Understanding Obesity in Children: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Apr 23, 2018

In the year 2016, the number of obese children under five years of age is estimated to be over 41 million. The disappointing factor is - the prevalence of obesity in children is increasing at an alarming rate.  Source: WHO

Understanding Obesity in Children

Obesity is a condition where the human body accumulates so much body fat that it might have a negative effect on their health. For instance, if a person's body weight is 20% higher than it should be, they are considered obese. Obesity can increase a child's risk for severe and chronic medical problems, which may hinder their growth and well-being.

What are Childhood Obesity Symptoms and Warning Signs?

It is not necessary that a child carrying little extra pounds or kilograms is obese or overweight. Some children have a larger body frame than the average. On the other hand, some might not look obese but may have its signs. Therefore, symptoms of obesity in children may vary. However, here are some common ones, including:
  • sleep apnea
  • trouble in cope with sudden physical activity
  • high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • joint problems such as arthritis or pain
  • extreme physical fatigue
  • coronary artery (heart) disease
  • shying away from social events particularly sports activities
  • early puberty
  • overeating
  • hiding while eating
  • gallbladder or liver disease
  • diabetes

Child Obesity Causes

Although obesity in children is caused due to genetic factors, in most cases, it is due to over food consumption and lack of exercise. Not to mention, children need extra calories for growth and development. However, if they devour more calories than they're burning, it results in unnecessary weight gain. The most common childhood obesity causes include:
  • Environmental factors - temptations and easy availability of junk or high-calorie food lead to obesity. For instance, if in a house, there's a cabinet full of tasty snacks instead of healthy eating, a child will automatically incline towards the fun food.
  • Medical conditions - genetic syndromes like Prader-Willi and similar hormonal conditions like hypothyroidism can cause obesity in kids.
  • Genetics - if obesity runs in the family generation, then, a kid is most likely to acquire it from the genes.
  • Socioeconomic factors - kids from low-income families are more prone to obesity since parents may lack resources for preparing a healthy meal. Also, there may be a lack of knowledge that can lead to unhealthy eating habits.
  • Less or no physical activity - in-taking a number of calories and not exercising may turn a kid into an obese. Eating and sitting for long hours in front of the TV or playing video games are also contributing factors for obesity.
  • Psychological factors - as most of the adults use smoking and drinking as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress or other emotions, kids use eating as a way out. As a result, overeating may lead them to obesity.

How to Know If a Child Is Obese?

The body mass index (BMI) is calculated to know whether a child is obese. It is a formula that provides weight in relation to height. Simply put, it means if a child is overweight according to their height, they are obese. Similarly, if a child is underweight according to their height, they are malnourished. The BMI calculations do not take into account factors like muscularity or body frame. Therefore, it is totally accurate based on the child's weight and height.

What are the Effects of Obesity in Children?

As every disease or condition has consequences, similarly obesity also has various ill effects on the health, including:
  • more risk of insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, and type 2 diabetes
  • high cholesterol and high blood pressure which may further lead to cardiovascular diseases
  • breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma
  • musculoskeletal discomfort and joint issues
  • gallstones, fatty liver disease, and heartburn
  • mental problems such as depression and anxiety
  • low self-confidence and lower self-esteem
  • social issues such as stigma and bullying
Moreover, children who have obesity may suffer from it even when they hit adolescence. Besides, it may result in an increased risk of a number of severe health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

Firstly, it is essential to realise that a child would be facing body shaming in one way or the other. Therefore, be careful while choosing the words. A little innuendo of irritation from the parents may hurt their self-esteem and lower their confidence. Moving on, given below are some tips to help kids to overcome this condition.
  • Make their diet-plan wisely. Pick out what children must eat while they are at home and what they should eat when they are out.
  • Persuade them to choose fruits and vegetables over high-calorie snack foods by explaining them their importance and benefits.
  • Try and cook a variety of foods from each food group. So, kids enjoy a variety of food while eating healthy.
  • Make sure to serve them small portions of food, particularly compared to adult portions. If they still feel hungry, serve them light snacks.
  • Instead of serving them fried food, give them baked, roasted or grilled meat.
  • Limit their intake of high fat, high calorie, and high sugar spreads and sauces.
  • Make use of nonfat or low-fat and low-calorie dairy products — for instance, milk, yoghurt, and ice cream.
  • Motivate them to take part in sports and other physical activities.
  • Be a supporting teammate for them. Go for a walk, exercise, swim or hike together.
  • Make sure they avoid watching TV while eating as it slows down the eating time.
  • Replace their TV time with more outdoor activities.
  • Be a role model. Eat healthily and ensure they follow the lead. Also, show them how their favourite actor or player eats healthy and exercise. This will certainly have a strong impact on their eating habits.
Healthy eating habits can make a lot of difference in one's life and health. Therefore, ensure a child is fed a balanced diet to avoid specific health problems.

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