Childhood obesity is a growing medical concern. In fact, one out of every three children is considered overweight or obese. And the number of overweight and obese children has nearly tripled in the past 30 years. An overweight child has a body mass index (called BMI) greater than the 85 percentile for age while an obese child has a BMI greater than the 95 percentile for age. BMI is calculated based on height and weight and is an indicator of body fatness.
Why is the number of overweight and obese children increasing in the United States? Children and adolescents become obese for a number of reasons.
- Too many sugary sweetened beverages. Children are drinking too many calories instead of choosing healthier options such as water. Drinks such as sodas, sports drinks and juice boxes are contributing to an increase in daily caloric intake of children and adolescents.
- High calorie dense foods. Children are eating foods of convenience including pre-packaged foods, foods from vending machines and fast foods. Unfortunately, these foods are generally packed with calories and fat. In addition, families eat out at restaurants more often. Food portions at restaurants are generally “oversized” which contributes to overeating.
- Lack of physical activity. Children and adolescents spend more time watching TV, working on the computer and playing video games which are all considered sedentary activities. Very few children and adolescents meet the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Sadly, many elementary and middle schools no longer require daily physical education as part of the school day.
- Genetics. Studies have shown that parents who are affected by obesity are more likely to have children affected by obesity as well. However, genes alone do not dictate if a child becomes overweight or obese. Learned behaviors from parents also contribute to obesity as children learn food and lifestyle choices from their parents.
Overweight and obese children are at higher risk of immediate health concerns. These concerns include:
- Pre-diabetes, which is a condition causing elevated blood sugar which can lead to diabetes
- Cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Bone and joint problems
- Sleep apnea
- Social and psychological problems, including depression and poor self-esteem
Overweight and obese children are more likely to become obese adults. They are also at higher risk of certain health problems in adulthood. These health issues include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Certain cancers, such as breast and colon cancers
Prevention is key. Healthy eating habits and physical activity can decrease the risk of childhood obesity. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s weight.
To learn more about how to prevent childhood obesity, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight.
For further information about UofL Physicians – Pediatric Endocrinology, visit the practice website. To learn more about Dr. Kingery, visit her physician profile. To make an appointment with a pediatric endocrinologist, you can request an appointment online, or call (502) 588-6000.