The incidence of childhood obesity in the US has tripled since the 1970s. What’s worrying about this trend is that 50% of obese children carry obesity into adulthood; this can result in chronic diseases and physical handicaps. Fortunately, there are a couple of things that parents can do to stem the tide and keep their children safe from childhood obesity. This article highlights seven ways to prevent childhood obesity.
What Is Childhood Obesity?
Not every child who appears “too big for their age” is obese. Childhood obesity is defined by a measurement known as body mass index (BMI) which is compared against age and sex. Unlike adults, children’s expected range for BMI will vary depending on age and sex. This means that a BMI accepted as healthy at a certain age will be different from that accepted at a different age. Due to this, the BMI is plotted on a chart and given as a percentile.
A BMI within 5%-85% percentile is accepted as healthy. Anything below the 5th percentile is considered underweight while everything above the 85th percentile is considered overweight. BMI above the 95th percentile is considered obese.
What causes childhood obesity?
Childhood obesity mostly occurs due to an excessive consumption of calories relative to calories being expended. When this happens, a child will pile up calories in form of fat which reflects in their weight. Children will usually consume excess calories in the form of candy, baked treats, fast foods and carbonated drinks. However, it is still possible to pile up calories from consuming a lot of healthy foods. Any excess calories consumed can cause obesity.
A sedentary lifestyle will also cause childhood obesity. When children spend their day in front of TV screens or playing with passive gadgets they are likely to become obese. Any extra calories consumed needs to be burnt through physical activities. Simply limiting caloric intake will not prevent obesity, this should be coupled with physical activities to ensure that metabolism is stimulated and calories are being burnt efficiently.
Genetics and hormones also play a role in the development of obesity, but this is rarely the case for many obese children. An example is children with Prader-Willis syndrome who feel constantly hungry and have to keep eating. Eventually, these children become obese. Thyroid disease may also cause obesity by slowing down a child’s metabolism. The following risk factors may increase a child’s risk for obesity.
Risk Factors For Obesity
- Socio- economic factors at home: Socio-economic factors affect the food that the family can provide for the children as well as the knowledge on obesity. Fast foods and candy are relatively cheap and accessible. It takes a lot of planning, being deliberate and having finances in order to provide healthy meals for a family.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Children who spend time in front of the television are more likely to develop obesity. First, being passively engaged they are more likely to spend more time eating. Secondly, because they are inactive, they will burn calories at a slower rate.
- Parenting style: Laissez faire parents who allow children to eat anything they want will most likely have children who are overweight and obese. Healthy foods are rarely appealing and young children will often need persuasion, firmness and coercion is order to eat healthy meals. If this is not there, children may end up junking throughout and piling up on calories without avenues to burn the extra calories.
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Complications Of Childhood Obesity
An obese child faces the risk of developing serious physical, emotional and economic challenges. Below is a breakdown of this:
An obese child has a greater risk of developing the following conditions that may persist into adulthood
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular complications
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Non alcoholic fatty liver syndrome
- Irregular menstrual cycle
Obese children are at a greater risk for developing the following emotional complications:
- Bullying at school
- Low self esteem
- Anxiety and poor social skills
- Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa
- High cost of managing physical and emotional complications of obesity
- Inability to do well at school which may hinder good economic prospects in the future
- Inability to work because of obesity limits one’s mobility
Childhood obesity can be a great impediment to the hopes and dreams of a child. A child with obesity may fail to enjoy most aspects of life, even when they have supportive parents. This is because of the physical and social complications that cause agonizing challenges.
It is estimated that about 1 in every 5 American children is either overweight or obese. This epidemic has affected the nation as a whole because of the effect it has on the future workforce. The burden on the healthcare system is also insurmountable. Fortunately, there are a couple of measures that can be taken on an individual level to ensure that this worrying trend is reversed. Here are seven things that we can all do to prevent childhood obesity.
How To Prevent Childhood Obesity
Discuss obesity with your child.
Equip your child with information about obesity, complications and how to prevent it. Empower them with skills to keep their weight in check and show them how to shed off extra weight.
Provide healthy homemade meals consistently
Parents determine, to a large extent the foods that their children eat. Once children pick up health eating habits at home they are more likely to carry this on when in different environments. As a parent, you can consult a nutritionist who will help you come up with a healthy meal plan that suits your family’s needs.
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A healthy meal plan should include: carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins from fruits and vegetables. 50% of the plate should always consist of fruits and vegetables. A nutritionist will calculate the calorie requirements for each child and advice on meals and portions that suit each child.
You should restrict your child’s intake of sweetened foods and beverages as they provide lots of empty calories. Instead, go for high fiber foods that have fewer calories but are filling.
Eat at home as often as possible
When taking the children out for a treat the temptation is always to “spoil” them with sweet deserts and sugary niceties. This is acceptable on a few occasions. When it becomes a habit, your children may get used to the idea of junking and they may start to crave junk foods. If you find in yourself in a situation where you need to eat out often, teach your child to make healthy food choices.
Limit portion sizes
Obesity is caused by consuming over and above your caloric requirements. A child can become obese by eating too much of healthy foods, because they have calories too. To prevent this, limit portion sizes for your children. Work with a nutritionist to determine appropriate portion sizes that meet caloric requirements for your child and stick to this.
Engage children in physically exerting activities
Children need to exercise for 60 minutes every day. This can be any physical activity that makes them sweat. They can do vigorous stretches, jogging, dancing, swimming, or skipping.
It is also advisable to enroll your child in a sport of their choice. Statistics show that children actively involved in a sport have a smaller risk of developing obesity.
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Parents should also limit the amount of time that children spend being passively entertained. When TV time is limited, children will be forced to get something else to occupy them and they may be forced to go out and play. Parents of a single child need to make greater effort to ensure that the child takes part in physical play with other children. When a child is alone most of their time, they may spend most of their time engaging in passive games.
Ensure that your child gets adequate sleep
Children get stressed out when they are not getting adequate sleep. Stress is a cause for over eating and may contribute to the development of obesity in children.
Loss of sleep has also been positively correlated to the development of obesity; this is due to hormonal changes and increased sensitivity to insulin.
Children need to develop regular eating and sleeping patterns. When their sleeping is irregular, they are more likely to junk frequently because they are not sure of when there next meal is coming.
Parents need to help their children form and stick to eating and sleeping schedules. This will help the children have adequate rest and they will be less prone to developing obesity.
Monitor your child’s weight regularly
Even when your child is healthy, make sure that they attend well-child clinics to have their weight taken. This will help you notice any drastic changes in their weight and adjust accordingly. Gaining extra weight is a gradual process and may catch a parent unawares. Once obesity has set in, reversing the clock is always an uphill task. So like for most other things, prevention is better than cure.
With a few lifestyle changes, discipline and persistence it is possible to beat childhood obesity. Children with healthy weights have a positive self esteem and a greater chance of maintaining healthy weight into adulthood.