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Childhood obesity: an alarm that is not to be ignored

When Frank was barely able to carry his 5-year-old son, Marshall, he began to worry. Marshall was a big boy, but his parents never saw any signs of real illness beyond his large size. Every time they visited the pediatrician, he told them that Marshall’s weight was not appropriate for his age and they should modify his diet, but his parents did not think that they were feeding him poorly and blamed his fat on the genes; both Frank and his wife, Theresa, were obese. Therefore, despite the doctor’s recommendations, the diet was not changed and Marshall grew up like his parents. Frank convinced himself that everything would be fine, but he was wrong.

After Theresa’s untimely death from a heart attack, Frank and Marshall were left alone. This traumatic event forced father and son to change their lives in many ways. Frank finally admitted that their health was headed in the wrong direction. Drastic change was necessary.

A nutritionist indicated a suitable diet and they also took steps to get out of a sedentary lifestyle. Months later, Frank and Marshall were in excellent physical condition, and their risk of dying from obesity-related disease is now very low. They are the lucky ones.

Definition of Childhood Obesity

Although the concept has changed somewhat over time, obesity can be generically defined as the accumulation of body fat. However, in children and adolescents there is no consensus regarding how much fat is excessive. Some researchers believe that if the fat mass represents more than 25% of the body weight, we are facing an obese child. But this calculation is not easy, so it was decided to base the diagnosis on the Body Mass Index or BMI. Thus, any child whose BMI is between the 85th and 95th percentiles is at risk of being overweight, and anyone who is above the 95th is considered obese.

What Causes Obesity in Children?

It is universally accepted that obesity is caused by excessive food intake, but it is more correct to say that it is due to an imbalance between the amount of energy we consume and the amount we expend. In addition, we must not ignore other reasons that contribute to obesity such as genetics, lack of exercise, sedentary life and environmental factors.

Consequences of obesity in children and adolescents

Chubby, cheeky kids always look cute to us, but that’s the beginning of a bleak future. The consequences of obesity at an early age are often regrettable and even catastrophic. To summarize, the consequences of childhood obesity can be divided into two large groups: medical and psychological.

Medical consequences

Obesity is linked to many medical conditions, both chronic and acute. In obese children it is common to find cases of asthma, orthopedic problems, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, skin conditions and fatty liver. By the time an obese child reaches adolescence, they may be plagued with heart disease, diabetes, menstrual abnormalities, sleep apnea, high cholesterol levels and gallstones among other pathologies.

Psychological consequences

Obesity is one of the most stigmatizing conditions that exist during childhood. Overweight children are often victims of cruel teasing and rejection because of their weight. They are not taken into account for group sports activities and this leads them to isolate themselves. As they approach adolescence, some suffer from low self-esteem, bad academic performance, and poor confidence.

The consequences of obesity in teens can be devastating. Suicidal ideas are not uncommon in this group of individuals and they do not always show signs of this. Furthermore, some fat children and adolescents hardly leave the house and are sedentary, which perpetuates obesity. It is understandable then the difficulty that these young people have to lose weight. Their negative body image can lead them to suffer from eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, but they do not lose weight because anxiety leads them to eat more and more.

It is clear that psychological issues can be as or more important than physical ones.

Take Home Message

Obesity in childhood has become a public health problem around the world and is already considered an epidemic in many countries across the world. Therefore, some interventions are necessary to manage this condition. Prevention is always the best strategy and this can be achieved through family, community and institutional support. Social programs that teach about good nutrition and exercise routines can be successful, but may take time and persistence to yield desired results. In those cases in which there is already overweight, radical modifications of the diet are necessary as well as physical training and psychological care. These interventions are not easy, but with a lot of effort and determination, it is possible to bring out the leaner healthier version of your child.