What Parents Need to Know About Childhood Obesity
posted by Brandon Hall, MD | July 24, 2018
Childhood obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) higher than the 95th percentile for one’s age and gender, can lead to serious health complications including type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart disease, sleep apnea and other chronic conditions. More than one in five American children ages 6 to 19 is obese, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that’s three times the childhood obesity rate in the 1970s. Obesity is not just a physical health concern, it can also have an emotional impact on children, leading to low self-esteem, depression and isolation from peers. Children who are obese are also more likely to be overweight or obese as adults.
When children consume more calories than their bodies spend during exercise and physical activity, they gain weight. This calorie imbalance is the main cause of childhood obesity. Other contributing factors include:
While some factors, like genetics, can’t be changed, lifestyle changes can lower a child’s risk of obesity and contribute to achievement and maintenance of a healthy weight.
If your child’s BMI is higher than the 85th percentile, he or she is considered overweight. Your family doctor will evaluate your child’s health by taking a family history of weight-related issues and asking questions about his or her diet and activity level.
If your child is overweight or obese, your doctor may screen for weight-related conditions with cholesterol and blood sugar tests. He or she may also test for hormone imbalances or vitamin deficiencies that could contribute to your child’s weight. Treatment for obesity depends on your child’s age, weight and other underlying health conditions, but it usually includes dietary changes and exercise.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a weight management plan with a goal of reducing weight by one pound a month for children younger than age 11 and two pounds a month for older children and adolescents.
Parents, teachers and community leaders can help children stay healthy and prevent obesity by making healthy changes at home, school and other places where kids spend time. For example, after-school programs can require kids to participate in 60 minutes of exercise each session. Parents can replace junk food with nutritious choices like fruits, vegetables, whole-grain snacks and low-fat dairy.
Children should get about 60 minutes of exercise every day, though it can be divided into smaller increments. Set a good example by participating in physical activity with your child. Go on a hike, take a yoga class or just blast their favorite tunes and have a dance party to make fitness a fun family affair.
Limit computer and screen time to no more than one hour a day for preschoolers and no more than two hours for older children. More screen time is associated with a higher risk of obesity.
Contact your doctor if you have any other questions or concerns about your child’s weight.
“Understanding Childhood Obesity. What is Childhood Obesity?” Obesity Action Coalition. http://www.obesityaction.org/understanding-obesity-in-children/what-is-childhood-obesity
“Child Obesity – Too Many Kids Are Too Heavy Too Young.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-trends/global-obesity-trends-in-children/
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.
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