There is nothing more important in life than the health and wellbeing of your child. Childhood obesity has multiple negative impacts on our children’s lives. Preventing or dealing with these issues takes understanding and dedication by both the child and the parents.
The CDC reports the prevalence of childhood obesity is 1 out of every 5 children ages 2-19. Childhood obesity is defined as a BMI above the 95th percentile and is age and sex-specific.
Childhood obesity is directly related to lifestyle. This includes diet, sleep, and activity. A poor dietary lifestyle stems from high calorie intake, more commonly from added sugars. It is estimated that 40% of calories for children come from “empty calories” meaning the food is high in added sugars and fats, but offers little to no nutrition content. Hydration can also affect obesity. Many often reach for snacks when they are in fact just thirsty.
Dehydration, which affects 50% of children, can also lower metabolism. Further studies show that 1 out 4 children don’t drink water at all during the day. Another lifestyle factor is sleep; Children need 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep is known to decrease metabolism, increase sugar cravings, and lessen cognitive function and performance.
Screen time is also an important factor. Screen time can impact sleep quality and also implies more time spent doing sedentary activities. It is recommended that children get 60 minutes of physical activity daily. All of these reasons support why children should eat healthy, balanced meals, adequate restful restorative sleep, and practice movement, doing an activity that they enjoy.
Environment is another contributing cause to obesity for children and adults alike. While one may have the most sincere desire to eat healthy and exercise, these decisions are not always supported in the environment. For example, schools, after school programs. Sports can provide children with foods and drinks that are less-nutritious meal and snack options, and are often higher in sugar content.
Other environmental factors include marketing and advertising. Examples include toy “prizes” in fast food kid’s meals, and in the grocery store promoting sugary cereals and snacks or higher sodium and fat meals with cartoon characters, and strategically placing candy and snacks at children’s eye-level in the checkout line.
Another factor is affordability. There is a higher prevalence of childhood obesity in families with lower income. These families are often on Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) which helps to subsidize nutritious, calcium-rich food items for the home such as milk, cheese and eggs.
Last, is peer influence; this can be as varied as children’s friends’ food choices, or the example of healthy lifestyle, or lack thereof, demonstrated by the family at home. Parents have the most powerful influence and being a leader for their children in healthy food and exercise choices, continuing to introduce healthy food options, and avoiding the use of food as a “reward.”
There are many consequences of childhood obesity. Obese children are more likely to be subject to peer stereotypes, or even bullied at school. Self-esteem or self-worth issues are more prevalent in obese children than those of a healthy weight. Obese children are also often prone to more cases of depression and anxiety. Consequences don’t just stop after adolescence either. Studies show that children that are obese have an 80% chance of continuing to be obese in adulthood. Obesity increases risk for certain types of cancers, and diabetes exponentially. Other risks include high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which increases risks of cardiovascular disease. Gastrointestinal risks of obesity include fatty liver, gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD,) and gallstones. Additionally, obesity increases risks for arthritis and asthma. Obesity clearly increases risks for diseases, and more severely when obesity begins in childhood and follows through to adulthood.
The take home message is, it’s never too late to learn about, and effectively manage, the multiple causes and negative consequences of childhood obesity. Active parental involvement starts with you, and the end result is a more well-balanced, healthy, and happy child. Learning what to do now instills healthy habits for your child’s future, and their future generations.