Childhood obesity has become increasingly common in the past four decades. A child with a body weight substantially above the normal or healthy weight for their age and height may be considered medically obese. If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, it’s important to talk with your doctor.
Worldwide, obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2019, an estimated 38.2 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese. The sedentary nature of the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem, with children and families spending more time in front of screens and less time enjoying physical activity.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
The causes of childhood obesity can be similar to those in adults:
- Habits – People in a family tend to maintain eating patterns, physical activity levels and attitudes toward being overweight that are similar. If one or both parents are overweight or obese, a child’s chances of being overweight increase.
- Genetics – Our genes can influence body type and how our body stores and burns fat. Different conditions can affect the body’s metabolism as well.
- Psychological effects – Stress, whether the child is experiencing it or it’s stemming from parents or other family members, can raise a child’s risk of obesity. Some children, like adults, may overeat to cope with negative emotions.
- Socioeconomic influences – Communities that don’t or can’t support healthy habits may make it harder for individuals to stay active and eat well. Other factors, such as an inability to access healthy food and lack of nutritional education, can make maintaining a healthy lifestyle difficult.
Complications of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity can predispose a child to health problems. In addition, childhood obesity can take a toll on mental health, possibly leading to poor self-esteem and depression.
Children who experience obesity are more likely to have:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes or related issues, such as impaired glucose tolerance or insulin resistance
- Breathing problems, including asthma or sleep apnea
- Joint problems or pain and discomfort in the shoulders, back, hips or knees
- Gastro-esophageal reflux
Preventing Childhood Obesity
Children who are obese are more likely to experience obesity as an adult. It’s important for children to develop healthy habits at a young age to maintain healthy living as an adult.
One of the best ways to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the eating and exercise habits of the entire family.
To help prevent excess weight gain in your child, you can:
- Emphasize healthy eating and physical activity as a focus for the entire family. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend children ages 6 – 17 engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Children 3 – 5 years should be physically active throughout the day for growth and development.
- Avoid high-calorie snacks such as crackers or cookies and instead replace them with fruits and vegetables.
- Opt for nonfood rewards. When parents promise sweets for good behavior, unhealthy habits may follow and kids may begin to believe that all good behavior deserves to be rewarded with a treat.
- Ensure your child gets adequate sleep. Too little sleep, some studies suggest, may increase the risk of obesity, because not enough shut-eye can cause hormonal disturbances linked to increased appetite.
- Introduce your child to new foods. Don’t be disappointed if your child doesn’t like a new food right away. Children often require multiple opportunities to learn to like new foods.
- Take your child to their doctor for a wellness checkup once a year, or more often if warranted.
The key to keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. Get your kids involved by letting them help you plan and prepare healthy meals. One of the best ways to help a child experiencing obesity is to lead by example and make lifestyle changes for the whole family.
New patients can call Bayless Integrated Healthcare at 602-777-6337 for a free, 15-minute wellness consultation. You can also click here to make an appointment online. Remember, if you are experiencing a crisis, please call 911 immediately.