World Obesity Day is observed globally each year on the 11th of October. This important day is usually organized by the World Obesity Federation every year in a bid to create awareness about obesity worldwide and end this condition that has become a serious global issue.
According to new figures released by the World Obesity Federation 2017, 2.7 billion adults globally will be overweight or obese by the year 2025. This is 46 % (nearly half) of all adults in the world. It is also estimated that out of these 2.7 billion adults, 177 million will require treatment for severe obesity.
Studies also show that obesity rates in children and teenagers worldwide have dramatically increased in the last four decades. This article contains important information and answers some of the frequently asked questions regarding childhood obesity.
What is Childhood Obesity?
Obesity is a medical condition that is characterized by excess or abnormal accumulation of fat in the body. This condition is referred to as childhood obesity when it affects adolescents and younger children. Children in this category are still growing and it is normal for them to experience changes in body frame, height, and weight as they grow.
However, a child may gain more weight than is proportionate to their height. This means that the child’s body stores too much more body fat than it should. Such a child may be considered overweight or obese. Studies show that overweight or obese children are much more at risk of becoming obese adults.
What causes Childhood Obesity?
Similar to obesity in adults, there are many factors that contribute to a child gaining excess or more weight than what is considered “normal” for their age and height. Although genetics may pre-dispose a child to being obese; lifestyle and poor diet are much more likely to contribute to excess weight gain in children.
Childhood Obesity Vis-a-Vis Obesity in Adults
Basically, both children and adults suffering from obesity face the same health issues. However, unlike adults, most children are neither as aware nor as educated about obesity as adults are. Consequently, they tend to suffer more psychological issues than obese adults.
Another reason why obesity in children and especially in teenagers is far more complex than obesity in adulthood is because most obese children cannot form support groups to deal with the psychological issues that tend to experience because of this condition. They also find it more difficult to follow through with the lifestyle changes and diet plans necessary to manage their weight.
What are the Consequences of Childhood Obesity?
Most obese children suffer both physically and psychologically because of this condition. Studies show that they are at a higher risk of being bullied by peers, developing low self-esteem, and even depression. Obese children may also be unable to participate in many activities that are normal for children of their age.
The biggest childhood obesity concern however; is that these children often develop health issues that often only become apparent later in adulthood. Obesity is linked to many health conditions including: Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, colon, and breast cancers, heart diseases, arthritis and many other comorbidities.
Sadly, most obese children are not only more likely to suffer in childhood; they are also much more likely to grow into obese adults.
How do you Determine Whether your child is Overweight or Not?
Children may have varying amounts of body fat during different stages of growth. Some children even have body frames that are larger than normal compared to other children of the same age. This may not necessary mean that such children are obese. However, if you suspect that your child could be overweight, it is important to consult a doctor.
Your child’s doctor will use the Body Mass Index (BMI), growth charts or carry out any other needed tests to help you know whether your child’s weight is a health concern or not.
What are The Most Common Symptoms of Obesity in Children?
You cannot always identify an overweight or obese child just by looking at them. However, as a parent or guardian, when you notice that your child may be experiences any or some following issues, it is important to have them checked out by a doctor.
- Psychological problems such as poor self-esteem or Bullying
- Breathing problems especially when the child is engaging in physical activities
- Fatty tissue on the breast area in boys
- Stretchmarks on the abdomen, hips, and sometimes the back of the knees
- Orthopedic issues such as knock knees, hip dislocation, or flat feet
- Early onset of puberty in girls or delayed onset of puberty in boys
When should a Child’s Weight Concern a Pediatrician /Physician?
Regardless of a child’s age, a doctor should be concerned whenever they notice symptoms of weight problems in a child. This is regardless of whether or not the child or teenager is being seen by the doctor for a different condition. The doctor should then refer the child or teenager to the right professional and recommend counselling for the parent or guardian. This will equip them to help the child towards losing the excess weight.
What Can You Do to Help an Obese or Overweight Child?
As a parent or guardian, the most important thing you can do to help your child lose the excess weight is to develop a long-term lifestyle change plan. This should include;
- Adopting a healthy well-balanced diet plan and cutting back on all sugary drinks and sweets.
- Reducing screen (TV) time and establishing appropriate regular exercise activities for the child or children.
- Creating a family support system that will encourage and motivate the child to lose the excess weight and become more confident.
- Be on the lookout for any health challenges or any other complications that the child may be at risk of and take necessary actions.
It is however important to consider a child’s age when planning a weight loss program for them. Younger children under the ages of thirteen should stick to sports activities. You may also need to be a bit more creative when planning meals because younger children tend to be picky eaters and are less likely to eat plain food.
Is Bariatric Surgery a Safe Treatment Option for your Child?
Yes. Exercise and change in dietary habits are considered the best remedy for childhood obesity. However, it is a fact that in some cases, children may not respond as well as parents and doctors hope and may fail to act in accordance with these new changes. As a result, sometimes very little if any excess weight is lost.
Because of this, many parents have considered bariatric surgery as a treatment option. However, this kind of surgery is recommended only for adolescents and adults and not younger children.