The problem of childhood obesity in the United States has grown considerably
in recent years. Between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents
are obese. Obesity is among the easiest medical conditions to recognize
but most difficult to treat. Unhealthy weight gain due to poor diet
and lack of exercise is responsible for over 300,000 deaths each year.
The annual cost to society for obesity is estimated at nearly $100 billion.
Overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults
unless they adopt and maintain healthier patterns of eating and exercise.
What is obesity?
A few extra pounds do not suggest obesity. However they may indicate
a tendency to gain weight easily and a need for changes in diet and/or
exercise. Generally, a child is not considered obese until the weight
is at least 10 percent higher than what is recommended for the height
and body type. Obesity most commonly begins in childhood between the
ages of 5 and 6, and during adolescence. Studies have shown that a child
who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance
of becoming an obese adult.
What causes obesity?
The causes of obesity are complex and include genetic, biological, behavioral
and cultural factors. Basically, obesity occurs when a person eats more
calories than the body burns up. If one parent is obese, there is a
50 percent chance that the children will also be obese. However, when
both parents are obese, the children have an 80 percent chance of being
obese. Although certain medical disorders can cause obesity, less than
1 percent of all obesity is caused by physical problems. Obesity in
childhood and adolescence can be related to:
- poor eating habits
- overeating or binging
- lack of exercise (i.e., couch potato kids)
- family history of obesity
- medical illnesses (endocrine, neurological problems)
- medications (steroids, some psychiatric medications)
- stressful life events or changes (separations, divorce, moves, deaths,
- family and peer problems
- low self-esteem
- depression or other emotional problems
What are the risks and complications of
There are many risks and complications with obesity. Physical consequences
- increased risk of heart disease
- high blood pressure
- breathing problems
- trouble sleeping
Child and adolescent obesity is also associated with increased risk
of emotional problems. Teens with weight problems tend to have much
lower self-esteem and be less popular with their peers. Depression,
anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder can also occur.
How can obesity be managed and treated?
Obese children need a thorough medical evaluation by a pediatrician
or family physician to consider the possibility of a physical cause.
In the absence of a physical disorder, the only way to lose weight is
to reduce the number of calories being eaten and to increase the child=s
or adolescent=s level of physical activity. Lasting weight loss can
only occur when there is self-motivation. Since obesity often affects
more than one family member, making healthy eating and regular exercise
a family activity can improve the chances of successful weight control
for the child or adolescent.
Some ways to manage obesity in children and
- start a weight-management program
- change eating habits (eat slowly, develop a routine)
- plan meals and make better food selections (eat less fatty foods,
avoid junk and fast foods)
- control portions and consume less calories
- increase physical activity (especially walking) and have a more
- know what your child eats at school
- eat meals as a family instead of while watching television or at
- do not use food as a reward
- limit snacking
- attend a support group (e.g., Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous)
Obesity frequently becomes a lifelong issue. The reason most obese
adolescents gain back their lost pounds is that after they have reached
their goal, they go back to their old habits of eating and exercising.
An obese adolescent must therefore learn to eat and enjoy healthy foods
in moderate amounts and to exercise regularly to maintain the desired
weight. Parents of an obese child can improve their child=s self esteem
by emphasizing the child=s strengths and positive qualities rather than
just focusing on their weight problem.
When a child or adolescent with obesity also has emotional problems,
a child and adolescent psychiatrist can work with the child=s family
physician to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Such a plan would
include reasonable weight loss goals, dietary and physical activity
management, behavior modification, and family involvement.
Daycare.com would like to thank American Academy of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry for this information in striving to make daycare and childcare
a more productive and efficient service. You can contact them at: 3615
Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016-3007 voice: 202-966-7300