Why is it important to prevent childhood obesity?
Clinical Nutrition • • 1 minute to read • By Dr Aakash Bansal, INFS Faculty
Author- Dr. Aakash Bansal
Childhood obesity has reached an alarming level in both developed as well as developing countries and it is impacting children’s health at both physical and psychological levels. The center for disease control and prevention defines childhood obesity, as children having a body mass index (BMI) at the same level or higher than 95% of their peers of the same age group. A study by William et al. in 1992, defined obesity in terms of body fat percentage, more than equal to 25% for males and 30% for females.
Causes of Childhood obesity
It is commonly accepted that obesity is a result of energy imbalance between energy intake and expenditure but multiple studies recently have also shown the direct relationship between the individual’s genetic factors affecting obesity. Some studies have shown that BMI is 25-40% heritable but they showed the relation between contributing environmental and behavioral factors affecting weight and it’s not genetics only that works in isolation.
High sugar content, not only in soda but also in canned juices and carbonated drinks adds a lot of calories to the overall consumption of calories in a day. They are low in satiety and highly palatable compared to whole foods, so consumption is always more and thus leads to excess calorie intake.
Foods such as chips, namkeens, baked goods, candy, sweets are one of the most common contributing factors to childhood obesity. It increases the overall calorie intake as they are also low in satiety and highly palatable, so consumption is always high.
Consuming large portion sizes along with frequent in-between snacking on high-calorie foods leads to excess calorie intake and thus leads to obesity among children.
One of the leading factors of obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. As per one of the studies, each additional hour in front of the TV per day increased the incidence of obesity by 2%. Screen time has increased drastically for children in recent years because of lockdown, lack of indoor sports activities, busy schedules of parents, safety concerns at outdoor locations.
Also, TV viewing has been linked with food choices because of advertised goods including sweets, sweetened beverages, sweetened cereals, and salty snacks. That impacts the food behavior of children, leading to increased calorie intake.
Outdoors factors like increased traffic on roads, no safe walking routes, poorly maintained parks or recreational areas, increased crime rates in the cities have also led to an increase in more indoor activities for the children leading to a sedentary lifestyle.
Food has been used in our society as a positive reinforcement for children. Throwing parties on every occasion, treating kids with fast foods or sweets encourage the development of an unhealthy relationship with food, thereby increasing the risk of diabetes.
The type of food available at home and the food preferences of family members make a major impact on the food choices of children. Studies have shown that the family who eats together tends to control their portion sizes and eat more nutritious and balanced meals. Also, the activity levels of family members influence the activity levels of children.
Multiple studies have shown the direct relationship between depression and anxiety and overeating, thus leading to obesity among children. Depression may be both a cause and a consequence of obesity.
Eating Disorder Symptoms
Traits typical with eating disorders are common in children who are obese. Several studies have shown a relationship between eating disorders (like anorexia bulimia nervosa) in obese children.
Consequences of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity affects not only the physical health of the individual but also the social and mental well-being. It can lead to poor academic performance also and lower quality of life thus experienced by the child.
It includes, but is not limited to, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, asthma, cardiovascular disease, skin conditions, PCOD, orthopedic problems. Till now, these conditions were considered to be part of only an adult’s life but incidence rates among children have also increased drastically. Although most of these conditions are reversible if an individual maintains a healthy weight and an active lifestyle, some problems may have a negative impact throughout adulthood.
Obesity not only affects the physical condition of children but also impacts them emotionally. It has been described as “one of the most stigmatizing and least socially acceptable conditions in childhood”. Teasing or bullying of obese children is quite common among peers and that impacts their mental health drastically. Also, obese children are tending to be slower than their peers, leading to restricted participation in sports activities impacting their social life among peers. All of these contribute to low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and negative body image in children and thus also affect their academic performance.
Also, overweight children protect themselves from negative comments, push themselves into the corner by staying at home most of the time, and find comfort with food, thus aggravating the condition. This also leads to less interaction with peers and more time spent in a sedentary lifestyle.
The growing issue of childhood obesity can be controlled if society as a whole focuses on the root cause of the problem. A combined approach involving diet and physical activity intervention is needed to spread awareness among the masses and how it can be managed well.
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