Obesity in Children and Adolescents
How prevalent is child and adolescent obesity?
According to the Center for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years in the United States. Currently, 12.5 million American kids ages 2 to 19 are obese or 17 percent of the population and another 16.5 percent are at risk for becoming overweight. In 2009, the state of New Hampshire conducted a survey, titled NH Healthy Smiles & Healthy Growth, of all the state’s third graders. Coos County had one of the highest prevalence of obese students in the state at an alarming 22 percent rate.
What is obesity and what are the symptoms?
If a child is a few extra pounds overweight, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are obese. During various childhood development stages, children normally carry different amounts of body fat. Generally, a child is not considered obese until the weight is 10 percent higher than what is recommended for the height and body type. If you feel your child may be obese, we recommend that your doctor calculate your child’s body mass index (BMI). The BMI indicates if your child is overweight for his or her age and height. Your doctor will also factor in your child’s growth and development to determine whether your child’s weight is a health concern.
What are the risk factors for childhood obesity?
There are many factors that can contribute to your child’s risk of becoming overweight. Some of the more common factors include:
- Diet—High calorie foods, beverages and foods high in sugar and fat, can cause a child to gain weight.
- Lack of exercise—Children who don’t get enough exercise are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn enough calories.
- Psychological factors—As a way of handling emotional problems, stress, or low self-esteem, some children use food as a way to cope.
- Family history—If a child comes from a family of overweight adults, he or she may be more likely to put on excess weight. This is particularly true in an environment where high-calorie food is always available and there is little physical activity.What are the complications? Childhood obesity can have both physical and emotional consequences for the well-being of your child.
Physical complications can include:
- Increased risk of heart
- High blood
- Type 2
- Breathing problems·
- Sleep disorders
Emotional complications can include:
- Low self-esteem and bullying
- Behavior and learning problems
How can obesity be managed in children and adolescents?
After a thorough medical evaluation to rule out any physical cause, the only way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories being eaten and to increase the child’s level of physical activity. Here are some ways to manage childhood obesity:
- Plan meals and make better food selections (eat less fatty foods, avoid junk and fast foods)
- Control portions and consume less calories
- Increase physical activity (especially walking)
- Know what your child eats at school
- Eat meals as a family instead of watching TV
- Limit snacking
- Get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night
Obesity frequently becomes a lifelong issue. An obese child must learn to eat and enjoy healthy foods in moderate amounts and to exercise regularly to maintain the desired weight.
Where can I turn if I feel my child is obese or in danger of becoming obese?
Your best resource is your primary care physician or nurse practitioner. They will evaluate your child and will help you set-up a weight loss program. If you don’t have a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner, you can call us at Weeks Medical Center at 603-788-2521 and we would be happy to make a referral.
By John Ford, MD
John Ford is primary care physician specializing in family medicine based at the Whitefield Physicians Office.