India has the world's second-highest rate of childhood obesity, with 14.4 million cases. (2021)*
This means 1 in every 5 children is overweight.
But, even after these alarming facts, is childhood obesity getting enough attention?
And a majority of this is because most of us don’t even know enough about it. So, first things first, childhood obesity is not just about being overweight at a young age. It is not just a matter of looks or something kids will grow out of. It is more about a lot of other risks like diabetes and heart diseases that come along. Obese kids tend to grow up to be obese adults, which can cause a lot of health problems.
Thus, all the parents reading this should be very alarmed about their kids' growing weight as per their age and height. Let’s understand the problem a little deeply.
How to measure childhood obesity?
Body Mass Index, often called BMI, is used to measure an individual’s weight status. You can
know that by dividing weight in kg by height in square meters. An individual’s percentile crossing 85 falls in the overweight category and needs to be controlled. The percentile is based on the number of other children of the same age and sex.
However, it can only help you measure excess weight and not excess fat. Please note that this method is not very accurate around puberty.
Why is childhood obesity a problem?
Obesity in children is a major health problem. It's especially concerning because childhood obesity can lead to serious health issues. It includes diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. These diseases were earlier considered adult issues.
Do you know why parents should be so concerned about the raising weight of their kids? That’s because childhood obesity is a double-edged sword. It not only targets your body physically but also mentally. Body image issues tend to hit their self-esteem like nothing else. The risk of depression will always follow your kids like shadows.
According to Unicef's World Obesity Atlas for 2022,
India will have more than 27 million obese children by 2030. It will include 1 in 10 children worldwide.
Let’s take a look at
Childhood Obesity Symptoms & its Associated Risks
Obesity increases the likelihood of major medical concerns in children. Some of the most common symptoms and risks include:
Diabetes: When you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't use glucose the right way. Diabetes can cause problems with the eyes, nerves, and kidneys. Type 2 diabetes is more likely to happen in children and adults who are overweight.
Heart sickness: Children who are obese are more likely to get heart disease in the future. It is because they have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Cholesterol and blood pressure may go up if you eat a lot of foods that are high in fat and salt. Heart disease can sometimes lead to a heart attack or a stroke.
Asthma: Asthma is long-term inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Obesity is the most common comorbidity (when two diseases happen at the same time in the same person). But, researchers don't know exactly how the two conditions are related.
Sleep Disorders: Children who are overweight may also have sleep problems. It includes problems like snoring too much or not getting enough air while they sleep. Extra weight around the neck can make it hard for them to breathe.
Joint Pain: Your child may also feel stiffness, pain, and a smaller range of motion in their joints if they carry too much weight. Often, joint problems can be fixed by losing weight.
Besides having a lot of extra weight, the most common signs and symptoms of childhood obesity are:
Shortness of breath
A lot more sweating
Snoring and sleep apnea
Hips out of place
Knock knees and flat feet
Rashes and irritation on the skin
Marks of stretching on the hips, stomach, and back (though these can occur in non-obese children as well)
Acanthosis nigricans is a condition in which the skin around the neck and in other places is dark and velvety.
There is fat around the breasts (which can be particularly challenging for boys)
Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) (also called acid reflux)
Girls who reach puberty early
Puberty that comes late in boys/girls
To understand Childhood Obesity effects well, let us understand childhood obesity can lead to which of the following:
Does childhood obesity affect height?
Yes, obese kids are usually taller than other kids their age, but they are also fatter and grow up faster. They don't get taller as adults, though, because being overweight as a child affects growth and puberty.
Can childhood obesity cause diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a potential health issue of childhood obesity. Your child's body's ability to use sugar is impacted by this persistent issue (glucose). Type 2 diabetes is more likely in overweight people who lead inactive lives.
Can childhood obesity cause early puberty?
Looking at a larger group analysis, being overweight or obese during childhood kickstarted puberty earlier in both boys and girls. Many studies have shown that when a girl hit puberty early, it often shared a link with childhood obesity.
Let’s take a moment to understand its causes:
Childhood Obesity Causes
Lack of physical activity: Today's kids overindulge in "at-home entertainment". Gaming consoles, indoor games, app-based entertainment, and television have created a sedentary youthful population. Television is the most well-known environmental cause of childhood obesity.
Excessive calorie intake: Children get fat because they have uncontrolled access to high-calorie foods. Mostly in places like the school canteen or even at home with food delivery app culture on the rise.
Socio-cultural reasons: Smaller families and working parents lead to overprotection and forced feeding. Obesity is also caused by incorrect traditional health and nutrition beliefs and insufficient nutrition care by parents.
Is childhood obesity genetic?
Up to 7% of severe childhood obesity is associated with genetic disorders.
So, yes, childhood obesity can be genetic. Due to genetic considerations, certain kids are more likely to become overweight. They've inherited traits from both parents that make it easy for them to put on weight. However, it isn’t the only cause. Obesity in children requires a calorie surplus beyond what is required for normal growth and maintenance.
Can childhood obesity be reversed?
There is hope that childhood obesity can be reversed. Diet treatment, exercise, and advanced medical procedures can help you reduce your child's weight. It improves their health, protecting them from the long-term effects of childhood obesity.
Many new bariatric procedures are being developed and may one day be utilized in Childhood Obesity treatment. The most successful therapies include proper eating habits and physical activity levels.
When it comes to kids, parents play a crucial role in helping kids choose healthier lifestyles. Many kids spend a lot of time at school, where they can learn both good and bad habits. Physical education and exercise should be made mandatory.
Parents should talk to their child's doctor or nutritionist about how to help their child get to a healthy weight and BMI. Parents at this stage shouldn’t blame themselves and rather try to become their children's best supporters.
You should understand that obesity is not just about body and looks. It is important to be healthy and physically fit and accept your body. However, you should be extremely careful to not body shame or be pushy with your child. You need to take a very healthy and holistic approach to kids because their entire life depends on it.
I hope I could help you understand childhood obesity a lot better. I wish you all the best with this battle. Before I end, my last advice would be to please consider only the healthy ways of losing weight and never push your child into the unhealthy world of fad diets.
Until next time.
The Author :
Dr. Sunil Khattri
Dr Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.