Obesity – in children

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Obesity – what is it?

Body Mass Index
The term obesity refers to the excess of fat tissue in the body. In simple terms, a child is said to be obese if their weight is 20% more than the standard weight for their age and height. The most common approach to measuring obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in metres squared (kg/m2).

 A BMI of 25.0 or more is overweight, while the healthy range is 18.5 to 24.9.

Parents of obese children often get worried for the wrong reasons. They wonder if the child has some endocrinal or hormonal disorder. Often you will hear that obesity is caused by some genetic or family trait. While it is true that metabolic rates can vary and some people put on fat in certain areas most cases of obesity are not due to any hormonal disturbance but to the simple fact that they eat too much and don’t exercise enough.

Children with more fat around the midsection (‘apple-shaped’ children) have more heart disease risk factors later in life than their ‘pear-shaped’ peers who have more fat around the hips and thighs.

Causes of obesity

Obesity is caused by the body storing energy as fat from excess eating and lack of exercise. We learn our eating and exercise habits from our families. However, emotionally disturbed children may also eat more and television viewing adds to inactivity. The problem gets worse if the child is allowed to eat while watching television.

Fortunately, most obese toddlers lose the extra fat around 5 years of age. But a fat school child is likely to remain obese, especially if the parents are fat.

Obesity is on the increase in children as well as the general population as food becomes more available and processed and work and life becomes less physical with more desk jobs and TV watching than ever.

Management and prevention of obesity

Diet

Help your child to adopt healthy food habits. It is important that the whole family cooperates with the child. Junk foods like cold drinks, ice creams, cakes, pastries, French fries and sweets should not be brought into the house, or the child tempted with them. Minimum oil should be used for cooking. More of fruits, vegetables, whole wheat grains, beans, pulses and sprouts should be eaten. Obese children tend to eat fast and at irregular hours. They should be encouraged to eat slowly, chew properly and stick to regular mealtimes as far as possible.

Exercise

An exercise regime is best led by parents and children should be encouraged to take up sports, walk to school and play outside instead of watching TV or playing computer games. This is as, if not more important, as diet control for weight reduction. Children get most of their attitudes from their immediate family: so if you are healthy and fit your children are more likely to follow suit.

Encouragement
Discuss the risks of obesity with the child. Tell them that it can cause heart disease and other chronic diseases including blood pressure and diabetes which will make them poorly. Let them feel responsible for their own well being and health. Do not starve your children, they needs an adequate number of calories. Spend more time with your child and encourage them to live a healthy and full life.