Many times a combinations of various factors can lead to childhood obesity. When a child weighs lot more than what is normal for his/her age, then he/she is considered as obese. The health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes were earlier considered as adult maladies, but because of obesity, even children are now prone to these problems.
Only in some cases genetic and hormonal reasons are responsible for this condition. (Prader-Willi syndrome and Cushing syndrome). But in the majority of the obese children excess eating and less physical activity are causes of obesity. If a child takes more calories than required for its growth, metabolism and activities, then it adds pounds more than necessary for its growth.
Factors causing obesity in children:
Generally a combination of different factors leads to childhood obesity.
Diet: Junk food, soft drinks, candy, desserts etc. are main causes of increase in weight. If a child’s regular diet includes fast food, baked items; then chances of weight gain are more. Fatty foods and soft drinks contain high amount of calories.
Physical activity: It is necessary for the children to consume the calories they take. If a child spends more time in sedentary activities like TV watching, then he/she stands more chance of weight gain.
Genetic: If there is family tendency of putting on weight, then the child may inherit it. It this is accompanied with regular high calorie diet and less exercise, then it results in obesity. Genetic factor increases chances of obesity.
Psychological factors: If a child has emotional problem or mental stress, he/she may tend to eat more and thus put on more weight.
Socio-economic factors: It is observed that childhood obesity is often found more in low-income group. Parents from these backgrounds may not have time or resources to provide healthy diet or keep a regular exercise programme.
A child’s BMI or Body Mass Index would point out whether he/she is obese or not. But at the same time growth patterns and body frame may differ from child to child. So a doctor charts weight of a child on the growth charts and also takes into account other factors like family history of obesity, other health conditions of the child, his eating and exercise habits etc. so a regular check up by the doctor is advisable.
Obesity in a child can lead to further health complications like:
- Heart disease
- Diabetes type 2
- Asthma and other respiratory problems
- Skin infections
- Metabolic syndrome
- Liver problems etc.
Apart from physical illness, childhood obesity could result in other problems such as :-
Negative self-esteem: Teasing of other normal children may result in lack of self-confidence.
Depression: This low self-esteem can lead to severe depression in obese children. This affects their entire behaviour and they shy away from normal activities.
Anxiety and learning troubles: Obese children are likely to suffer from anxiety and they may withdraw from normal/social life. This can have effect on their learning capacities, thus showing poor academic results.
Treatment of childhood obesity:
Treatment generally comprises of monitoring the child’s diet and exercise. Only in cases where the obesity indicates risk to the health, only then medication is prescribed for weight loss. If the height of the obese child increases then the BMI would drop down more nearer to the normal levels and then only maintaining the weight would be sufficient.
Although weight loss is desired in obese children, it shouldn’t be a drastic drop in weight, preferably 1 lb / week or at least 1 lb a month. Parents can help the child as they are the ones who mainly decide food, physical activity of the family etc.
Fruits and vegetables should be incorporated more than the food containing high levels of sugar and fat. Fast food should be avoided. This is one of the useful method for child diet.
Reduction in the soft drinks, as it contains high calories and has not much nutritional value.
Eating in front of TV or computer should be avoided as it mostly results in excess eating. This is one of the effective way for childhood obesity prevention.
Exercise helps in loosing weight consuming the calories and turning body fat into muscles.
Increasing physical activity: If time given for the placid activities like TV watching, video or computer games etc is reduced, then automatically physical activity would increase.
No need to insist on only exercise, even games (eg. Catch-me-if-you-can, hide n seek etc) involving body movement can help in burning fat.
Activities could be added according to the child’s liking (eg. Trekking, bowling, swimming, cycling etc) If the entire family takes part in an activity, then its no more a task for the obese children.
Although some weight loss medicines like orlistat (prevents fat absorption) and sibutramine (appetite suppressant) are available for child obesity treatment, yet monitoring diet and physical activity still remain better options.
If obesity fails to respond to above methods and turns into a health risk, then surgical methods are adopted for weight loss. But its effect of child’s growth is still not fully known. There could be further complications of surgery.
Parents can help their obese child in many important ways. – a healthy lifestyle and setting an example by eating good food and exercising regularly can be a basic start. A regular visit to the doctor can keep a check on child’s growth. Parents can also encourage the child by teaching positive outlook, praising child’s efforts to lose, giving a boost to child’s self-esteem.