Childhood obesity is a condition which occurs when the weight of a child is disproportionate to his age and height, to an extent that it starts affecting his health and wellbeing. There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that the problem has reached epidemic proportions of late. If the data compiled for the United States alone is to be believed, the number of obese children in the age group of 2-5 years has doubled, while the number for children in the age group of 6-11 years has tripled over the last three decades.
When we talk of obesity, the first thing to come to your mind is likely to be overeating. There is no doubt about the fact that overeating does contribute to obesity in growing children, but is it the lone factor that comes into play? Definitely not. It is, in fact, just one of the many factors that contribute to this problem, other factors being a sedentary lifestyle, genetic factors, the junk food fad, etc.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
What they Eat: Nowadays, people don't have time to prepare healthy food, leave alone exercise. So asking them to do something extra for their own health seems too much to ask for. With adults increasingly giving in to this drastic change in lifestyle, kids cannot be far behind. Children, nowadays, prefer pizzas and burgers over nutritious salads and fruits. Eating such junk foods with a high calorie count is one of the prime factors contributing to caloric imbalance, which, in turn, leads to disproportionate weight gain.
While marketing their products, companies often target a particular segment. In case of junk food, which is laden with sugars, fats, salt, and calories, the targeted segment is largely made up of children. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges the exploitative nature of companies when it comes to advertisements, and calls for tighter control on the same.
What they Do: On one hand, high-calorie fast food has replaced the healthy diet, and on the other, the absence of physical activity has just added to the woes. But obviously, physical activity and weight gain have an inverse relationship - basically, less physical activity-more weight gain and vice versa. In the era of gaming and television, children are hardly seen outdoors. And even if they do want to go out and play, the lack of open spaces in the neighborhood poses a new problem. Even schools are forced to cut down on physical education classes to accommodate extra classroom sessions in their busy schedule.
Other Factors: In humans, genes play a vital role in determining the body type. Statistics show that there are 80 percent chances of the child becoming obese if both the parents are obese, and 40 percent, if either of the parent is obese. As for genetic disorders, there do exist some rare disorders, like the Prader-Willi Syndrome and Bardet-Biedl syndrome, which lead to obesity in children.
Effects of Childhood Obesity
Physical Effects: Obesity increases the risk of preventable and chronic health problems in children. It contributes to high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are considered the risk factors of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). There have been cases of overweight and obese children being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is surprising considering that until now, the same was believed to be a disorder which only affected adults. Though problems related to weight gain take some time to surface, there is no questioning the fact that they are very serious.
Obesity at a young age can also lead to orthopedic complications like abnormal bone growth and joint pain, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, and early sexual maturity. Being overweight, these kids are also likely to face problems related to lack of stamina. Overweight children are more likely to become obese adults and therefore, dismissing excessive weight gain as baby fat is not at all a wise thing to do.
Psychological Effects: Obesity is not just a physical problem, but also a psychological problem; a fact that most people seem to be unaware of. The psychological effects of obesity include lowered self-esteem, high levels of depression, fear of being disliked by peers (social discrimination), fear of being bullied (victimization), etc. Things get worse when all these problems lead to the child shying away, avoiding people, and eventually becoming lonely. All of this can even make the child vulnerable and lead him to alcohol and substance abuse, and further worsen the problem.
More importantly, there are significant chances of the psychological effects of obesity manifesting into physical effects. A child who is depressed about the way the people around him make him feel is more likely to implode and end up doing things like overeating or substance abuse which will further worsen the condition. Most of these effects start showing at an early age and have a severe impact on the whole life of the child.
Childhood obesity can turn into a life-threatening condition in the long run as the problems will only become severe with growing age. In the absence of any medical condition, the only way to deal with this problem is to resort to a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and physical activity as its core components. Don't force your children to eat food when they are full and never bribe them with sweets and chocolates. If required, consult a doctor or dietitian for advice on a healthy diet plan. Switch indoor activities with outdoor activities. Make your kids aware of the ill effects of excessive weight gain.
It's also important that you as a parent understand your responsibility and set good examples for your child to follow. The efforts you take to inculcate healthy habits in your children will definitely reap rich dividends for them in the future.