Childhood Obesity: Expert Explains Causes, Identification, & Prevention

In children, the primary cause of obesity is an imbalance between the calories consumed and the amount of physical activity performed.

Written by: Varun Verma Updated at: 2023-03-08 14:30

In India, the prevalence of overnutrition in childhood is rising at nearly 11%, although it varies on urban-rural differences, gender, and socio-economic status. Overnutrition is more prevalent in boys and urban kids than in their peers. Dr Gopi Srikanth, Consultant in Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Interventional Endoscopy at Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, talks in detail about childhood obesity, its causes, identification, and prevention.

Why Do We Need To Be Concerned About Childhood Obesity?

Children are the future of society, and to build a great future, we need a healthy generation. Just like adult obesity, childhood obesity also increases the risk of many diseases like type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, fatty liver, musculoskeletal problems like impaired mobility, increased prevalence of fractures and lower limb joint pains. And the severity of these diseases increases with the severity of obesity. Many of these children carry obesity into adulthood too. Besides physical health, obesity has psychosocial consequences in children, like poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and decreased health-related quality of life.

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Causes Of Obesity In Children

Obesity is a complex condition that results from a combination of environmental, behavioural, and genetic factors. In children, the primary cause of obesity is an imbalance between the calories consumed and the amount of physical activity performed. Unhealthy food is one of the main factors contributing to childhood obesity. Children who consume foods high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt are at an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. Fast food, processed snacks, sugary drinks, and convenience foods are some of the common culprits.

Another major contributor to childhood obesity is a lack of physical activity. Children who are addicted to TV, video games or computers are less likely to engage in regular physical activity. This sedentary lifestyle, combined with unhealthy eating habits, can lead to weight gain. In addition to diet and exercise, other less common causes of childhood obesity are genetic disorders, hormonal disorders and drug-induced problems. 

How To Identify Obesity In Children?

The term obesity means excess fat. Due to the high cost of assessing total body fat, a simple and effective marker, body mass index (BMI), is used to identify obesity in children at the age of two or more.

Body mass index (BMI) is a cheap and reliable indicator of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents two years of age and higher due to the high expense of measuring total body fat.

Weight for length is the standard measure of overweight and obesity in children under two years of age. A BMI above the 85th percentile is considered overweight, and a BMI above the 95th percentile is considered obese. Measuring a child's waist circumference can also help identify obesity. Abdominal obesity, or excess fat around the waist, is associated with an increased risk of health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. A waist circumference above the 90th percentile is considered a warning sign for potential health risks.

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How To Prevent Obesity In Children?

Prevention is better than cure and even cost-effective. By addressing the root causes of obesity in children, we can help prevent long-term health problems and promote healthy development for future generations. There needs to be a multi-faceted approach, including parents, schools, healthcare providers, communities and policymakers. They all have an essential role in promoting healthy habits and preventing childhood obesity. 

Parents Should Encourage Physical Activity In Children By

a) Engaging in regular physical activity, such as playing sports, going for walks etc.

b) Participating in these activities with their children. 

c) Limiting the child's screen time, including television, video games, and smartphones, to up to two hours per day. 

Parents Should Promote Healthy Eating In Children By

a) Providing their children with a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats. They should limit the number of processed foods, sugary drinks, and high-calorie snacks their youngster consumes. 

b) Setting being a model for their children to promote healthy eating habits so that children should learn by example.

Other Methods Parents Can Adapt

a) Ensure adequate sleep: set a consistent bedtime and create a relaxing sleep environment. 

b) Monitor the child's weight: consult the healthcare provider for concerns.

Schools Can Encourage Physical Activity By

a) Offering physical education classes.

b) Promoting active play during recess.

Schools Can Promote Healthy Eating By

a) Educating children on a healthy diet.       

b) Providing healthy food options in the cafeteria.

Community Can Encourage Physical Activity By

a) Providing community centres, sports clubs, and after-school programs for children that can be fun and healthy, promoting an active lifestyle.

b) Creating safe environments that may include improving sidewalks, parks, and bike paths and creating a safe environment for children to be active.

Community Can Promote Healthy Eating By

a) Setting up community gardens, farmers' markets, and cooking classes.

b) Educating children and families on healthy meals and their preparation.

c) Advocating for policies that promote healthy habits and a healthy diet.

Also ReadHow Obesity Can Be Harmful To A Child's Brain Development

Policymakers Can Encourage Physical Activity By

a) Encouraging physical activity by providing safe and accessible places to play, such as parks and recreation centres.

b) Promoting active transportation (walking or cycling) and creating safe and accessible routes for children to school and other destinations.

Policymakers Can Promote Healthy Eating By

a) Implementing nutrition standards in schools.

b) Increasing access to healthy foods.

c) Implementing taxes on sugary drinks and junk food.

Other methods Policymakers Can Adapt

Increase funding for obesity prevention programs.

The issue of childhood obesity needs immediate consideration from the public, healthcare professionals, and lawmakers. We can help our kids escape the negative effects of obesity on their long-term health by working together to build a healthier future for them.

Image Credits: freepik


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