Is your child obese?
Over the last 30 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity has more than doubled - and at some ages has tripled. And that's just those kids who have been identified as clinically obese; there are more who are "simply" overweight. That's a lot of kids (millions, in fact) at higher risk for multiple health issues now - and for their whole lives. How did this happen?
We live in a culture that has become "obesogenic." That is, our culture is increasingly characterized by environments that promote more food intake, fewer healthy foods, and less physical activity. Children are learning less than optimal eating habits at an earlier age, and getting less and less active time. Between the hundreds of channels on the cable box, super-sized food portions and more limited opportunity to be active (including some schools cutting gym due to academic demands and budget cuts), we have a real challenge on our hands to start to reverse this trend.
What is 'obese'
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of children of the same age and gender are obese. Children at the 85th percentile or above are overweight. Although BMI calcualtions are imperfect (they don't, for example, take into account other hereditary size issues), and they just the start of serious discussions with your child's pediatrician, they should not be dismissed. The calculation can be a reasonable indicator of where your child fits in the bigger picture of normal.
Children who are overweight and/or obese are at higher risk for cardiovascular issues (including high blood pressure and abnormal glucose tolerance), asthma, abnormal liver function, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes. These are not small issues! Obese children are more likely to become obese adults - and complications from obesity are an increasing strain on medical care in general.
In addition, researchers have identified psychosocial risks for obese kids. Obese children (and adults) often experience discrimination and social stigmatization. These esteem issues can affect academics and overall social interactions - persist into adulthood.
Break the cycle
If you are dealing with an overweight and/or obese child, breaking the cycle early is critical to long term success. Start by talking with your child's pediatrician about the issue, and possibly investigating any health issues that might be contributing factors. Come up with a plan - and work to get buy in by and for your child.
Childhood obesity is a rising problem that we as a culture need to address. It may start at home for you if you have an overweight child. If you don't, you can still contribute to the solution by being aware and active in creating healthier environments for all our children.