Obesity in childhood is known to have a significant impact on both physical and psychological health, and in America, it has reached epidemic levels. In 2017-2018, there were approximately 14.4 million obese children and adolescents, with those numbers growing every year.

Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts. BMI is commonly used to determine childhood weight status. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters. For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age. BMI does not measure body fat directly. Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop “adult problems” like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.

So, what causes excessive weight gain?

Like with adults, causes of excess weight gain in children can be due to behavior and genetics, and only in rare cases is being overweight caused by a medical condition such as a hormonal problem. Most commonly, eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, medication use, and poor sleep routines. Lack of physical activity and too much sedentary activities like watching TV or playing video games is also a factor in causing too much weight gain. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Physiatry children ages, 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours.

What does being overweight put your child at risk of?

During this challenging time dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic, we have seen that obesity worsens outcomes from COVID-19. According to the CDC, children diagnosed with obesity may suffer worse outcomes from COVID-19. In a study of COVID-19 cases in patients aged 18 years and younger, having obesity was associated with a 3.07 times higher risk of hospitalization and 1.42 times higher risk of severe illness (intensive care unit admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, or death) when hospitalized.

Aside from the increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19, being obese also puts children at risk for other health problems and complications like:

  • breathing problems at night
  • shortness of breath
  • bone and joint problems
  • early puberty
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • for girls- PCOS (60-70% are overweight)

Emotional struggles like:

  • low self-esteem
  • being a victim of bullying
  • depression
  • anxiety

So what can you do to help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight?

Helping kids lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example. Children whose parents or siblings are overweight may be at an increased risk of becoming overweight themselves, but most often this is due to shared family behaviors like poor eating habits and lack of physical activity.

In contrast, eating healthy foods that include a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy help children get the vitamins and nutrients that they need. Making high-fat snacks or sugary treats, things that are not eaten frequently (a treat), can help instill healthy eating habits in children. Being physically active also helps to prevent too much weight gain and chronic diseases but it also builds stronger muscles, increases cardiovascular fitness, and stronger bones. Children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. That goal can be met by encouraging your child to go outside and play, go for family bike rides, enroll them in a sport, let them play outside with friends, or exercising with them. Another key way to help children stay active is to limit time spent playing video games, on the internet, or watching television, to less than 2 hours a day. Let’s also not forget that children need more sleep than adults, so ensuring that kids keep to a healthy bedtime schedule, is another key factor in keeping them healthy.

The goal for children who are overweight is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider. If you need to discuss your child’s current health challenges, weight concerns, or just need to have their yearly checkup, Med First can help! We provide wellness checks, sick visits, weight checks, nutritional counseling, and much more!

Let us partner with you to ensure that your child gets the care they need to lead a healthy, happy childhood and help them on their way to healthy, happy adulthood!