Childhood obesity can lead to various conditions, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Learn how to protect your child's health.
Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It's particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once considered adult problems — diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression.
One of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the eating and exercise habits of your entire family. Treating and preventing childhood obesity helps protect your child's health now and in the future.
Not all children carrying extra pounds are overweight. Some children have larger than average body frames. And children normally carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development. So you might not know by how your child looks if weight is a health concern.
The body mass index (BMI), which provides a guideline of weight in relation to height, is the accepted measure of overweight and obesity. Your child's doctor can use growth charts, the BMI and, if necessary, other tests to help you figure out if your child's weight could pose health problems.
If you're worried that your child is putting on too much weight, talk to his or her doctor. The doctor will consider your child's history of growth and development, your family's weight-for-height history, and where your child lands on the growth charts. This can help determine if your child's weight is in an unhealthy range.
Lifestyle issues — too little activity and too many calories from food and drinks — are the main contributors to childhood obesity. But genetic and hormonal factors might play a role as well.
Many factors — usually working in combination — increase your child's risk of becoming overweight:
Childhood obesity often causes complications in a child's physical, social and emotional well-being.
Physical complications of childhood obesity may include:
Children who have obesity may experience teasing or bullying by their peers. This can result in a loss of self-esteem and an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
To help prevent excess weight gain in your child, you can:
Also, be sure your child sees the doctor for well-child checkups at least once a year. During this visit, the doctor measures your child's height and weight and calculates his or her BMI. A significant increase in your child's BMI percentile rank over one year may be a possible sign that your child is at risk of becoming overweight.
As part of regular well-child care, the doctor calculates your child's BMI and determines where it falls on the BMI-for-age growth chart. The BMI helps indicate if your child is overweight for his or her age and height.
Using the growth chart, your doctor determines your child's percentile, meaning how your child compares with other children of the same sex and age. For example, if your child is in the 80th percentile, it means that compared with other children of the same sex and age, 80% have a lower BMI.
Cutoff points on these growth charts, established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, help classify the severity of a child's weight problem:
Because BMI doesn't consider things such as being muscular or having a larger than average body frame and because growth patterns vary greatly among children, your doctor also factors in your child's growth and development. This helps determine whether your child's weight is a health concern.
In addition to BMI and charting weight on the growth charts, the doctor evaluates:
Your child's doctor might order blood tests that may include:
Some of these tests require that your child not eat or drink anything before the test. Ask if your child needs to fast before a blood test and for how long.
Treatment for childhood obesity is based on your child's age and whether he or she has other medical conditions. Treatment usually includes changes in your child's eating habits and physical activity level. In certain circumstances, treatment might include medications or weight-loss surgery.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children older than 2 whose weight falls in the overweight category be put on a weight-maintenance program to slow the progress of weight gain. This strategy allows the child to add inches in height but not pounds, causing the BMI to drop over time into a healthier range.
Children ages 6 to 11 whose weight falls into the obesity category might be encouraged to modify their eating habits for gradual weight loss of no more than 1 pound (or about 0.5 kilogram) a month. Older children and adolescents who have obesity or severe obesity might be encouraged to modify their eating habits to aim for weight loss of up to 2 pounds (or about 1 kilogram) a week.
The methods for maintaining your child's current weight or losing weight are the same: Your child needs to eat a healthy diet — both in terms of type and amount of food — and increase physical activity. Success depends largely on your commitment to helping your child make these changes.
Parents are the ones who buy groceries, cook meals and decide where the food is eaten. Even small changes can make a big difference in your child's health.
A critical part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, especially for children, is physical activity. It burns calories, strengthens bones and muscles, and helps children sleep well at night and stay alert during the day.
Good habits established in childhood help adolescents maintain healthy weights And active children are more likely to become fit adults.
To increase your child's activity level:
Medication might be prescribed for some children and adolescents as part of an overall weight-loss plan.
Weight-loss surgery might be an option for adolescents with severe obesity, who have been unable to lose weight through lifestyle changes. However, as with any type of surgery, there are potential risks and long-term complications. Discuss the pros and cons with your child's doctor.
Your doctor might recommend this surgery if your child's weight poses a greater health threat than do the potential risks of surgery. It's important that a child being considered for weight-loss surgery meet with a team of pediatric specialists, including an obesity medicine expert, psychologist and dietitian.
Weight-loss surgery isn't a miracle cure. It doesn't guarantee that an adolescent will lose their excess weight or be able to keep it off long term. And surgery doesn't replace the need for a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
Parents play a crucial role in helping children feel loved and in control of their weight. Take advantage of every opportunity to build your child's self-esteem. Don't be afraid to bring up the topic of health and fitness. Talk to your kids directly, openly, and without being critical or judgmental.
In addition, consider the following:
Your child's family doctor or pediatrician will probably make the initial diagnosis of childhood obesity. If your child has complications from being obese, you might be referred to additional specialists to help manage these complications.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything your child needs to do in advance, such as fast before having certain tests and for how long. Make a list of:
Bring a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember all the information you're given.
For childhood obesity, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your child's doctor or other health care provider is likely to ask you a number of questions about your child's eating and activity, including:
If you have days or weeks before your child's scheduled appointment, keep a record of what your child eats and how active he or she is.