Obesity is a chronic medical condition that affects adults and children alike. And the fact that makes it so grave is that about 2.6 million people worldwide lose their lives owing to obesity (Source: WHO). Obesity refers to the state of being overweight to a level that affects both your physical and psychological well-being.
Researches have proved that even though it affects children early on in their lives, the effects of childhood obesity can be long-term (Source: NCBI). And in developing countries, like India, childhood obesity has reached to an almost epidemic level. It is only with a better understanding of the causes of obesity in children and what all it consequences can be, that we can better contain as well as prevent it.
Although obesity has largely to do with being overweight, not every overweight child is actually obese. Confused much? Let’s understand what childhood obesity actually is.
Some children have body frames that are larger than average body frames of other children their age. And since children possess varying amounts of fat in different stages of their growth period, it might be difficult to say whether or not a child is obese just by looking at him/her.
Normally, the best way to determine whether or not it is obesity among children involves the BMI or Body Mass Index. BMI is the universally accepted guide to body mass of a person involving the calculation of their weight in relation to their height. This aids in telling apart overweight from obese.
Generally, overweight are those that have a BMI ranging between the 85-95%, whereas, anything above the 95% BMI range will be a marker of child obesity. Another way of figuring out whether or not your child is obese would be visiting a doctor or pediatrician. By undertaking BMI checks, growth chart study and other significant tests, they will be able to give you a more accurate assessment.
Obesity occurs when your body consumes more amount of calories than it burns. And although overeating and less to no exercising are big contributors to your increasing calorie count, there are various other factors that meddle with the balance between the energy we intake and expend. These factors range from psychological to genetic, and usually work in combination.
Mentioned below are some of the top risk factors that contribute to child obesity: –
Diet – What we eat defines the state of our physical health, and the same goes for children too. Unhealthy diet loaded with high-calorie food items, baked and fried goods, fast foods, packaged snacks, chocolates and sweets are all food items that cause obesity in early childhood. Sugary drinks, even packages fruit juices, are something that children should not be allowed to consume in large quantities, or frequently.
Inactive or no exercise – It is not just for adults but children too that activity can do a lot of help, physically. Children who are kept away from physical activities, exercise etc. are more commonly prone to unnecessary weight gains and obesity. It is actually quite easier for children to give into a sedentary lifestyle, involving more T.V. time and video games than adults, which can again be a big problem.
Family history – A family with a history of obesity is more likely to pass it on to the children. Hence, if a child has an obese mother/father or both, he/she is more predisposed to obesity. The underlying reason here could be the kind of food the family consumes or the lifestyle they maintain.
Psychological factors – You would be greatly surprised to know that psychological factors such as stress due to personal, parental or family reasons could also lead to childhood obesity. Children often overeat when bored or struggling with tension, fear or similar emotions. It is also possible that they follow suit to what their parents do when in similar situation.
Socioeconomic factors – Believe it or not, but the socioeconomic environment in a community, city or even nation can play a large role in influencing the health of its people, children included. Certain localities have limited to no access to supermarkets or quality produce and food items. This forces them to depend on more conveniently available options such as packaged food or less healthier substitutes to the above.
Again, people dwelling in low income neighborhoods might also not have safe places to play or exercise, and may also be lacking in knowledge of what is safe or risky for them.
As per some well-researched child obesity articles, childhood obesity is actually a multisystem ailment which can potentially pose negative impact on the physical, social and emotional and psychological health of a child. And in order to get resolved, such complications might even compel you to refer to health professionals.
Dyslipidemia – This generally refers to a condition in which the triglycerides or LDL cholesterol in your blood is high. Triglycerides result from the calories that although consumed are not used up right away. Hence, the lesser calories you burn, the more will be the triglyceride buildup. This can form plaques in the wall of the arteries of your heart, further risking many other complications, even a heart attack.
Hypertension – Also known as high blood pressure, it is one of the complications related to high cholesterol level in the blood. As the plaques continue to form, the arteries of the heart become narrower and hardened, which causes the heart to strain harder when pumping blood through the arteries. High blood pressure is directly linked to severe heart diseases.
Diabetes type 2 – Obesity happens to be one of the top risk factors for type 2 diabetes, in children or in adults, increasing the chances of insulin resistance in them. A natural hormone, insulin helps transport sugar from the bloodstream to the cells where they are broken down to produce energy. As a result, more glucose accumulates in the bloodstream while the cells starve from the need of energy.
Hyperinsulinemia – Linked directly to Diabetes type 2, Hyperinsulinemia is caused by insulin resistance. When your body does not respond correctly to the insulin, the pancreas compensate by constantly working on insulin production, thus causing abnormally high level of insulin or hyperinsulinemia.
Metabolic syndrome – Poor diet, high blood sugar, low HDL, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and excess abdominal fat are factors that can spike the risk of metabolic syndromes in children.
Cardiovascular diseases – When suffering from disorders such as hypertension and high cholesterol levels, a child will be more predisposed to cardiovascular diseases, sooner or later. Cardiovascular disorders accounting for maximum deaths worldwide are ailments that are better avoided.
Sleep apnea – Another among the effects of childhood obesity is sleep apnea. A potentially serious disorder, it refers to difficulty in breathing while asleep.
Low self-esteem – It is more common than not that overweight children get teased by their peers. Pranks and mockeries can negatively affect the self-worth of a child, that too to a great extent. If not helped in time, children could also develop the feeling of inferiority or worthlessness.
Behavioral issues – Obese children are not only more prone to depression and anxiety but also tend to have poorer social skills. These might surface in many forms, like acting out in classrooms or socially withdrawing themselves from others.
Absenteeism or poor academic performance – There’s a good chance that obesity in children could affect their academic performances too, or even keep them away from school. Any of the above-mentioned issues – physical, psychological or social, could be the underlying cause.
Since children are too young to grasp the entire concept, the initiative has to come from the parents. If your child is overweight or has any of the risk factors for obesity, start by taking some preventive measures. No matter how much you love your child, allowing them to eat whatever they like will only harm their well-being. Limit unhealthy food items and encourage children to eat green vegetables and fresh fruits more and more.
Also, control their T.V. hours, and push them more towards physical activities and games; remember, smartphones and gaming consoles are not going to make your child fit, but the good old physical exertion from a game in a playground most certainly will.
In case your child is already suffering from obesity, you can still find help. Intelligent Ageing is where you can come across some of the best obesity specialists in Delhi. Unlike other obesity clinics in Delhi, this platform works towards childhood obesity prevention through a preventive healthcare approach and functional medicine. A client-focused initiative, it brings into use the latest technologies and natural therapies to reverse even the most chronic of ailments.