The modern era brings with it, among other things a lot of benefits, as well as some disadvantages. The advantage of getting everything works with lesser work and physical activity creates the looming threat of obesity and increasingly sedentary life in children. In this busy world, every parent must know information about childhood obesity problems and solutions as well.
What is Childhood Obesity Problem?
WHO defines childhood obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.” Childhood obesity causes and consequences are not difficult to note. Apart from some cases where inherent genetic or hormonal problems cause the problem, most cases of childhood obesity problems are caused by external factors.
How to know if your child is obese or overweight?
One of the ways to determine if your child is obese is to map his or her BMI – Body Mass Index. BMI is a simple index to classify overweight and obesity. It is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters (kg/m2). It gives an approximate understanding of whether a person is overweight, or underweight, for that matter. As per the guidelines set by the CDC (Center for Disease Control, USA):
i) BMI between 85th and 94th percentile classifies as overweight.
ii) BMI 95th percentile or above classifies as obesity
iii) BMI 99th percentile or higher classifies as severe obesity.
Note: BMI is not the most accurate tool for checking whether the child is overweight or not. There are variations of growth patterns for children, and there are ample differences in the development of muscle, average body frame, and so on, and BMI is incapable of taking those into account.
Read this for a simple explanation of what is the body mass index (BMI) and how to calculate BMI.
A few of the other factors and criteria that play a role in obesity problem / determining obesity problems are:
a) The child’s eating habits
b) Any prevalent history of psychological problems
c) History of obesity and related diseases in the family
d) Physical activity that the child gets in his/her daily life
e) Any other health problems that the child might be facing
Also, there are a couple of tests, mainly blood tests such as a cholesterol test, a blood sugar test, and other tests to check hormonal imbalances that need to be carried out before obesity is confirmed.
Health Problems of childhood obesity
Obesity at a very young stage can make your child vulnerable to medical problems like heart diseases, liver diseases, diabetes, asthma, reproductive problems, and even, in some severe cases, cancer. They may also develop bone problems. It also increases the chances of suffering strokes.
Further, there are psychological and social implications as well. Children who are obese, become prone to bullying at a very young age, leading to a significant loss in self-esteem, increasing the risk of depression, and developing long-term mental illnesses.
What causes obesity in children?
Below are a few of the most commonly noted causes of childhood obesity.
a. Poor diet (rich in junk food):
High-calorie foods, baked foods, fast foods, and sugary drinks pose the highest risk of obesity.
Poor physical activity, lack of outdoor games, and constant exposure to TV, mobile phones, video games, or other digital mediums of entertainment lead to a higher chance of obesity in your child. To keep the calories in check, make sure he/she gets sufficient physical activity through outdoor games, exercising, etc.
c. Genetic inheritance:
Many times, obesity may not be a result of your own lifestyle and habits; but could be a genetic drive through your ancestors and family.
Psychological or inherent metabolic problems can cause children to indulge in overeating which can increase their chances of getting obese.
e. Medical causes of childhood obesity:
Sometimes, a major side-effect of certain drugs can be obesity. Medicines such as prednisone, lithium, amitriptyline, paroxetine (Paxil), gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise, Horizant), and propranolol (Inderal, Hemangeol) can increase the risk. So if your child is having other health issues, you might want to check the medicines involved in the treatment of that health condition.
Signs and symptoms of obesity in children:
a. Changes in physical appearance :
Visible stretch marks on the hips or the abdomen regions. Deposition of fatty tissue in the breast area of boys. Dark, velvety skin around the neck and in other areas (known as acanthosis nigricans).
b. Abnormal fatigue and breathlessness:
Even a little physical activity gets the child tired and breathless. Sleep apnea can be another leading sign of childhood obesity.
c. Reproductive symptoms:
Early puberty and irregular menstrual cycles in girls. Delayed puberty and appearance of disproportionately small genitals in males.
d. Gastroenterological issues such as being prone to constipation and gastrointestinal reflux.
e. Orthopedic factors such as a flat knee, knock knee or dislocated hip.
What do I do if my child is overweight?
a. Weight management programs
These programs include necessary activities of all types, suitable diets, and another curriculum that help obese children to deal with their condition substantially. You may consider having your child enrolled in such a program.
b. Healthy eating:
Make sure your child eats fresh fruits and vegetables. There should be a reduction or complete stop in the consumption of sugary beverages and fast food. Also, the proportions of food consumed make a huge difference. Ensure that the quantity is under control and no overeating is happening. Lastly, chew food properly before swallowing which aids in better digestion and this reduces the chances of fat accumulation.
c. Increase in physical activity:
Limiting mobile and TV time (http://bit.ly/32Rl57f), urging your child to spend more time playing games such as hide-n-seek, tag, or jump rope, and taking him on a hiking trip, can allow him to have the required physical activity that will help him burn the right amount of calories, without it becoming boring for him.
Prescribed medication could be one of the ways to overcome childhood obesity. Sometimes, this happens as a part of the overall weight loss plan.
e. Weight loss surgery:
Reserved only for severe cases of obesity in children, who may not be able to get the required result through lifestyle changes and medicines, this can cause potential risks and long-term complications and need to be discussed properly before initiated.
Few best solutions for childhood obesity:
1. Instil good eating habits from the beginning:
Having a proper family eating custom allows balanced portions of food for the child, which would not be possible if the child is allowed to eat while watching TV or playing video games. It goes a long way in preventing childhood obesity. A proper routine for eating, from breakfast, lunch, and dinner, can prevent uneven or overeating in children.
2. Including the right foods in the diet:
Increase more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts in the diet. Replace whole milk with skimmed milk by the age of two. Fast food, snacking and baked foods should be severely limited to occasions and weekends.
3. Do not encourage food items
Don’t encourage food items as rewards to your child/children. Sometimes it might take repeated and continuous exposure to a certain food, for your child to slowly develop the taste. So give him/her adequate time to experiment and savor the various foods and flavors.
4. Water & healthy, tasty snacks :
Children must drink sufficient water and be gently introduced to healthy yet tasty snacks; this way, they will enjoy what they eat and not make a fuss about it.
5. Educate your child
Explaining to children about childhood obesity problems and solutions and their reality and facts can be of great help. With a gradual understanding of the facts, children might as well just have a self-check for themselves.
To sum it up, childhood obesity, for the most part, is preventable. An effective childhood obesity prevention strategy requires planning and conscious efforts on the parents’ front to inculcate good habits and take better and healthier lifestyle choices.