Let’s get started by defining what childhood obesity is. Generally, obesity is defined as having excess body fat, while overweight is defined by having excess body weight relative to that individual’s height. And then there’s BMI - Body Mass Index - which is a screening tool for measuring both overweight and obesity.
Typically, physicians prefer to go by the BMI when measuring children and young adults, because it is more reliable, as it takes into account that a child is still growing, their gender, and age. The lines of demarcation are such:
- If a child has a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile, they are overweight.
- If the child’s BMI is above the 95th percentile, they have obesity.
The impact of obesity for a child hits almost all sides - physical, social, and emotional. They are more likely to have additional health concerns. Children with obesity are more likely to be bullied and teased, and they are more likely to suffer from social isolation and depression. An obese child is more likely to be an obese adult.
If a child is in the overweight category, pediatricians recommend they be put on a weight-maintenance program to slow the gain of weight, and they can then grow vertically to ‘catch up’ to the weight. Their BMI will drop over time to the healthier range.
For obese children 6 to 11, they will be encouraged to change their eating habits. Keep the goals very achievable, such as losing 1 pound per month. Older children can be encouraged to lose 2 pounds per week.
How is this done? It’s no secret - eating healthy and physical activity. And parents are the ones who buy the groceries…
- Choose fruits and vegetables when shopping for food. Convenience foods are a no to.
- Limit the sweetened beverages. HUGE opportunity here in just cutting down (or cutting out) the Coca-Colas. There is a lot of wasted calories in those cans. This also goes for fruit juices - read those labels. Encourage water instead.
- Limit fast food. Most of the menu options are high in fat and calories.
- Family meals usually result in healthier meals and portion sizes. Eating in front of screens can make the mind less aware of how much has been eaten.
- And again, portion sizes. It’s a good habit to get in to early in life - stopping when you’re full. As a parent, take note of how much your child eats to be full, and then the next time, only serve them that much.
For the exercise, it’s mostly what you would expect, but here are a few extra tips…
rn- Focus on activity. Not necessarily exercise. It doesn’t have to be a structured program - the idea is to get them moving. If it’s a game of tag in the neighborhood, shooting hoops in the backyard, or jumping rope - all of those are good things. Free play can be great for burning calories.
rn- Find things that your kid likes to do, activity-wise. Encourage it. It’s a whole lot less fuss when the kid enjoys the activity.
There are some treatment and surgical options, but those are generally reserved for unique situations. If you feel that your child may need an additional look, consult your pediatrician.