Overweight children tend to grow up to be overweight adults, which can lead to a range of different health problems. Children and teens who are obese could also suffer with mental health problems or low self-esteem as a result.
A child is considered overweight or obese if they are above the healthy weight provided by the NHS BMI calculator. The tool takes into consideration age and gender as well as height and weight to decide a child’s weight range. However, the BMI can only tell you if your child is carrying too much weight, it cannot tell you if that extra weight is fat, muscle or bone. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, you should see your GP for a more accurate assessment.
Family history, psychological factors and lifestyle are some of the factors that can play a role in childhood obesity, but the main cause tends to be a combination of eating too much and exercising too little.
According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, almost 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to 1 in 3 when they start secondary school. By 2020 the organisation estimates that half of all children will be overweight or obese.
To help break the cycle, it may be worth understanding the risks and what you could do to help improve the health of your child.
Health Risks Associated with Childhood Obesity
The increase of obesity amongst children and teenagers means that obesity-related chronic diseases are becoming more common. Children who are obese have a higher risk of developing these health problems:
Diabetes: Children who are overweight are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes due to having an increased likelihood of insulin resistance.
Heart disease: Obesity can trigger a host of heart disease risk factors in children, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Asthma: A range of breathing problems could be linked to obesity including asthma, obstructive sleep apnoea and shortness of breath.
Adult obesity: Overweight children and teens are more likely to become overweight or obese adults as it can be difficult to break the cycle. This could lead to physical and mental health problems, as well as putting them at risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease.
There is plenty you could do to help your children and getting a handle on the issues as soon as possible could help reduce the risk of future health conditions.
What to Do If Your Child Is Obese
There are some risk factors which you cannot control such as genetic factors, however there are still several ways to help your child achieve a healthy weight:
Be a good role model: According to the NHS, one of the best ways to encourage good habits in your child is to be a good role model. If you eat well and are active, it could encourage your child to do the same as they learn by example. Also, if the whole family gets on a healthier track, it may help the overweight child to not feel singled out.
Encourage exercise: NHS recommends at least 60 minutes of exercise throughout the day, meaning that it doesn’t have to be done all at once. Overweight children don’t need to exercise more, as they will naturally burn more calories. When it comes to physical activity, you should try to make it fun for your child and help them to find an activity they enjoy.
More sleep: The less children sleep, the greater the risk of obesity. Sleep is important for the development of children and if they don’t have the recommended amount of sleep, there is a higher chance for them to become overweight. It could also affect their mood, behaviour and decision-making.
Less technology: When using screens, we tend to be sitting around being inactive, which could result in weight gain. Excessive screen time is linked to increased snacking, getting less sleep and having more exposure to marketing of unhealthy products. The amount of time children spend on inactive pastimes should be limited to help prevent weight gain and encourage children to be more active.
Portion control: Larger portion sizes are linked to overweight children. The Telegraph reports that for every additional 10 calories consumed at meals, the odds of being overweight grow by 6%. An idea is to try to start with small servings and allow your child to ask for more if they’re still hungry. Don’t force them to finish everything on their plate and encourage them to eat slowly as well as mindfully (not in front of a screen because they won’t realise when they are full).
Healthy diet: Children should aim to eat 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily. They should also be discouraged from having high sugar or high fat foods regularly. However, diet changes should be implemented in gradual steps to avoid giving up and to encourage children to try new things. Another tip is to avoid eating out more than once a week and to schedule regular meal times as children will get used to the routine. In addition, the NHS suggests aiming to get most of your children’s calories from healthier foods such as fruit and vegetable and starchy foods such as bread, potatoes and pasta (preferably wholemeal).
Talk and listen: It can be difficult to talk to anybody about their weight. The BBC suggests taking the focus away from body image and focusing on health and wellbeing. Encourage your children to share their thoughts and feeling about their body image, but be sure not to use weight-related labels or negativity.
Childhood obesity is a serious health threat, that can put children at risk of future chronic health conditions. However, there are many things you can do to help your child reach a healthy weight and prevent future problems. The NHS have reported that children who achieve a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn and are more self-confident. Therefore, why not use this as an opportunity for everyone to get active and healthy?
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.