Medically reviewed by Dr. Shunmukha Priya, Ph.D. in Food Science and Nutrition
Childhood obesity is undoubtedly a growing menace. The prevalence of this condition is so high that tackling it is quite challenging.
We all are aware of obesity and its dangers but what is this childhood obesity? Childhood obesity is a condition where body fat in excess impacts the child’s health and well being in general.
Table of content
- How do you define childhood obesity?
- Causes of childhood obesity
- Effects of childhood obesity
- How to identify childhood obesity?
- Symptoms of child obesity
- Why child obesity affect kids adversely
- Childhood obesity solutions
Being a global phenomenon, it is estimated that the number of overweight children below the age of five exceeds 40 million all over the world. Asia alone comprises about half and Africa about a quarter of all those affected.
The major area of concern is that the overweight and obese children are most likely to carry this trait into their adulthood and shall be prone to suffer from lifestyle-related health conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a young age.
These factors have made childhood obesity a serious public health issue.
However, the silver lining is that childhood obesity is largely preventable and taking necessary steps at early stages can curb the development of full-blown obesity and other diseases.
Causes of childhood obesity
Childhood obesity is caused by eating too many calories and not burning enough of it. This can be attributed to several factors:
1. Poor diet
Children these days excessively indulge in unhealthy foods loaded with sugars and fats. These foods also have a high amount of calories. On the other hand, the consumption of nutrient-dense foods has also come down. This is directly responsible for childhood obesity.
2. Lack of exercise
In the past decade, a sedentary lifestyle among children has become a common thing. Smartphone/TV addiction and other entertainment are the primary cause of this. Children also spend a large amount of time indoors rather than outdoors.
3. Socioeconomic reasons
Societal factors (peer pressure) compel the child to live in an environment that encourages unhealthy eating habits. Families with limited access to resources adopt processed frozen foods which are convenient but not healthy.
4. Family reasons
If your child belongs to a family of obese or overweight members, it is most likely that he or she will suffer the same fate. The environment in the family promotes the intake of high-calorie foods, and physical activity is discouraged.
5. Psychological reasons:
If your child is stressed due to family and parental pressures, he or she is at risk of developing obesity. He or she may gorge on food to overcome the stress and the accompanying boredom.
Effects of childhood obesity
An obese child is most likely to continue to be affected by obesity in adulthood. The risk of premature death and disability later in life increases manifold.
When childhood obesity goes unchecked, the child can develop lifestyle-related disorders and cardiovascular diseases in their adulthood. But sadly, the effects of obesity in children often do not become apparent until adulthood.
The health issues emerging from childhood obesity include:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Gastric issues
- Musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis
- Certain types of cancer
How to identify childhood obesity?
Identifying the standard weight status of a child and an adolescent is difficult since they undergo great physiological changes as they grow.
Different methods have been adopted to ascertain a body’s healthy weight. The World Health Organization (WHO) have launched two standards one for children between the ages of 0 and 5 and the other between the ages of 5 and 19.
Children who are obese are 10 times more likely to develop obesity in their adulthood than their non-obese counterparts
Symptoms of child obesity
You must understand that not every child that carries extra pounds is overweight or obese. Family history and size of body frame are the key determinants in conjunction with body mass index (BMI) that gives a fair indication about it.
Your doctor will first determine the BMI percentile ranking and anything between 85 and 95 will be termed obese.
The doctor will further examine the child clinically and screen for the following:
- Blood Glucose
- Blood Pressure
- Lipid Profile
- Fatty Liver
- Menstruation in girls
Armed with these reports, the doctor will study the growth pattern of the child, family weight-for-height history and then conclude whether your child is in an unhealthy weight range.
5 Reasons why child obesity affects kids adversely:
Obesity in children can lead to a range of conditions that can be described as a serious health risk. It adversely affects your kid’s life.
The broad health issues that raise concern are:
1. Endocrine System:
Childhood obesity causes changes in the hormonal secretion pattern of your child. The endocrine glands that produce hormone do not perform optimally causing hormonal imbalance, impairing your child’s development and growth. It results in:
- Glucose intolerance
- Metabolic syndrome
- Hyperandrogenism (excess amount of androgen in female)
- Impaired growth and onset of puberty
2. Cardiovascular System:
Effects of obesity in children are likely to cause serious damage to cardiovascular health. These medical conditions can lead to life-threatening conditions like:
- Coronary heart disease
3. Respiratory system:
In obese children, the airway for breathing gets narrowed. This results in respiratory distress leading to the following medical conditions, which severely affects the child’s sleep pattern:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Obesity hypoventilation syndrome
4. Musculoskeletal system:
Obesity in children is likely to cause the following in the later stage of life. Due to a higher BMI, the joints, especially the knee is adversely affected being unable to bear the burden of excess weight and gives rise to painful conditions such as:
- Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE)
- Tibia Vara (Blount Disease)
The worst sort of concern caused due to the effects of childhood obesity is the psychological impact on your child. He or she is subjected to bullying that will result in:
- Distorted peer relationships
- Poor self-esteem
Childhood obesity solutions
Childhood obesity should be tackled with a multi-pronged strategy. The various measures to be adopted are:
- Increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
- Restrict the use of saturated fats and shift to unsaturated fats instead.
- Limit intake of sugars.
2. Promote Healthy Nutrition:
- Strengthens learning potential of children and adolescents.
- Reduces the risk of health problems.
- It ensures healthy adulthood and ageing.
3. Physical activity:
- Every child should be encouraged to indulge in an hour of physical activity daily.
- Exercises to strengthen bones and muscles should be encouraged.
4. Lifestyle changes:
- Engage in healthy habits.
- Do breathing exercises to bust stress.
- Maintain a routine in your daily activities like walking, eating on time, sleeping for a minimum of 7 to 8 hours, etc.
Combating the childhood obesity epidemic requires a sustained campaign and commitment from the public and private entities. Most of the causes of obesity in children are preventable. A sustained effort to prevent them is a priority.
Q: How bad is childhood obesity?
A: Childhood obesity is very bad since it puts the child at the risk of developing several lifestyle related diseases in the future.
Q: How many calories should children eat?
A: Each kid burns calories differently and there is no one size that fits all. It is recommended that kids aged between 6 and 12 eat 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day respectively.
Q: why is childhood obesity a problem?
A: When a child is obese, he/she is likely to develop other health issues like cardiovuscular disease and type 2 diabetes when they become adults. To prevent this, childhood obesity should be curbed.
Q: How can we solve child obesity?
A: Childhood obesity can be solved by making children aware of the foods they eat. Parents should focus on providing healthy foods to their kids and encourage them to be more active.
Q: How to help an obese child lose weight?
A: Talk to the child about healthy eating and the importance of physical activities. Encourage the child to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean meat. Also, put the child in physical activity groups. Another important step is to get rid of unhealthy junk foods stocked in the house. Following these as a family will encourage the child more and help him/her lose weight.