Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a serious medical condition whereby a child or adolescent is substantially beyond normal weight limits established for his or her height and age. The number of obese children has tripled over the last 30 years. In the 6-to-11 year old range, only 7% were obese in 1980 where 20% fit the criteria in 2008. Among those between 12 and 18 years of age, the figures rose from 5% to 18% over the same time frame. These are alarming figures.

Cause for Concern
Childhood obesity has been linked to serious health risks. Once reserved for adults, issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are showing up in these kids. Asthma and other breathing issues can be attributed to obesity as can sleep disorders and early puberty or menstruation. Depression, low self-esteem and learning problems brought on by stress and anxiety are also common effects of childhood obesity.

Causes of obesity in Children
Very few genetic and hormonal causes are at the root of childhood obesity. In most cases, the condition is caused by the child overeating and not getting enough regular, daily exercise. The electronic age in which we live, surrounded by Internet, satellite television and conveniences of all kinds mean children are not as active as they once were. Even consuming the same calories as children raised 50 or more years ago would lead to being overweight today without the same levels of activity that those previous generations engaged in.

Obesity Symptoms
Due to the size of the frame or to the growth stage they may be in, carrying a few extra pounds may be acceptable for some children, making it difficult to recognize obesity. However, identifying childhood obesity can be accomplished by calculating the child’s body mass index (BMI). By comparing the child’s age and gender to that of other children of the same gender and age, the doctor can determine what percentile the child falls into. For example, a child that is in the 80th percentile means 80% of all children of the same gender and age have a lower BMI than this child.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that the following guidelines for determining overweightness and obesity in children as the following: BMI-for-age between 85th and 94th percentiles – overweight, and BMI-for-age 95th percentile or above – obesity
This does not account for children with muscle mass or those with large frames. The doctor can make the determinations when a child falls into either of these categories.

Obesity Treatment
Methods for treating childhood obesity depend upon the age of the child, the severity of the condition and whether or not other health concerns are present. Children under the age of seven who are otherwise healthy may need to work on maintaining weight rather than weight loss and allowing the growth process to catch up with the weight. For children over seven, weight loss at the rate of 1 pound per week to 1 pound per month is recommended. The technique for achieving this will involve healthy eating and increased activity. In some cases, medication may be required but this is generally for severe cases and recommended for adolescents. Weight loss surgery for adolescents may be suggested if remaining obese increases other health risks.

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