HELPING YOUR CHILD REACH AND MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
The number of children who are obese or overweight is growing at an alarming rate. Extra pounds put kids at risk of serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. Childhood obesity also takes an emotional toll. Overweight children are frequently teased and excluded from team activities, which can lead to low self-esteem, negative body image, and depression. However, with the right support, encouragement, and positive role modeling, you can help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Diagnosing weight problems and obesity in childrenOverweight and obese children are at a greater risk of developing serious health problems such as:
Is your child overweight?Children grow at different rates at different times, so it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. Body mass index (BMI) uses height and weight measurements to estimate how much body fat a child has, and can be used to screen for weight and obesity problems from the age of 2. However, while BMI is usually a good indicator, it is NOT a perfect measure of body fat and can be misleading in some situations. For example, BMI can be difficult to interpret during puberty when children are experiencing periods of rapid growth.
If your child registers a high BMI-for-age measurement, your health care provider may need to perform further assessments to determine if excess fat is a problem. These assessments may include skinfold thickness measurements, plus evaluations of diet, physical activity, family history, and other appropriate health screenings. The doctor may also decide to screen for some of the medical conditions that can be associated with obesity.
Calculating BMISee the Resources section below for a BMI calculator to determine the body mass index for children between the ages of 2 to 19.
A child’s “BMI-for-age” shows how his or her BMI compares with kids of the same age. A child between the 85th and 95th percentile on the growth chart is considered at risk of overweight. A child at the 95th percentile or above is considered overweight.
Causes of weight problems and obesity in childrenUnderstanding how children become obese or overweight in the first place is an important step toward breaking the cycle. Most cases of childhood obesity are caused by eating too much and exercising too little. Children need enough food to support healthy growth and development. But when they take in more calories than they burn throughout the day, the result is weight gain.
Many factors contribute to this growing imbalance between calories in and calories out:
- Busy families are cooking less and eating out more.
- Easy access to cheap, high-calorie fast food and junk food.
- Food portions are bigger than they used to be, both in restaurants and at home.
- Kids spend less time actively playing outside, and more time watching TV, playing video games, and sitting at the computer.
- Many schools are eliminating or cutting back their physical education programs.