Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. Children who are obese are above the normal weight for their age and height.
What Defines Child Obesity?
Dr Mandar V. Bichu, Head of Right Parenting, Zulekha Hospital says, “WHO defines overweight and obesity as conditions with abnormal excessive fat accumulation in the body, which is harmful to health. Body weight, skin fold thickness or waist circumference measurements give some idea about obesity. But most commonly, the overweight or obese children are diagnosed based on Body Mass Index (BMI). There are standardised BMI charts for different gender-specific age-groups. BMI between 85th to 95th percentile defines overweight and above 95th percentile defines obesity." Carole Chidiac, M.D. at GMC Clinics says, “Regardless of definitions, all children should have well balanced meals and eat from all food groups while limiting (not stopping) sugar, and have an active lifestyle. Children who have difficulties in maintaining a balanced lifestyle regardless of their weight and children whose BMI jump up significantly on their individual charts require clinical evaluation”
Dr Khairunnisa Mattummal, Specialist Pediatrician, Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, Bur Dubai says, “When the weight of the child is higher than expected as per the height and age, the child is overweight or obese. If the BMI (Body Mass Index, that is weight divided by height in metre square) is 25 to 30 it is defined as overweight and if the BMI is more than 30, it is defined as obesity.”
What Contributes To The Child Obesity?
From genes to leading an unhealthy lifestyle, there are multiple factors which can cause obesity in children. While some of the factors cannot be controlled, there are few things one can work on, if willing to.
Dr Vishal Mehta, Senior Specialist, Paediatrics at RAK Hospital lists the following key reasons contributing majorly to obesity in children:
1. In children, obesity is largely the result of dietary intake, lack of physical activity, and increasing sedentary behaviour. It’s no secret that one of the biggest factors of obesity is fast food consumption, which is rich and high on calories with low nutritional value. Moreover, eating large portion sizes, and that too of food rich in unhealthy fats further causes obesity.
2. Another important cause of obesity is sugary beverages and snacking on foods such as chips, baked goods, and candy.
3. The dietary factors are further endorsed by the fact that generally children live a sedentary lifestyle, with little or no physical activity. Each additional hour of television or gadgets per day increased the prevalence of obesity by 2%.
4. Then there are socio-cultural factors. Adults often use food - particularly sugary snacks - as reward for children, while calorie-laden food is often served in social gatherings, encouraging youngsters’ love for such food.
5. When it comes to food habits, children tend to copy adults, and if high caloric food is available in the house, there’s a likely chance, the children will have similar eating preferences.
Carole Chidiac of GMC Clinics says, “The main message to keep in mind here that children and parents should not be blamed even if their lifestyle can be improved. Approaching the family with a non judgemental approach and explaining that there are many factors that contribute to weight gain is a right way of going about it.”
Dr Evelyne Khoriaty, Consultant Paediatrician at HealthBay says, “Genetic factors could be inherited or part of a syndrome. Some of the endocrine disorders that are associated with obesity are cortisol excess, hypothyroidism and growth hormone deficiency.”
What Are The Possible Long-Term Effects Of Childhood Obesity?
Childhood obesity can lead to several conditions as they grow up. The key is to monitor and control obesity to reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemias, hypertension, heart conditions, sleep apnea, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovarian disease, etc.
Dr Vishal Mehta of RAK Hospital says, “Childhood obesity can have several long-term effects, both physically and emotionally. It is linked to several medical conditions, such as fatty liver disease, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, gallstones, cardiovascular disease, menstrual abnormalities, high cholesterol and insulin resistance among others. Often physical health conditions that obese children face gradually disappear as they grow older and achieve their healthy weight, at times, the negative effects carry on into adulthood. In terms of social and emotional impact, unfortunately obese children are often stigmatised, alienated and bullied, leading to low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and a negative body image.”
Dr Mandar V. Bichu of Zulekha Hospital says, “These problems don’t just end in childhood and often there are long-term consequences. Obese children and adolescents are 5 times more likely to be obese in adulthood than their non-obese counterparts. They also have a 20-30% increased risk of developing serious diseases like diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and various types of cancers in their adulthood. There are also higher chances of adult asthma, mental health problems and reproductive disorders in them.”
Carole Chidiac of GMC Clinics says, “We come in different shape and sizes and not every big kid is going to have health issues. At the stage, addressing the psychosocial complications in a priority.”
What Age Group Is Most Affected By Obesity?
Obesity can be seen in all age groups from pre-school, to school and to adolescence. The highest incidence of obesity is in the adolescent age group.
Dr Mandar V. Bichu of Zulekha Hospital says, “The obesity in children goes on increasing over the ages. In US, obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2 to 5 years old, 18.4% among 6 to 11 years old, and 20.6% among 12 to 19 years old.”
Does Obesity Increase With Age?
The apparent answer is yes. Obesity can only be controlled if one learns to make healthier choices in life. It won’t disappear on its own.
Ms. Alaa Takidin, Clinical Dietician, Canadian Specialist Hospital says, “According to the World Health Organisation, obese infants and young children are more likely to continue to be obese during childhood, adolescence and adulthood if no intervention was implemented.”
Dr Mandar V. Bichu of Zulekha Hospital says, “Obesity doesn’t increase with age but it remains difficult to shake off with increasing age. More than half (55%) of the obese children remain obese when they enter adolescence; and more 80% obese adolescents still remain obese in adulthood.”
Carole Chidiac of GMC Clinics says, “Excess body fat causes insulin resistance, a condition that makes the child gain weight more easily. Restrictive diets are not only ineffective, they can make the child gain even more weight. If the problem is not dealt with properly, excess body fat can increase with age, and the most important title for childhood obesity management should be: Helping without Harming.”
How Can Childhood Obesity Be Dealt?
Families Can Help
Dr Mandar V. Bichu of Zulekha Hospital says, “The childhood obesity needs to be managed on multiple levels. On individual and family levels, ensuring breast feeding, healthy weaning, balanced diet, adequate physical activity and good sleep are the first steps. Avoiding or limiting bottle-feeding, processed and packaged foods and fast foods, and limitation of sedentary screen-based activities are also important measures.”
Ms. Alaa Takidin of Canadian Specialist Hospital says, “There should be an emphasis on increased consumption of fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes. Consumption of nuts and seeds should be encouraged as well as a regular physical activity of at least 45 to 60 minutes per day should be encouraged.”
Communities Can Contribute
“On community level, the parental concepts about good family lifestyle need improvement through community guidance programs. Childcare centres, schools and community centres need to be equipped with facilities for healthy food and physical activity.” adds Dr Mandar V. Bichu of Zulekha Hospital
“On governmental level, regulations about the food labelling about calories and nutrients, and tight control on media advertisements of fast food, processed foods and soft sugary drinks, taxation on unhealthy foods are some useful strategies”, suggests Dr Mandar V. Bichu of Zulekha Hospital
Avoid Making Weight-Loss Talks Centre Of The Conversations
Carole Chidiac, M.D. At GMC Clinics says, “Avoid weight and shape talks and refrain from commenting on weight and shape changes. This is a form of stigmatisation and weight stigma has shown not only to affect them socially and psychologically but to make them gain more weight as well. Stigma can contribute to a negative cycle of more social isolation for children with obesity, which can result in binge eating, less physical activity, and increasing levels of obesity. These can all exacerbate obesity and make healthy behavioural changes harder to achieve.”
Dr Evelyne Khoriaty of HealthBay says, “Obese children are subjected to psychosocial stressors and bullying and providing adequate support and encouragement is crucial.”
School Plays An Important Role
???????Dr Khairunnisa Mattummal of Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, Bur Dubai says, “Schools also play a key role here in educating them about opting for healthy and nutritional food choices.”