Here’s the thing about childhood obesity. It’s hard to notice the difference between baby fat, which the child will outgrow, and obesity until it becomes too late. If left untreated, pediatric obesity will become a real issue for you and your child.
In 2018, there were more than 40 million children globally under the age of five who were considered obese. And in the US, obesity in children is a real epidemic, which is proven by the following statistics:
- Around 9.4% of children aged between two and five are obese, and 1.7% are seriously obese.
- The age group of six to 11 years has 19.6% of obese and 4.3% severely obese children.
- Of preteens and teens who are 12–19 years old, 20.6% are obese, and 9.1% are seriously obese.
Obesity in Children: An Epidemic
For a lot of these age groups, parents are directly responsible for a child’s nutritional intake, as well as their amount of physical activity. But are there other causes of obesity in the youngest population, or does it all come down to McDonald’s being right around the corner? Let’s find out how does fast food contribute to obesity in children.
What Causes Obesity in Children
A change in the living environment is one of the significant factors contributing to childhood obesity. The most significant factor might be the frequency of eating out. This is understandable since most parents are employed, have no time to cook, or are too tired to do so. It’s always easier to go to a drive-through, especially if your child complains about the food at home.
However, no matter how bland it might be, the food at home is less calorically dense than food outside. Also, the portion sizes of the food and drinks in restaurants have drastically increased in the last few decades. There could be portion control at home, but it becomes impossible to maintain once you order a large pizza.
Another major factor in childhood obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. Watching TV for hours on end and playing games are activities that cause the metabolism to slow down. Additionally, children who eat in front of the television consume more foods that have high levels of fat and salt than healthy foods. Television also misdirects a child’s attention away from food. This results in kids who ignore the feeling of satiety and end up overeating.
The cost of food is another reason why many parents from low-income families turn towards an unhealthy diet. It’s also one of the main reasons why those families make the majority of the obese population. Unhealthy foods are cheaper than fresh, healthy ones. Unfortunately, there’s not much a parent can do to solve this issue.
Health Risks of Obesity
Which of the following is a health problem associated with obesity in children?
If obesity is not tended to, it can lead to serious health complications, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Bone and joint issues
- Respiratory problems
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Skin infections
- General fatigue
When it comes to mental health, obese children suffer from teen violence, poor self-esteem, depression, stress, anxiety, and learning problems. Children who are obese are also more likely to grow up and stay obese. This brings up more health risks, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
How to Prevent Obesity in Children
Obesity prevention is the best cure. Parents need to become aware that, in most cases, they are responsible for what their child eats and how it behaves. There are plenty of solutions for preventing childhood obesity.
Physical activity should be included in a child’s early education and possibly incorporated in school curriculums. The recommended time spent on physical activity for children aged 5–17 is at least 60 minutes daily. And any additional exercise only brings more health benefits.
Decreasing the time spent in front of a TV can be very useful for elementary and middle-school children. As mentioned above, this is especially important because children shift their focus away from food and can overeat automatically.
When it comes to dietary intake, the main concern is whether a reduced dietary intake will affect the healthy growth in children. The best solution is to restrict the dietary intake of foods with high energy density. A reduction of portion size, replacing caloric food with less caloric, and offering more fresh food are healthy ways to approach the problem.
Influencing the behavior of a child through education is another way of solving obesity. Unfortunately, enhancing children’s knowledge and passing the accountability ball to their court may not always give the desired results. In the end, it all depends on the child in question.
With fast-food restaurants and unhealthy foods more accessible than ever, it’s no wonder that childhood obesity became an epidemic. Busy parents who focus on their jobs and income need to become aware of their choices.
If nothing else, they should do it for the fact that their children replicate what they do. As always, prevention is the best approach. The parents that develop nutritional awareness will pass it on to their children.