What is childhood obesity?
When a child has more weight for his or her age and height, it is called overweight or obese. This happens due to the abnormal excessive accumulation of fat inside the body. Boys with a body fat percentage of 25 or more and girls with a body fat percentage of 30 or more are classified as obese.
Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in most of the developed and developing countries of the world. Thirty-nine million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020 and over 340 million children and adolescents, aged 5-19, were overweight or obese in 2016.
What are the causes?
- An imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure with a positive energy balance is closely associated with the development of childhood obesity.
- Fast-food consumption, eating out frequently, eating while watching TV or other media is associated with a higher intake of fat and frequent unhealthy snacking. Consumption of energy-dense foods and sugary beverages, large portion sizes, and using food as a reward by the parents are also related to the development of childhood obesity.
- Genetic susceptibility, family habits, parenting style, and parents’ lifestyles also play a significant role.
- A sedentary lifestyle among children and adolescents is also associated with childhood obesity. The increased amount of sedentary behavior is linked with decreased physical activity and consumption of high-calorie foods and snacks.
What are the consequences?
Childhood obesity has a significant impact on the physical, social, and emotional health of a child.
- Obese and overweight children are more prone to develop non-communicable diseases like-
- Glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes
- High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases
- Sleep apnea and asthma
- Fatty liver disease, gallstone disease, and heartburn
- Bone and joint problems
- Skin problems
- Menstrual problems in girls
- Impaired balance and psychological problems such as anxiety and depression
Obese children are likely to develop adulthood obesity.
How to prevent it?
Childhood obesity is preventable and it can be made possible by –
- Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low fat and fat-free dairy products, and limiting foods and beverages with added sugars, solid fats, or sodium.
- At least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day is recommended for children aged 6-17 years and children between 3-5 years to be physically active throughout the day.
Children learn most of the things at home. Exercising and following a healthy lifestyle at home, offering availability and providing repeated exposure to healthy food, and eating together can be done to develop healthy habits among children.
Author: Dr. Rumpa Das
- Sahoo K, Sahoo B, Choudhury AK, Sofi NY, Kumar R, Bhadoria AS. Childhood obesity: causes and consequences. J Family Med Prim Care. 2015 Apr-Jun; 4(2):187-192