Obesity is the term used when a person is overweight to the extent that it has an effect on overall health.
When a child is obese, it makes it much more likely that they will go on to be an obese adult as well.
The number of children who are obese is on the rise. Research conducted for the NHS shows that around three in 10 boys and girls aged between two and 15 were classed as overweight or obese.
The proportion of obese children aged between four and five is around one in 10, whereas for those aged between 10 and 11, this rises to a fifth.
Let’s look at the causes of obesity:
· The main cause of obesity in children tends to be an unhealthy diet, which is too high in sugary and fatty foods, combined with a lack of exercise needed to burn off the calories consumed.
· If children spend large amounts of time inactive, while watching TV or playing computer games for example, this can lead to weight gain.
· Many overweight or obese children have parents who are in the same condition, so family lifestyles can be a big contributing factor to obesity.
· There are also genetic conditions, which can be inherited from parents, which can cause obesity in children, although these are rare.
There are many effects that obesity can have on a child’s general health. These include:
· Issues with joints and bones, causing conditions such as bow legs.
· Benign intracranial hypertension, which is a condition that produces headaches and affects vision.
· Hypoventilation, which can lead to drowsiness during the day, snoring at night and even heart failure in extreme cases.
· Gall bladder disease.
· High blood pressure.
· Type 2 diabetes, which is normally seen as a condition affecting adults, but the rise in obesity in children means more teenagers are developing the disease.
· Psychological effects, such as low self-esteem.
The standard measure to check if someone is a healthy weight, overweight or obese is the body mass index (BMI) scale.
This involves taking the weight in kilograms and dividing by the height in metres squared.
However, it is not appropriate to take adult BMI values and apply them to children – an adapted chart must be used to calculate a child’s BMI score. These are available to GPs, who can also discuss other health conditions linked to obesity.
As diet is often one of the main causes of obesity, making changes can help to reduce the problem. Try to introduce changes that the whole family can get involved with, rather than asking your child to change their diet on their own.
Changes should be made that can be sustained long term, so that a healthy lifestyle can be maintained into adulthood.
Children aged under 18 should also look to do 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This should be a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as fast walking, and vigorous intensity activity such as running. On three days a week, these activities should also include muscle-strengthening activities.
Sticking to these guidelines, combined with a healthy balanced diet, should help your child lose weight.
Beyond PE lessons at school, your child may be interested in joining a club that will help them to get exercise, such as football, dancing or tennis, which as well as improving their health can also help them to meet other children and build their social circle.
The NHS offers a range of services to help deal with obesity both in children and in adults. For more information visit nhs.uk