According to the CDC, childhood obesity affects a shocking one in five kids and teens in the United States. Living in a state of being chronically overweight can lead to a whole host of health problems that can endure into adulthood.
So what do parents need to know about childhood obesity? Read on to learn more about the risks, causes, diagnosis, prevention, and management of obesity in kids.
Childhood obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of higher than the 95th percentile. A child’s BMI is calculated by dividing their weight by their height, and their percentile is determined by using age- and sex-specific parameters and the CDC Growth Chart. Other more direct measures of body fat, such as body fat calipers, can also be used to assist in diagnoses.
Causes and Prevention
Some factors leading to the development of childhood obesity include genetics, diet, lifestyle habits, lack of physical activity, and, in some cases, a metabolic or endocrine condition. Excessive weight gain can also be caused by some medications.
If you know your family has a predisposed genetic risk for developing weight-related health issues, it is all the more important to focus on the prevention of childhood obesity. Prevention typically includes a commitment to a healthy lifestyle (which we will focus on more below) and working with your child’s pediatrician to actively monitor height and weight levels.
Management of obesity unsurprisingly includes the hallmark factors of diet and exercise. In some cases, the management of childhood obesity may include certain medications and health measures to treat and manage weight-related conditions. For example, a child with type 2 diabetes will need to learn how to manage their condition with glucose monitoring and insulin.
Childhood obesity can lead to the development or exacerbation of a variety of conditions, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Bone and joint problems
- Respiratory issues/asthma
- Hormonal imbalances
- Sleep apnea
- Liver disease
- Cardiovascular issues
Obesity can also have psychological effects on children and teens, such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. All of these concerns can cause lasting health issues that endure into adulthood and beyond.
A Healthy Lifestyle
Whether for the prevention or management of childhood obesity, an active and healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward mitigating weight-related health risks.
It is recommended that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Older kids and kids at risk for childhood obesity should be sure to include daily aerobic exercise as well as bone- and muscle-strengthening activities three days per week.
A healthy diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, while limiting fatty foods, processed foods, soda, and sugary snacks.
It is important to make a healthy lifestyle a part of your entire family’s daily lives. Modeling a life of healthy eating and regular exercise will help your kids build healthy habits both now and in the future.