The incidence of childhood obesity is fast on the rise. With nuclear families, parents can no longer keep a watchful eye on their children or on what they are consuming in their diets. Increased westernization has brought to the fore fast food like chips, burgers and aerated drinks which are becoming a craze amongst children. Peer pressure also makes the child succumb to unhealthy eating patterns. According to statistics 15% of children are obese in the US alone. Childhood obesity is one of the biggest health challenges countries are facing today, increasing the risk of child morbidity.
Obesity predisposes the child to several risk factors. Obese children become obese adults and are often at the receiving end of social mockery and ridicule. Obese children find it difficult to gain acceptance at school and have profound adjustment problems.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
Children who consume more calories than what they burn tend to gain weight and become obese. There are several reasons behind this.
Obesity is largely related to genes. If the parents are grossly overweight, the child too is at a high risk of being overweight. Poor eating habits amongst parents provide poor role models for the child to emulate. So if the parent guzzles two glasses of soda or aerated drinks, the child too will do the same.
With both parents working, there is no guidance or supervision as to what the child is eating. Meal schedules are not chalked out and the child has easy access to snacks and has the liberty to eat what he wants. Irregular snacking and eating between meals prevents the child from consuming healthy and nutritious food during actual meal times.
The parents too are known to err by not putting any emphasis on healthy eating. We all know that healthy eating begins at home but parents are lethargic when it comes to educating themselves and their child on quality nutrition.
Lack of physical exercise is by far one of the most common reasons of childhood obesity. Children are spending large amounts of time in front of the tv and computer either watching movies, playing games or getting hooked to social networking sites. There is no desire to step out unless the child is meeting up with friends at a fancy fast food joint which only aggravates the problem. Parents too are not interested in providing the child physical exertion through games or enrolling him in an adventure club or hobby class.
It is said that children today are spending an average of three hours every day, glued to their television sets and bingeing on potato chips and other high calorie snacks.
Certain medical conditions like a hormonal imbalance may also cause a child to be grossly overweight. Some inherited disorders of body metabolism also put the child at risk for obesity.
When To Seek Intervention
Parents need to be alert and keep a watchful eye on their child’s health especially if he is obese. Young children who are fat often bear the brunt of social stigma and may come home from school crying or complain of being teased. This may cause social withdrawal and the child may become introverted and shy.
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The child may also not be able to keep up with his peers in physical activity, competitions and sports. Moreover the school counsellors may provide you with feedback on the weight of your child especially if he is markedly obese. Parents should educate themselves on what is the ideal body mass index or body fat percentage for their child. Every child is unique and weight will differ from child to child on the basis of his height and other factors. BMI (Body mass index) is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Children above the 85th percentile of BMI are considered overweight and above the 90th percentile are considered obese.
Waist circumference also plays an important role in determining the overall health of a child and his susceptibility to lifestyle diseases. The waist circumference is taken by measuring the child’s waist at the broadest part of his girth just below the belly button.
When it comes to altering your child’s lifestyle and helping him reach healthier weight goals, it is the parents who take the lead. Despite there being a plethora of nutritionists and experts, no worthwhile results will be seen unless the parents are proactive. They are in the best position to make lifestyle changes.
Parents should encourage and support their child without criticizing him. They can strive to be active role models by adopting healthier eating patterns and undertaking physical exercise. Allow the child to talk and tell you about social problems and nip them in the bud. Get your child enrolled in a physical activity and maintain a target of losing a pound a week.
Restrict the amount of tv viewing to not more than 7 hours a week. Undertake an adventure sport or trekking with your child. Help him learn to swim or teach him tennis. 40 -60 minutes of moderate physical activity is a must. Let the child exercise in a way in which he enjoys the most. Encourage them to participating in school sporting activities but do not force them if they are embarrassed.
It is crucial to provide quality food for significant weight loss. Enrol the child in picking up healthy food stuffs from the supermarket. Let him choose without being dictated to. Keep a well balanced diet of nuts, fruits and vegetables in meals and in between meals as snacks. Banish junk food and let the child consume it not more than once a week. Include variety as children love variety in their food. You may incorporate all the vital proteins, vitamins and minerals in healthy and tasty food preparations like pasta, smoothies, whole wheat sandwiches, nuts, crackers and milk shakes. Frozen yoghurt, rice cakes and home- made pizzas which are lower in calories are also interesting options. Let the child carry a tiffin from home rather than eat in the school canteen.
A further gain in weight can be prevented in infancy by restricting foods for infants to just breast milk till six months of age. Infants should not be given solids till after six months. With the right food practices, diet modification and rigorous exercise, childhood obesity can easily be treated and overcome and children can be fit and energetic. It eventually paves the way for a healthy childhood and adolescence.