Childhood obesity continues to be a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States and many other developed countries.
Overweight and obesity in childhood are likely to continue into adulthood and can lead to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol at a much younger age. It also places children at an increased risk for poor self-image, low self-esteem and even depression.
There are many contributing factors to childhood and adolescent obesity. A poor diet, lack of physical activity, genetics, socioeconomic factors and even certain medications can all result in increased body fat and overall poor health.
• Diet. Regularly eating fast foods, candy, high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks and sugary drinks, including sodas, fruit juices and sports drinks, is a leading factor for obesity in children and adults.
• Lack of physical activity. Getting less than the recommended amount of daily physical activity is also closely linked to obesity. Sedentary such as watching television or playing video games have increased over the past several years and decreased the amount of time spent in physical activity.
• Genetics and other family factors. A few studies have linked genetics with the development of obesity. However, the direct impact is considered to be low. More likely, a combination of genetics with other environmental factors such as increased intake of high-calorie foods and decreased physical activity is the more prominent issue.
• Socioeconomic factors. Healthy food options, unfortunately, tend to be more expensive.
This can lead to increased consumption of convenience foods such as frozen meals, crackers, cookies and other nonperishables that cost less and last longer.
• Certain medications. Some medications can increase the risk of developing obesity.
This includes but is not limited to prednisone, other steroids, antidepressants, etc.
Obesity can lead to many chronic illnesses that we previously only saw in adults. This includes type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, asthma, gall bladder issues and cardiovascular disease.
• Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition affecting how your body uses sugar (glucose). Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
• High cholesterol and high blood pressure can result from a poor diet and decreased physical activity. These factors can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke later in life.
• Breathing problems. Asthma is more common in children who are overweight. Children with obesity are also more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which someone’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
• Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This disorder causes fatty deposits to build up in the liver, potentially leading to scarring and liver damage.
• Poor self-esteem and depression. Overweight children and adolescents may experience a loss of self-esteem and an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
What You Can Do to Help
Treatment plans typically depend on the level of obesity. They should focus on developing a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet and increasing physical activity. Parents must commit to helping children make these changes to succeed. Even small changes can make a big difference in your child’s health.
• Healthy eating. Prioritize fruits and vegetables, limit sugary drinks, avoid fast food when possible, serve appropriate portions and sit down together for meals.
• Increase physical activity. Limit screen time, including TV, video games, tablets and smartphones. Children should get at least one hour a day of moderate to vigorous activity, but this doesn’t have to be a disciplined exercise program. Making physical activity fun makes them more likely to stick with it. Free-play activities such as playing hide-and seek, tag or jumping rope are excellent forms of exercise.
• Be supportive. Avoid talking about weight, including negative comments about your own, someone else’s or your child’s weight, which can lead to poor body image. Focus your conversation on healthy eating and promoting a positive body image. Praise your child for minor changes, talk openly to them about their feelings, and focus on positive goals such as pointing out improvements in activity tolerance.
Many factors lead to childhood obesity. However, adopting healthy lifestyle choices as a family can help your child make permanent changes for a longer, healthier life. As always, please speak with your child’s pediatrician before adopting any changes in diet and activity to ensure it’s the right choice for your child. Stay healthy Kingsport!