In a world where we upload a picture of our food to social media before eating it, it’s no wonder that our fascination with food has dramatically increased over the years. In the United States alone, one thirdof children are now either overweight or obese.
Although having extra weight as a child might seem harmless, the consequences come later in life when you face higher risks of health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, or even become more prone to developing mental disorders such as high levels of stress or depression.
With this growing epidemic upon us, now is the time to recognize the symptoms of childhood obesity, be aware of the factors that can cause it and educate yourself on how you can best prevent it in order to keep you and your loved ones healthy and happy.
Diagnosing obesity can be tricky. While some children are clearly carrying around extra pounds, others might actually just have larger than average body frames. Another issue is that children carry different amounts of body fat at various stages of development. However, teams of medical professionals have developed a method to appropriately measure a child’s weight category.
The body mass index (BMI) chart provides a look at your child’s weight and height to determine the appropriate weight category. The pediatrician can use growth charts, the BMI and, if necessary, other tests to help see if your child’s weight could pose health problems.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
The causes behind childhood obesity are vast and ever changing. In today’s society, however, the major role in shaping children’s unhealthy habits seems to stem from a lack of physical activity topped with a high caloric intake. Other factors such as genetic and hormonal factors also play a pivotal role in childhood obesity.
Major influences of childhood obesity stem from:
- Lack of Physical Activity – With the growing age of technology, more and more children are being exposed to and consumed by computers, television, social media, tablets, etc. Time spent behind the screens of these devices, is valuable time taken away from physical activity.
- Heredity and Family – Although it can be a tough pill to swallow, scientists have proven that genetics play a role in obesity. Children with parents that are affected by obesity are more likely to also be affected, according to studies. In fact, the studies show that heredity contributes between 5 to 25 percent of the risk for obesity. Learned behaviors from parents have also been known to play a role in extra weight or obesity.
- Dietary Patterns - The way we eat food in today’s world has greatly changed over the past few decades. The average amount of calories consumed daily has increased, food portions have grown immensely and the way our food is now processed plays a role in the overall decrease of nutrients that goes into our bodies. Ordering meals with the “super size” options and the “all you can eat” buffets have created a trend of overeating.
Although the risks of childhood obesity might not seem like an urgent matter right away, obese children grow up to be adults that are 70 percent more likely to continue being affected by obesity. They are also at a greater risk for serious medical issues such as heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and cancer.
According to studies at the Mayo Clinic, here are some risks associated with childhood obesity:
- Type 2 diabetes – This is the most common form of diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way your child’s body processes sugar (glucose). Being overweight or obese and having a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Metabolic syndrome. – This syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing your child of risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
- High cholesterol and high blood pressure – Both of these conditions are very common among adults who struggle with weight. When eating unhealthy foods, it can cause a buildup of plaques in the arteries, which will most likely cause your arteries to narrow and harden, increasing your risk for a heart attack or stroke later in life.
- Asthma – Although the direct causes of asthma are still unknown, children who are overweight or obese could be more likely to develop or have asthma and have a difficult time breathing normally.
- Sleep disorders – Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times.
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) - This disorder, which usually causes no symptoms, causes fatty deposits to build up in the liver. Overtime, NAFLD can lead to scarring and liver damage.
- Bone fractures – Children that are overweight or obese are more likely to break bones than children with a normal weight.
Prevention is the key to helping your child maintain a healthy weight, and in return, maintain an overall healthier lifestyle. You might find yourself asking – what are some ways to involve my family in healthier habits? Although there are numerous ways to accomplish this, increasing your family’s overall physical activity is vitally important.
Here are some tips and tricks to healthier habits:
- Lead by example – Whether you like it or not, your actions have an impact on your children. If they see that you are physically active and having fun while doing it, they are more likely to also be active and remain active throughout their lives.
- Plan family outings (big or small) – Make it part of your family routine to get outside every day and walk the dog, bike around the neighbor or go for a swim in the pool. Or if you have the time, plan a vacation to a national park where you can be outdoors and surround yourself and your family in the beauty of nature.
- Be sensitive to your child's needs – Some children may feel uncomfortable about participating in certain activities when they are overweight. Instead of pressuring them into something they don’t want to do, help them find a physical activity that they can enjoy.
- Reduce TV time – Set a standard amount of time you and your family spend watching television, as this can easily get out of hand.
- Plan a meal together – Teach your children about eating nutritious foods by providing plenty of fruits and vegetables to their meals. Try to limit the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and eating at fast food restaurants as this can lead to unhealthy habits. When eating your meals, try your best to make it a regular routine to eat as a family together.
- Rest – In order for your child to grow up strong, they need a substantial amount of sleep. Make sure you set a standard routine for bedtime and your child is getting plenty of rest.
If you are worried that your child is gaining too much weight, have them evaluated by their doctor. The doctor, will consider your child’s history of growth and development, as well as the family’s history of weight and where they land on the growth chart.
In the meantime, make sure your approach to physical activity and following a healthy diet isn’t labeled as a chore. Make it fun for the whole family to enjoy.
At the end of the day, be sure to ask yourself, is that extra cookie with double-stuffed filling and extra sprinkles really worth it? You decide.