According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 12 million American children aged 2 to 19 years are obese. That's more than 17% of children in that age group. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that an obese child has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult. These alarming statistics pose a severe threat to the physical health of U.S. children and their health as adults. These children also face many social, psychological and personal obstacles. But statistics aside, what are the concerns if YOUR child is fighting a severe weight problem?
What Is Obesity?
Your child's pediatrician will determine whether he or she is obese using a measurement called Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is defined as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. BMI for children is expressed as an age- and sex-specific percentile. According to the CDC, obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile.
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What Causes Obesity?
Childhood obesity is a complex issue. Food portions play a significant role. Super-size options and "all-you-can-eat buffets" create a trend toward overeating, as well as grabbing a fast-food meal or eating in front of the television. Children are consuming more calories and burning off less.
Although overeating is often a contributing factor, it is usually not the only issue. Other factors include the following:
- Lack of Physical Activity: Increased computer use, video games and television watching create a more sedentary lifestyle. Also, fewer schools require physical education classes, so children spend a majority of their day sitting at a desk.
- Parental influences: Children with obese parents are more likely to be obese. Parental behavior is also a contributing factor.
- Illness and medicines: Medical conditions involving the endocrine system and neurological problems, as well as medications such as steroids or psychiatric drugs, can contribute to weight gain.
What Are the Risks and Consequences of Childhood Obesity?
Children that are obese are at greater risk for health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, cancer and joint problems. Many children also suffer from emotional and psychological conditions such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Social stigma and bias also are common problems for obese children. They are often subjected to bullying from their peers and siblings and even bias from parents, teachers and other adults. These biases can continue through college and work environments and have a life-long effect on self-esteem.
How Can You Manage Childhood Obesity?
Your child's pediatrician is a valuable resource for helping your obese child. He or she can help you create a weight management plan that includes the following:
- Healthy food selections (fewer fats and sugary foods)
- Portion control (fewer calories)
- Eating habits (eat slowly, develop a routine)
- Exercise program (at least 60 minutes of moderate activity per day)
Managing childhood obesity is something you need to do as a family. Singling out your overweight child for a weight-management program will only stigmatize your child and lower his or her body image and self-esteem. Create healthier habits for your entire family. Eat as a family and plan fun physical activities that include everyone. Provide encouragement and praise for any specific talents or interests, and emphasize their strengths and positive qualities.
Also be aware of any bullying issues with classmates and siblings. Discuss coping mechanisms, and talk with teachers so they are aware of problems and can intervene. Seek out family counseling and attend groups such as Overeaters Anonymous to help your child cope and to help you and your family provide the necessary environment and support for your child's obesity and the problems that come with it.
Managing obesity requires a lifestyle change. As a parent, you need to not only provide the guidance and enforcement for healthier behaviors, you need to be the role model so your obese child does not grow into an obese adult.