Expert Health Articles

Childhood Obesity: A Growing Epidemic

Jacqueline Boucher, PA-CJacqueline Boucher, PA-C

Caughman Health Center Pediatrics 

The problem of childhood obesity in the United States has grown considerably in recent years. Today, one out of three kids are overweight or obese. Obesity is among the easiest medical conditions to recognize, but the most difficult to treat. Overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults unless they adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercise. Studies have shown the obese child has an 80% chance of becoming an obese adult.

What is obesity?

Generally a child is not considered obese until their weight is at least 10% higher than what is recommended for their height and body type. We measure body fat through a body mass index (BMI). It helps determine what portion of your body is fat. A BMI of 30% or over is considered obese.

What causes obesity?

The causes of obesity are complex and include genetic, biological, behavioral and cultural factors. Basically obesity occurs when a person eats more calories than the body burns up. If one parent is obese, there is a 50% chance the children will also be obese. If both parents are obese, the children have an 80% chance of being obese. Although certain medical conditions cause obesity, less than 1% of all obesity is caused by physical problems. Obesity in children can be related to: poor eating habits, overeating, lack of exercise, family history of obesity, medications, family and peer problems, depression and low self-esteem.

What are risks and complications of obesity?

There are many risks and complications with obesity which can include: increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing problems and trouble sleeping. Childhood and adolescent obesity is also associated with increased risk of emotional problems like depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

How can obesity be managed and treated?

Obese children need a thorough medical evaluation by a pediatrician or family physician to consider the possibility of a physical cause. In the absence of a physical disorder, 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. Making healthy eating and regular exercise a family activity can improve the chances of successful weight control for the child. Children can also be referred to a dietician to help develop a weight-management program for the child and their family.

Here are some tips for families to get started: 

  1. Plan meals and make better food selections.
  2. Eat less fatty foods, avoid junk food and fast food.
  3. Avoid drinking sugary drinks like juice and soda pop.
  4. Control portions and consume fewer calories.
  5. Increase physical activity.
  6. Know what your child eats at school.
  7. Eat meals as a family instead of while watching TV or at the computer.
  8. Don’t use food as a reward.
  9. Limiting your child’s snacking.