Childhood Obesity Overview

In the last twenty-five years alone, childhood obesity has more than doubled.  Experts report that in the year 2008, more than one-third of all children and adolescents were overweight or obese.  The United States is approaching a serious epidemic that must be stopped.

Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term effects on physical and mental health.  Childhood obesity starts children off on the wrong path that can lead to major health problems once thought of as only belonging to adults.  Today, children are being diagnosed with many adulthood diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.  Children are also suffering from low self-esteem and depression, contributed by being overweight.

Symptoms of Childhood Obesity
Not every child is overweight or considered to be obese simply because they are carrying a few extra pounds.  During various stages of development, children carry different amounts of body fat.  Also, children have different body types and frames which contribute to excess weight.

A doctor can typically examine a child’s body mass index in order to determine the correct weight.  The body mass index, or BMI, is a calculation that measures weight against height and age.  If a child is overweight, a chart can assist with gauging the best weight for your child. While the only symptom of childhood obesity is being overweight, a doctor can assist you with the concerns you may have about your child’s development.  The Center for Disease Control offers a growth chart that is typically used by doctors.  This chart helps doctors as well as parents determine if the child is overweight.

The growth chart uses a BMI reading and provides the following information:
    •    The child is overweight if the BMI exceeds the 85th percentile 
    •    The child is obese if the BMI exceeds the 95th percentile

If you are concerned about your child putting on too much weight or wonder if your child is obese, it is best to address the issues with a trusted doctor or your child’s pediatrician.  Family medical history, growth and development, and height will all come into play when determining if the child is overweight or obese.

Childhood Obesity Risk Factors
Many risk factors for childhood obesity work in combination with one another.  Typically there is not one single risk factor that contributes to childhood obesity, but rather a group of factors.  Contributors to childhood obesity include:
    •    Poor diet 
One of the leading contributors of childhood obesity is a poor diet.  Most children who are overweight or obese consume poor quality meals and snacks.  They may be left to prepare their own meals and are ill-equipped to making wise and healthy choices.  Fast foods, high calorie sweets and fatty meals are often the norm for children who are overweight.
    •    Lack of exercise 
Children who are inactive are more likely to gain weight than those who burn calories during play and activity.  Most inactive children are allowed to watch hours of television or play video games rather than perform physical play.  These children often become lazy and inactive.
    •    Family history of obesity 
Children who come from a family of obese individuals are more likely to become overweight during their formative years than children who do not live with obese parents and siblings.  Typically these children are surrounded by inactivity and observe poor food choices over time.
    •    Emotional or psychological factors 
Some overweight children eat because they are unhappy and trying to cope with internal problems.  They may find solace in food, are attempting to fight boredom or are stressed out.  Whatever the issues, children who are unhappy typically resort to food for comfort.
    •    Environmental factors 
A child who grows up in a family environment surrounded by high calorie foods finds it more difficult to remain thin.  To no fault of their own, if the child does not eat what is prepared, they will not eat at all.  Childhood obesity begins in the home and if poor food options are available, this is all the child will eat.
    •    Socioeconomics 
Studies show that children welcome from low-income families are at a significantly higher risk of obesity than children who come from medium to high income families.  There is a common mindset that it takes time and money to prepare healthy meals.  Also, exercise is rarely a priority making it more difficult for children to maintain a healthy weight.

Childhood Obesity Prevention
There are several ways that parents can help to prevent childhood obesity.  The primary way of helping prevent this epidemic is to set a positive example.  Don’t expect your child to make wise choices in terms of food and exercise when you are not showing them how to do it.

Emphasize the positive and encourage a healthy lifestyle.  Starting in the home, you can choose to eat the right things, implement activities as a family and encourage one another through love and support.  It is important to remain patient throughout the process.  Changes at home are the best way to combat this disease and get your children on the track to a healthy adulthood.

Suzanne Somers

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