Obesity and Overweight in Children

obesity in children

If your child is obese or overweight, this means that they are carrying excess body fat. BMI is a measure of your child's weight in relation to their height. However, it is important to know that a child's BMI is not interpreted in the same way as an adult's BMI. Instead, their BMI is compared with special growth charts (called centile charts) which take into account their age and sex.

What are the health risks for your child of being overweight or obese?

Health problems can include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, gallstones and signs of heart disease. Joint problems, including osteoarthritis and slipped capital femoral epiphysis. Going through puberty early. Breathing problems, including worsening of asthma, obstructive sleep apnoea and feeling out-of-breath easily when they are exercising. Developing iron deficiency and vitamin D deficiency.
Being overweight or obese as a child or teenager can also have psychological effects for some. It can lead to low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.
Many children are overweight or obese simply because they eat and drink more than their body needs.

A lack of physical activity.

Being overweight or obese does run in families. This may partly be due to learning bad eating habits from your parents as a child.

Lack of sleep

Two hormones called leptin and ghrelin may be culprits. Leptin is released by fat cells to tell your brain that fat stores are sufficient. Ghrelin is released by your stomach as a signal of hunger. In someone who does not have enough sleep, leptin levels are low and ghrelin levels are high. These changes in hormone levels may encourage a child to eat more.

Medical problems

There are some rare genetic diseases that can cause overweight and obesity in children. Conditions such as hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) or other hormone problems may also be a cause.

How much weight should a child lose if they are overweight or obese?

In general, rapid weight loss or strict dieting is not recommended for children who are still growing, unless this has been specifically advised by a specialist. For most, the aim is usually weight maintenance rather than weight loss. As they grow and their height increases, the child should either not gain any weight as well, or their weight gain should be slower than their height gain.

What is the treatment for a child who is overweight or obese?

The two main lifestyle changes that are advised are for your child to eat more healthily and do plenty of physical activity.

  • Aim for a balanced and varied diet for the whole family.
  • Encourage your child to eat meals at regular times and to watch how often they are eating. They should avoid snacking as much as possible.
  • Try to eat meals in a sociable atmosphere as a family without distractions.
  • Encourage your child to watch the portion sizes of the food that they are eating.
  • Doing plenty of physical activity

Drug treatments

As a rule, drug treatment is not usually used to help children and teenagers lose weight.

Weight loss surgery

Surgery to help weight loss, also called bariatric surgery, is not usually carried out in children. However, in exceptional circumstances, it may be considered as an option for teenagers who have already gone through puberty and who are severely obese with severe health problems caused by their obesity.

Psychological support

As mentioned above, being overweight or obese as a child may lead to psychological problems for some children. Counseling or specialist help to increase confidence and self-esteem and to help develop coping strategies for teasing or bullying is sometimes needed.

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