Causing People to Be Overweight and Obese.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 19, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/resources/diseases/obesity/index.htm (accessed January 26, 2019).
“Childhood Obesity.” Mayo Clinic. November 17, 2016. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20354827 (accessed December 2, 2018).
“Childhood Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm (accessed December 1, 2018).
“Childhood Overweight and Obesity: Helping Your Child Achieve a Healthy Weight.” American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/childhood-overweight-and-obesity/?adfree=true (accessed December 2, 2018).
“Helping Your Child Who Is Overweight.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. September 2016. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/helping-your-child-who-is-overweight (accessed December 2, 2018).
“What is Childhood Obesity?” Obesity Action Coalition. https://www.obesityaction.org/get-educated/understanding-childhood-obesity/what-is-childhood-obesity/ (accessed December 2, 2018).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, GA, 30333, (800) 232-4636, https://www.cdc.gov.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 31 Center Drive, Building 31, Bethesda, MD, 20892, (301) 496-4000, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
Obesity Action Coalition, 4511 North Himes Avenue, Suite 250, Tampa, FL, 33614, (800) 717-3117, https://www.obesityaction.org .