Levels of childhood obesity are increasing at alarming rates in many countries, one in five children and adolescents are either overweight or obese. Obesity can have a major impact on how children feel about themselves and how they interact with others. Obese adolescents are more likely to have low self-esteem, which may impact on other aspects of their lives, such as the development of friendships and competency at school.
Being obese as a child or adolescent increases the risk of a range of diseases and disorders in adulthood, regardless of whether the adult is obese or not. It’s important to identify and start to reverse the condition before children become adults. Ideally, overweight and obesity should be prevented. Overweight or obese children are more likely to remain obese as adolescents and become overweight or obese adults. About 80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults.
Health problems associated with obesity
Most of the health problems associated with obesity will become obvious in adulthood. Early signs of these later problems are commonly found in children.
Potential health problems for obese children include:
– Type 2 diabetes – while this condition is most commonly seen in adults, it is now also being diagnosed in children
– Eating disorders such as bulimia or binge eating
– Orthopedic disorders – problems with foot structure
– Liver problems, including fatty liver
– Respiratory disorders, such as blocked airways and restrictions in the chest wall, which cause breathlessness during exercise
– Sleep apnoea – this is a condition that causes difficulty breathing when sleeping. It also causes snoring, waking often and poor sleep. It makes people feel tired and contributes to poor concentration during the day
– Cardiomyopathy – a problem with the heart muscle, caused when extra effort is needed to pump blood.
Factors that may cause children to become overweight and obese include:
– Food choices – these include choosing high fat and sugary foods instead of healthier options.
– Lacks of physical activity – Children these days are less active than they were in the past.
– Spending a lot of time on sedentary pursuits – Children watch, on average, around 2½ hours of television a day, as well as spending time using computers and other electronic games. It seems that these pastimes are replacing active ones.
– Overweight parents – a family’s eating patterns can have a major influence on whether a child maintains a healthy weight. Some overweight parents may be less concerned about their children also being overweight than parents who have a healthy weight.
– Genetics – some rare gene disorders cause severe childhood obesity. In many other people, particular genes acting together probably make some children more susceptible to obesity. If there is a family tendency to become overweight, parents need to be even more aware of making healthy food choices for the whole family.
Help Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits
Offer your kids nutritious meals and snacks with an appropriate number of calories. You can help them develop healthy eating habits by making favorite dishes healthier and by reducing calorie-rich temptations.
1. Encourage healthy eating habits. Small changes can lead to a recipe for success! Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products. Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products. Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans for protein. Serve reasonably sized portions. Encourage your family to drink lots of water. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages, sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
2. Make favorite dishes healthier. Some of your favorite recipes can be healthier with a few changes. You can also try some new heart-healthy dishes that might just become favorites too!
3. Remove calorie-rich temptations. Treats are OK in moderation, but limiting high-fat and high-sugar or salty snacks can also help your children develop healthy eating habits. Here are examples of easy-to-prepare, low-fat and low-sugar treats that are 100 calories or less: A medium-size apple, A medium-size banana, 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup grapes, 1 cup carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers with 2 tbsp. hummus
4. Help your kids understand the benefits of being physically active. Teach them that physical activity has great health benefits like: Strengthening bone, Decreasing blood pressure, Reducing stress and anxiety, Increasing self-esteem, Helping with weight management
5. Help kids stay active. Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week, and every day if possible. You can set a great example! Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you. Some examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include: Brisk walking, Jumping rope, Playing football, Swimming, cycling
6. Reduce sedentary time. Although quiet time for reading and homework is fine, limit “screen time” (TV, video games, Internet) to no more than two hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend TV for kids age 2 or younger. Encourage your children to find fun activities to do with family members or on their own that simply involve more activity.
Remember the importance of continuing these lifestyle changes will pass the initial treatment period of weight control. The healthiest way to change weight is gradually.