National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is celebrated each year in September. During this month, different organizations create awareness about this condition and highlight the need for action in helping kids to have healthier lifestyles. According to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in five children in the United States is obese, and this burden is unevenly distributed, particularly affecting low-income and minority populations.1 Nowadays, this condition is no longer a problem of only high-income countries. As globalization and economic growth have reached developing countries, the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity has increased globally during the last decades, currently affecting 42 million children around the world.2
What is childhood obesity?
Obesity is defined as the accumulation of excess fat in the human body to the extent that it can increase the risk for developing other diseases and reduce the life expectancy in affected persons. In adults, this condition is defined by having a body mass index over 30kg/m2; meanwhile, age and sex-specific reference value charts are necessary to determine obesity in children. A weight that is equal to or above the 95th percentile when compared with the reference population values defines the diagnosis.3
Children diagnosed with childhood obesity can have multiple negative health outcomes. These children are more likely to retain this excessive weight into adulthood, putting them at higher risk for diseases such as hyperlipidemia, heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.4 Furthermore, this condition can also have a negative psychological impact on children, being associated with an increased risk for depression and low self-esteem.5,6
What are the causes and risk factors for childhood obesity?
Several genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors have been identified to have an impact in the development of this condition. Excessive gestational weight gain, lack of breastfeeding during early childhood, sedentary lifestyles, the increased use of TV and other electronic devices, and a diet with high amounts carbohydrates and fats are among the main risk factors for childhood obesity.4,5 Other factors such as parental/social role models, media advertising for less healthy foods, and local food regulations and availability may also create an environment that predisposes children to gain weight.5
What can we do?
To prevent childhood obesity in our families, we can implement the following strategies1,5,7:
- Promote an increase in physical activity. This will increase the caloric expenditure of the body, leading to weight loss.
- Reduce the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. These beverages are an important source of calories and usually do not contain any nutrients.
- Substitute foods with a high caloric content for healthier choices such as fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid giving excessively large food portions to your children.
- Give positive reinforcement for healthier food choices.
- Lead by the example: Remember that parents are the most important role models for children.
Childhood obesity is a condition that can be controlled, and actions at the family and community level can help our children to create healthy habits they will carry throughout their lives.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/childhoodobesity/
- World Health Organization. Childhood overweight and obesity. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood/en/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Defining childhood obesity – BMI for children and teens. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/defining.html
- Mahmood, L. (2015). The childhood obesity epidemic: A mini review. International Journal of Medicine & Public Health, 5(1), 6–9.
- Richardson, L., Paulis, W. D., van Middelkoop, M., & Koes, B. W. (2013). Review: An overview of national clinical guidelines for the management of childhood obesity in primary care. Preventive Medicine, 57, 448–455.
- Reeves G., Postolache T., & Snitker S. (2008), Childhood obesity and depression: Connection between these growing problems in growing children. International Journal of Child Health and Human Development, 1(2), 103–114.
- World Health Organization. Global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood_what_can_be_done/en/