Children face many changes and obstacles as they develop into adults, but one problem has remained constant. Obesity affects more than 12 million children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent studies have shown that in certain age groups in children there is a decline in obesity, however nationally the childhood obesity rate has remained steady at 17 percent since 2003.
Obesity occurs when a person’s weight is higher than what is considered to be healthy. A child’s body mass index is used to determine whether they are obese. If a child’s BMI lands above the 95th percentile, they are considered to be obese. To measure BMI in children, health professionals use age- and sex-specific measurements. This is because a child’s body composition varies as they get older and depending on their gender.
Many factors can contribute to a child becoming obese, including genetics, environmental factors, metabolism, unhealthy eating patterns, a lack of physical activity, and social and individual consciousness. Knowing and recognizing these factors can help prevent a child from maintaining an unhealthy weight.
Obesity in children can lead to problems later in adulthood. Children with obesity are at an increased risk to attain health conditions such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and bone and joint problems when they reach adulthood. Experiencing obesity during childhood also is associated with being obese as an adult, which can lead to serious health conditions such as metabolic syndrome and cancer.
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While obesity has a physical impact, it can also lead to social impacts as well. Children who are obese are more likely to be bullied and teased, which can lead to social isolation, poor performance in school, depression and low self-esteem.
Encouraging healthy eating habits and maintaining a balanced diet can help lead to weight loss. Children should eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables, low- or non-fat dairy products, lean meats and drink plenty of water. Controlling the sizes of portions and cutting out foods high in sugars can also prevent obesity in children and help children with obesity lose weight.
Physical activity not only can prevent and treat obesity, but benefit overall health. It is recommended children get at least one hour of physical activity every day, if possible. Promoting an active lifestyle can help with managing and losing weight, increasing self-esteem, lowering blood pressure, building stronger bones, and relieving stress. Setting limits to watching television, playing video games and spending time on the internet or computer is also recommended.
If your child is struggling with obesity and weight gain, talk to a health professional to discuss factors that could be the source of the condition. Together, you can develop a plan to help reach a healthier lifestyle.
Dr. Robert Rettie is with KentuckyOne Health Pediatric Associates.