Childhood obesity is a serious widespread struggle facing many of our children today. It is an epidemic that has quadrupled in the last 40 to 50 affecting almost 1 in 5 children.Obese children are at higher risk for gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, heart disease and type II diabetes. Apart from these health issues, obese children may suffer from the emotional effects by being labeled as ‘fat’ and are likely to suffer from low self esteem and depression.
Obesity has a vicious cycle because obese parents tend to have obese children and while many parents will try to claim that the problem is genetic, in most cases it is related to a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition which is learnt by the child.
Parents need to take responsibility for controlling their child’s weight and should avoid the idea that a child will ‘grow out of it’. The other idea that a child is ‘healthy’ because they appear to look healthy yet they are overweight or obese is common among many parents who are in denial about their child’s weight management problems. Usually, these parents only opt to accept that a problem exists once the child develops health related issues.
Causes of ‘Fat’ in Children
Many factors contribute to a child accumulating excess amounts of body fat (obesity):
A child who eats more calories than his /her body can burn will become obese over time. A diet of sugary, processed, convenient foods with a high calorie and a low nutrient content contributes greatly to a child becoming obese. Children today snack too much, have no pattern of eating, eat even when they are not hungry or while watching TV and have no affinity for healthy foods.
Parents and children are adopting a lifestyle with less physical activity. Other behavior like spending too much time watching television, playing computer and video games and not committing to exercise, even in school, plays an important part in childhood obesity. This sedentary lifestyle also encourages snacking of especially high calorie foods and junk food.
Some children may be emotionally unstable and may resort to ‘comfort eating’. Stressful life situations like divorce, death, abuse or an upset in daily life may trigger a binge or emotional eating in a child. The child eats not because they are hungry but are unable to deal with the emotions that they are experiencing.
Research has shown that being obesity is in the genes, an obese child may have obese parents or obese siblings. These children may be more susceptible to accumulating fat as a result of their genetic make up. However genetic predisposition does not guarantee childhood obesity and with proper nutrition and lifestyle factors, there is very little reason why a child should be obese.
As a parents, you need to understand the seriousness of your child being obese in order to prompt you to take decisive action. If an obese child develops diabetes during childhood he/she will almost certainly sentence themselves to a premature death. The diabetes is likely to develop kidney failure or heart disease or the child may even suffer the associated effects of diabetes which can include blindness.
Preventing Childhood Obesity
* Seek medical attention before you start making changes to your obese child’s lifestyle. Rule out possible causes of your child’s obesity, like thyroid disorders, so that you now how best to treat the condition. You will need to be committed to helping your child because there is now quick fix to treating childhood obesity.
* Start slowly and set realistic goals for your child. You can start by simply reducing refined sugars in the child’s diet, encouraging them to drink lots of water to prevent snacking and adding 30 minutes of daily exercise into their daily routines.
* You may also seek advice of a dietitian who would be able to assist you with implementing a suitable weight management program.
An obese child is not alone in his/ her battle with obesity, the changes that the child is required to make should be implemented by the whole family. Research has shown that children between 4 to 7 years of age with parents who are active themselves are six times more likely to be active so you need to start to make the change in your life first. Each person in the family can provide support and encourage and motivate the child to overcome this disease.
Your guide to Kids Health