According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 1 out of every 5 (19%) children and adolescents aged 2-19 years old are obese.
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure used to determine if a person is overweight or obese. It is calculated using a person’s weight and height. A child whose BMI is in the 85th-95th percentile for their age and sex is considered overweight, and a child whose BMI is in the 95th percentile or greater is considered obese.
The CDC has a helpful tool to calculate BMI percentile for children at https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/bmi/calculator.html.
Children with obesity are at a higher risk of having other health problems including:
- Breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea
- Bone and joint problems
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease
- Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastroesophageal reflux
In addition to these physiological risks, there are other problems children with obesity face. They may be bullied and teased more than their normal-weight peers. They are also more likely to suffer from certain psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and lower reported quality of life.
A 2018 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal found that there have been increasing rates of obesity among children 2-19 years old since 1999. Childhood obesity experts fear recent COVID-19 school closings may escalate this already serious public health problem. Children are often known to gain weight during their summers off from school when they are home more. This may be due to increased snacking, loss of scheduled physical activity time, and loss of meals prepared at school. With children participating in more distance learning from home and with fewer opportunities for physical activity because of social distancing, childhood obesity rates may climb even higher.
Childhood obesity is more common among certain populations, including specific races and socioeconomic groups. Hispanics (26%) and non-Hispanic blacks (22%) have a higher prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%) and non-Hispanic Asians (11%). Children in the lowest (19%) and middle (20%) income groups have a higher prevalence than those in the highest income group (11%).
Many factors play into childhood obesity. Some include genetics, metabolism, eating, and physical activity behaviors, family and home environment, and community and social factors. With such a broad range of factors contributing to childhood obesity, it’s hard to know where to start and what to do.
Here are some ways you can encourage and support a healthy lifestyle for your children, and thereby fight obesity in your own home:
- Ask your child’s doctor if your child is a healthy weight
- Make sure your child gets at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day
- Limit screen time to 2 hours or less a day
- Provide healthy meals and snacks with more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Limit juice to 4 ounces or less a day and avoid sugar-sweetened drinks
- Cook with your kids
- Don’t skip meals
- Watch portion sizes
- Avoid using food as a reward
- Turn off the TV when eating
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep
Remember, you are a role model. When you choose to eat right and be physically active, your child is more likely to do these things too.