Fostering an Obese-Free Environment for Children

Childhood obesity.
Childhood obesity affects children and adolescents. It puts them at risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. It can also lead to mental illnesses like depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety. (Image: Bang Oland via Dreamstime)

Childhood obesity is a medical condition where your child’s weight is above the recommended body mass index (BMI) on growth charts. In children, BMI is age-specific and gender-specific. 

Childhood obesity affects children and adolescents. It puts them at risk of developing lifestyle diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. It can also lead to mental illnesses like depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety. 

According to a study released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2016, 340 million children aged between 5 and 9 years old suffered from obesity worldwide. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to increased cases of obesity from 19 to 22 percent among children. This was due to the increased screen time and reduced physical activity due to the lockdown.

Sadly, obesity is among the most severe health issues affecting children and adolescents. Worse still, the numbers are growing daily. But what causes obesity among children?

A child is considered obese when their BMI exceeds 30 on their growth charts. A BMI of 25 is usually regarded as overweight and on its way to obesity if appropriate measures are not taken. You can calculate BMI by dividing weight in kilograms by the square height in meters.

In children, age and sex are also put into consideration. You can also use the CDC’s BMI Calculator for Child and Teen to accurately determine your child’s BMI.

You can make changes in your child's lifestyle and diet. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar and embrace a healthier, balanced diet.
You can make changes in your child’s lifestyle and diet. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar and embrace a healthier, balanced diet. (Image: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via Dreamstime)

Factors that lead to obesity

Genetics

A child’s genetic makeup can increase their risk of developing obesity. They may become obese if their parent(s) or sibling suffers from obesity. However, even though studies have linked several genes to obesity, not all children “inherit” obesity. 

Eating habits

Children need calories for normal functioning, growth, and development. However, when they exceed their required daily intake, the extra calories become stored as fat. Continued storage of excess fat can lead to obesity. 

Fortunately, you can make changes in your child’s lifestyle and diet. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar and embrace a healthier, balanced diet. This can reduce obesity caused by poor eating habits.

Environment

Exposure to a sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity can contribute to obesity. Lack of friends to play with and exposure to junk foods can also contribute to obesity among children. They need access to parks or playgrounds for playing. 

Mental and emotional factors

Some factors, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, and sadness, can make children overeat. They can find food a “safe place” to run to subdue their emotions like adults. It becomes a way to comfort themselves. In the long run, comfort eating can lead to obesity.

Medical conditions and medications

Some medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, can lead to weight gain and obesity. In addition, medications such as the insulin used in diabetic patients, steroids, antidepressants, and carbamazepine used to treat seizures are a few examples of drugs that can lead to obesity.

Some factors, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, and sadness, can make children overeat.
Some factors, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, and sadness, can make children overeat. (Image: Chernetskaya via Dreamstime)

Impact of obesity on your child

Children with overweight and obesity issues face several challenges. Over time, obesity may affect their emotional and psychological development.

One of the biggest challenges that obese children struggle with is low self-esteem. Other challenges include bullying, stigma, depression, emotional eating, and stress. Eventually, it affects their performance at school, 

So, what should you do to decrease the chances of child obesity?

How to reduce childhood obesity

To promote a healthier lifestyle, parents should help their children to make healthier food choices. This begins with parents purchasing healthy foods and cooking at home compared to fast foods.

Parents should also encourage their children to choose healthy snacks, such as fruits, instead of candy and soda. Some processed sugary foods are just empty calories.

Also, understand your child’s needs and listen when they need someone to talk to. It can help with your child’s emotional and psychological issues. Eating your meals together as a family and sharing matters that affect them will help you identify areas to pay attention to and give your child the best life.

Parents should also encourage their children to get enough quality sleep. Not getting enough sleep can lead to increased ghrelin levels, prompting your child to eat more than they need, leading to weight gain. They should also promote physical activities and try to reduce screen time.

Closing remarks

Not all big-bodied children are obese; some have genetically more oversized body frames than an average child. However, if you suspect that your child might be obese, then you should see a specialist for a checkup and advice. 

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