Childhood obesity is on the rise
Thomas Osborne, M.D.
There is a growing epidemic among our nation's children, and it has them facing health challenges that used to be considered adult issues. Childhood obesity is on the rise. According to the American Association of Pediatricians, the prevalence of childhood obesity has tripled since the 1960's, and currently affects more than 15 percent of our nation's youth. It is a problem that affects both genders, spans all races, and every economic and educational class.
The Center for Disease Control recommends using a number called the Body Mass Index (BMI) to screen for obesity. The BMI is calculated using a child's height and weight, and has been shown to be a reliable indicator of obesity for children and teens. According to BMI charts, a child is at risk for being overweight if his or her BMI is in the 85 to 95 percent range. Children with BMI's over the 95 percentile are considered overweight. When using weight only as an indicator, the term “overweight” refers to children who are 15 percent above their desirable weight, and “obese” refers to children who are 20 percent above their desirable weight.
Carrying around extra weight can have significant ramifications. Children who are obese have an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, asthma, skin disorders, and sleep apnea. They have a higher incidence of cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Orthopedic problems can result due to weight stress in the joints and lower limbs leading to bowed legs, hip pain, and decreased range of motion. Childhood obesity is associated with abnormal blood vessel function, a condition that is considered an early sign of hardening of the arteries. There are also social and emotional issues related to childhood obesity. Children who are overweight may be teased or ostracized by others. This can lead to withdrawal, poor self-esteem, and depression.
Why is obesity on the rise? A number of factors are contributing to our nation's weight gain, including increased screen time, lack of physical activity, and a reliance on less-healthful convenience or fast foods.
Making positive lifestyle changes
It is important for parents to realize that childhood obesity is an extremely delicate issue filled with emotional tension, and it is important to address the matter in a sensitive and positive manner. This should begin with a visit to your child's health care professional. Your child's doctor can rule out genetic or hormonal causes for obesity as well as help you explore lifestyle changes and activity options.
Get up and get active
Part of the plan will most likely include healthy food choices, but it is unlikely that your child should go on a “diet” to lose weight. Weight loss diets are not usually recommended for children. Their rapidly growing bodies need an adequate number of calories and nutrients each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates healthful food choices rather than restrictive diets.
Make healthy food choices convenient
Encourage and praise healthy food choices, but never label foods as “good” or “bad.” Teach kids about the benefits of certain foods – the lean protein in turkey helps build muscle, the calcium in skim milk strengthens bones. Eat meals and snacks at the table in the kitchen, not in front of the TV.
Obesity is the most common -- and most serious -- medical problem facing our nation's children today. If left unchecked, overweight children will grow up to be overweight adults, with all of the health concerns associated with the condition. If you suspect that your child is overweight or obese, treat the situation with sensitivity. Consult with your primary care physician about positive changes that can help your child establish healthy lifestyle habits so he or she can grow up without the health and social worries associated with being overweight.
Dr. Osborne is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.