How to Determine and Treat Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious issues nowadays. As the world changes and develops, family routines and nutritional habits vary. Sometimes these variations occur in ways that are not that healthy. Parents are working more hours a week than before, so having the proper time to prepare healthy meals is more difficult. Healthy food has been overshadowed by ready-to-go meals with less nutritional value. By not being able to eat properly, children are more prone to being overweight, or to become obese.

What does it mean being obese? Having an excess in body fat is the definition of obesity. To measure this, health professionals use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine the relationship between weight and height. Being overweight, as the name implies, is weighing more than recommended according to age and height. Obesity implies having extra weight as well, but to a degree where health is seriously threatened.

However, the process of measuring obesity in children is more complicated, since there they’re still growing and their bodies change constantly. To determine if a child is overweight or obese, it’s recommended a professional evaluation. Health professionals generally use BMI percentiles and growth charts to see if the weight of a child falls into a healthy range given their personal characteristics, like age, sex, and height.

Causes of Obesity in Children

Gaining extra weight is usually caused by consuming more food and beverages than the body needs to function in a healthy way. Still, there are lots of factors that can contribute to obesity, especially in children these are:

- Fast food consumption (food with low nutritional values buy high in calories), like burgers, hot dogs or pizza

- Sudden changes in lifestyle, like moving places or going to a new school can cause a diet change

- Sedentary behavior (lack of frequent physical activity). This may be caused by spending too much time watching TV or playing video games

- Lower basal metabolic rates, which can help weight gain. This condition could be caused by genetics and needs to be verified and treated by a healthcare professional

- High intake of beverages filled with sugar (like soda, juices, or milkshakes)

- Eating snack foods between meals. This is a frequent happening amongst children who have a sedentary life. There’s a high intake of potato chips, chocolate, candy, or other salty treats

- Lack of safe spaces to be physically active. For a child to be active, there’s the need to have safe spaces in the community where they can play without being harmed

- Unhealthy relationships with food, which sometimes can be used as a coping mechanism, or even as a prize

- Psychological factors like emotional problems or anxiety

The best way to determine the cause of a child obesity is through observation with the help of a health professional.

What are the risks of obesity for a child’s well-being?

The consequences of obesity in children can be various. Some of these can appear on a short-term, while others can appear as the time passes. Even though obesity affects children differently than adults, there are still some issues that have become more prevalent nowadays.

Medical consequences:

- Sleep apnea, which is a sleeping disorder on the breathing pattern

- Asthma

- Diabetes

- High cholesterol

- Gallstones formation

- Bone and joint problems

- Severe acne

Emotional consequences:

For children, obesity frequently turns out to be a stigmatizing condition. Usually, overweight children are excluded from participating in physical activities. This may cause socialization problems that can impact negatively on their well-being. The consequences of this are low self-confidence and, frequently, a negative body image. These issues can be dragged from childhood into the teenage years, and even through adulthood.

This can be the cause of a negative cycle. Since a child with obesity has more difficulty performing a physical exercise or task, with time, they tend to become less active, without being able to break this cycle.

How to Treat Obesity in Children

The first step to treat obesity in a child is to accurately determine this condition. There’s no better option than to go to a medical professional. If after measuring, weighing, and calculating the BMI, your doctor determines your child is overweight, then there are several options to consider. Your child’s physician will help you choose the best plan of action. Nevertheless, there are some things that you can improve to help:

- As a family, get involved in the process of acquiring new healthy living habits by changing sedentary activities with more physical ones

- Be a good example for healthy eating, this will make easier for your child to have good eating habits as well

- Try having fun as a family while doing exercises together. Exercising can improve your child’s life, not only physically, but mentally too

- Decrease the intake of sugars and unsaturated fats from your child’s diet

However, before taking any action, the most important step as a parent is to be supportive of your child. If a child feels accepted and has a good relationship with their parents, then they’ll have a healthier body image, better eating habits, and a better emotional state.