When we hear the term “chronic disease,” what usually comes to mind is, if not hypertension, diabetes. However, these conditions are mere byproducts of a fast-growing, serious, complex, chronic disease called obesity which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects roughly 1 in 5 children.
If you’re on this page because you’re concerned that your youngster is gaining more weight than they should, the information we’ve provided below can give you a useful insight into childhood obesity, particularly when you should see your pediatrician for intervention.
To discuss what childhood obesity is, we must first define the term “obesity.” A person is considered obese when their weight is over a certain number that is considered normal for a person of that age, height, and weight. In particular, it is concerning when this excess weight is due to body fat, not increased muscle tone, such as someone who is very athletic.
In order to quantify obesity, clinicians use a measurement called body mass index (BMI). This combines height, weight, and age and creates a score where a lower number indicates a healthier BMI. A score of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal; 25-29.9 is considered overweight, or at risk for obesity; and anything greater than 29.9 is considered obese.
Risk Factors for Childhood Obesity
The most common cause of childhood obesity is a sedentary lifestyle in which the child is not getting enough physical activity, and their diet consists of too many junk foods and not enough nutritional foods. In addition to poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, childhood obesity can be precipitated by the following factors:
- Psychological factors – Stress, whether at home or in school, can increase your child’s risk for obesity
- Socioeconomic factors – People in lower-income neighborhoods have limited resources to buy healthy food and may not have access to a place for exercise.
For years, numerous studies have been conducted to assess the effects of obesity. The results have demonstrated that people who are obese have what is called persistent, low-grade inflammation, which puts them at a greater risk for various serious health problems, including the following:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
The more excess weight your child carries, the higher their risk of developing serious diseases, such as the ones listed above.
When to Seek Treatment for Childhood Obesity
If you are worried about your child’s weight, particularly if they have been gaining weight quickly and are lethargic or get tired easily, visit your pediatrician, so they can address these concerns.
Your pediatrician will measure your child’s BMI to see if they fall into the overweight or obese category.
Given the complexity of obesity, your pediatrician may recommend a multifaceted treatment approach. In conjunction with dietary modifications, your pediatrician will likely recommend behavioral and lifestyle strategies.
Dietary modifications can include the following:
- Discouraging intake of sugary drinks
- Avoiding eating fast food and other high-calorie foods
- Decreasing portion sizes
- Incorporating real, whole, and fiber-rich foods and healthy snacks
In addition, your pediatrician may recommend that you see a pediatric nutritionist for counseling. This way, you can get help with planning healthy meals and learn which foods should be included in your child’s diet more frequently, and which ones should be avoided.
Behavioral modification strategies include teaching your child about keeping food diaries and avoiding eating while watching TV, among other unhealthy habits. Your pediatrician may also recommend planning family activities that include exercise like swimming, biking, or hiking, or getting your child involved in a school or club sport. The most important thing is that your child is exercising regularly. The intensity of the exercise is less important than the frequency, which is helpful for keeping your child engaged and interested in various forms of exercise.
It’s worth mentioning that you should not implement dietary restrictions unless permitted by your pediatrician. Restricting certain foods or using food as a reward or punishment can do more harm than good: it can change your child’s perspective on food and even cause them to lose touch with their body’s natural signals. As a result, they overeat or not eat enough, or use food as a coping mechanism when their emotions arise. This can ultimately lead to eating disorder.
It is important to not only encourage your child to make healthy dietary choices and lifestyle habits but also to help them establish a wholesome relationship with food.
Childhood Obesity Treatment in Palm Harbor, Trinity, Westchase, and Lutz, FL
At Children’s Medical Center, we offer a whole array of pediatric healthcare services— including pediatric nutritional counseling, well-child visits, and behavioral health services— to live up to our commitment to advancing the health and well-being of the children in the communities we are privileged to serve.
Our dynamic team includes board-certified pediatricians and a pediatric nutritionist who are dedicated to working closely with families and equipping them with all the resources necessary to guide children, especially those dealing with weight problems, along the path to a healthy, active, and happy life.
Book an appointment with one of our providers today. Contact us at 727-787-6335, or click here to check our location nearest you.