Childhood Obesity: What exactly does that mean and should you be concerned for your child’s health?
The term childhood obesity has been thrown around quite often over the last decade. It is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. But what exactly does it mean? What constitutes labeling a child obese versus overweight or chubby? Understanding what it means to be obese, and the health risks that come along with it, can not only help shape your child’s health now, but also down the road into his or her adulthood.
Obesity is a term used when an individual is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. However, not all children carry weight the same. Some children have larger than average body frames and most children carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development. Therefore, it is difficult to judge just by looking at your child, if his or her weight is a health concern. For adults 18 years and older a formula is used to calculate an individual’s BMI (body mass index) using height and weight to determine the person’s amount of body fat. This formula however does not hold true to children. Your child’s doctor can help you figure out if your child’s weight could pose a potential health problem using growth charts and other tests, if necessary.
There are many factors, working in combination together, that contribute to a child becoming overweight or obese.
Family: Children who come from families with a number of overweight individuals are more likely to become overweight themselves. This is especially true in environments where high-calorie foods are always available and physical activity isn’t encouraged.
Diet: Children who have a regular diet of high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods and vending machine snacks (soft drinks, candy and desserts), can easily gain weight.
Lack of exercise: Children who do not exercise much are often more likely to gain weight because they are not burning the calories they are ingesting. Too much time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching TV or playing video games, play a big part.
Socioeconomic factors: Children in some communities have limited resources and little access to supermarkets. As a result, they may opt for convenience foods that don’t spoil quickly, such as frozen meals, crackers and cookies. These foods are often the items that are placed on discount and therefore make them more affordable and favorable.
Childhood obesity can create complications for your child’s physical, social and emotion well-being. Your child may develop Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and early puberty or menstruation. They may be forced to cope with low self-esteem and bullying as well as behavior and learning problems or depression.
It is never too early or too late to begin a healthy lifestyle. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, have a conversation with their pediatrician. Plan healthy meals in which you can involve your child with the preparation and cooking; that way they can learn the importance of healthy eating. And move! Encourage your child to participate in activities that require moving around. These are all habits that when instilled in a child at an early age will be carried out throughout their adolescent and adult years.