What is Pediatric Obesity?

T. Alaine

Pediatric obesity refers to the condition of a child who has an elevated body weight due to excess fat. Obesity in children usually results from the same unhealthy lifestyle factors that cause obesity in teens and adults, but children are at the distinct disadvantage of not having the education or means to make healthy decisions by themselves. Instances of pediatric obesity are rapidly rising in many countries, particularly the United States. Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken to combat pediatric obesity and ease the negative health effects associated with being overweight.

Children of all ages need to exercise to maintain a healthy weight for their height and age.
Children of all ages need to exercise to maintain a healthy weight for their height and age.

The difference between being overweight and obese is the amount of excess body fat. Doctors calculate the Body Mass Index (BMI), from height and weight measurements to determine whether or not a patient is overweight. The BMI for a child is measured as a percentage, rather than as a straight number as it is for an adult. An obese child generally falls in the 95th percentile or higher. BMI calculators are readily available on many websites.

Research shows that children, as well as adults, tend to eat healthier foods when sitting down to a family meal.
Research shows that children, as well as adults, tend to eat healthier foods when sitting down to a family meal.

Obesity is generally caused by an excessive intake of calories compared to the amount of energy a body uses each day. Just like with an adult, if a child consumes too many calories and lives a sedentary lifestyle, he or she is very likely to become overweight or obese. The adoption of marketing campaigns designed to sell sugary or fattening food products specifically to children and the increase in low-activity play due to technological advances have been blamed for recent rises in childhood obesity rates.

Healthier snack options can help combat pediatric obesity.
Healthier snack options can help combat pediatric obesity.

Unfortunately, pediatric obesity can make it even more difficult for children to develop into healthy adults. Sleep disorders, asthma, the development of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and joint pain are all associated with childhood obesity. Even more alarming is the fact that obese children are less likely to understand how to make healthy decisions, which means they may continue to gain excessive weight well into adulthood. Children who suffer from pediatric obesity are also likely to encounter social and psychological issues, such as teasing and low self-esteem.

Obese children are likely to become obese adults, and could even develop sleep apnea.
Obese children are likely to become obese adults, and could even develop sleep apnea.

Pediatric obesity can be prevented and treated by encouraging children to live healthy, active lifestyles. Parents should provide healthy, balanced meals for their children, but more importantly, should model good behaviors. Children who see their parents making good decisions to eat reasonable portions of healthy foods and committing to daily exercise are more likely to follow suite. Learning healthy behaviors from a young age is the best way to prevent pediatric obesity, and learning to correct unhealthy behaviors is generally the best way to treat this condition.

The development of asthma is a major risk associated with childhood obesity.
The development of asthma is a major risk associated with childhood obesity.

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