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Childhood obesity and associated health risks

Childhood obesity is a grave medical condition which poses as an immense threat amongst the younger generation, today. The development phase of this health issue starts quite early, especially with the neglect of regular exercise and good dietary habits.

It is essential for the parents as well as their children to understand that childhood obesity can have a greater and dangerous impact on their life. Some common instances of these health consequences, as stated by the World Heart Federation, include

  • Type-2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Abnormal level of glucose tolerance
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Another concerning factor is overweight children and teenagers are more susceptible to becoming obese when they become adults. Hence, it becomes imperative to ensure the early screening of overweight children. This will help in determining and identifying the risk factors to the child’s health.

Causes of childhood obesity

The human body is made up of fat, water, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. Obesity primarily means the accumulation of excessive fat in the human body. The factors which are increasingly resulting in rising cases of childhood obesity are:

  • Consuming excessive calorie-rich food
  • Lack of physical activities and exercise
  • Genetic factors
  • Psychological aspects
  • Age, gender & lifestyle

The prevalent reason behind childhood obesity is consuming more calories than what is burnt while performing routine activities. Being overweight is a dangerous prospect, especially for children, as eliminating fat cells becomes difficult.

Body Mass Index provides a precise guideline for determining the body fat in children and teenagers. It helps in ascertaining if the child is overweight or underweight. Appropriate assessment of BMI primarily depends on the child’s age. This is because when they grow, the fat content in their body also changes.

Risks associated with childhood obesity

Along with the physical complications, there can be emotional and social complications associated with childhood obesity, as well. Some of them are discussed in details below.

  • High blood pressure & cholesterol – Poor dietary habits and lack of exercise can lead to the plaque  buildup in the arteries. These conditions can result in the narrowing and hardening of arteries. This can then lead to a stroke or heart attack, once when the child grows up.
  • Type 2 Diabetes – It is a chronic condition which has a severe impact on glucose utilization process of the child’s body. Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle can intensify this health issue.
  • Sleep disorders and Asthma – Breathing problems and obstructive sleep apnea can be serious disorders which can affect overweight children.
  • Depression – With obesity comes the problem of depression and low self-esteem. This can further lead to learning and behavioral problems. Overweight children suffer from poor social skills and anxiety issues.

Ensuring appropriate remedies

Modifying the eating habits of children ageing 6 to 11 can be helpful. Increasing their physical activities will also encourage overweight children in shedding those extra kilos. While shopping for grocery items, opt for fresh vegetables and fruits. Avoid buying convenience food items like cookies, aerated drinks, etc. Cutting down the fat, sugar and calorie content will be perfect for the child’s health.

Help your child in choosing activities which they genuinely enjoy. If they like swimming, dancing or martial arts, then it is best to encourage them. Limiting the recreational time on T.V and computer will also be beneficial for obese children.

WHO recommended levels of physical activity for children

Infants (less than 1 year) should:

  • Be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g. prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back). Screen time is not recommended. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 14–17h (0–3 months of age) or 12–16h (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.

Children 1-2 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time. For 1-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.
Children 3-4 years of age should:
  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

WHO Recommended levels of physical activity for children aged 5 - 17 years

For children and young people, physical activity includes play, games, sports, transportation, chores, recreation, physical education, or planned exercise, in the context of family, school, and community activities. In order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone health, and cardiovascular and metabolic health biomarkers:

  • Children and youth aged 5–17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.
  • Amounts of physical activity greater than 60 minutes provide additional health benefits.
  • Most of the daily physical activity should be aerobic. Vigorous-intensity activities should be incorporated, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week.

What essentially matters is changing the food habits of the obese child and ensuring that they take part in physical activities. Some positive aspect of doing so will be the addition of inches in the child’s height and reduction of pounds from their weight. No matter what, always ensure that you encourage them in their weight-losing journey and be supportive towards them.

Source : AskApollo

Related resources

  1. WHO - Childhood overweight and obesity
  2. WHO - Child growth standards


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