Childhood Obesity – An Emerging Health Concern In USA

Nowadays, being overweight has become common. Every second person you see around you is worried about his weight. Even the children are not free from the torment of obesity. It is particularly widespread on school going children. The reasons which cause this effect can be multiple, many of them are interlinked too.


Obesity is a nutritional disorder which can hit anyone. Childhood obesity is a condition which is particularly referred to school going kids with extreme weight issues. Around 21-24% children from America are a victim of being overweight and 16% of them are obese.  Obesity and overweight are two stages of gaining weight. When you start gaining weight, it’s called overweight and when it crosses a certain limit, it becomes obesity.

Usually, a higher BMI is risked for it. childhood obesity causes many linked diseases such as diabetes (type-2), hypertension (high BP), hyperlipidemia, liver problems, kidney problems, reproductive health lost and much more. The cardiovascular system is at the highest risk among children with obesity. Obesity in children is even more complicated than adults.

It may prevail to all races, gender, ethnic and geographical groups. Many factors contribute to it such as genetics, food, metabolic rate, thyroid function, lifestyle, and psychology. However, the genetically linked obesity in children is less than 10% prevalent.

 What Is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is a condition where body mass index is at the same level or more than 95 percent of the peers. BMI tells where your body stands weight wise. In real, the evaluation is not “percentage” but “percentile”. It is a comparison of the weight of you with other people of same age, gender etc. Most of the times childhood obesity is linked with adulthood obesity too. both these conditions lead towards dissatisfaction in life with increased risk of diseases.

How to Determine Obesity In Children?

Obesity in children is determined by BMI percentile calculation. It is a preferred and accurate method which calculates a child’s weight gain based category with reference to age. Basically, BMI is “Body Mass Index”. It is a measurement of weight as per height and age. Only a consultant physician can diagnose it, doing at home is not a viable option.

To check BMI for the age of a child, first, the general BMI is calculated. A physician can calculate it with the help of charts and tools. The automatic software has made the process, even more, easier and precise. You can now even plot a graph of BMI with the help of software.

Manual charts are available as a general chart, a specialized BMI by age for boy’s chart and a BMI chart by age for girls. You can use a BMI calculator at home to determine the level of your weight through BMI check. Once BMI is recorded, it can be plotted for the graph to determine the weight gain patterns.

First, the kid is checked for height and age. Usually, the childhood obesity is categorized into following four categories.

  • Underweight: BMI is below 5th
  • Average Weight: BMI lies at 5th and less than 85th
  • Overweight: BMI is at 85th and less than 95th
  • Obesity: BMI is above 95th

Weight Gain Pattern And Risk Of Obesity

Why do children gain this extra weight is a question which arises in every mind? During early childhood, the excess fat is accumulated in the body. This extra fat comes from high-energy food intake which is not even required by the body. Overweight can be a psychological or lifestyle problem. For example, if children are watching televisions and eating at the same time.

The chances are that they will end up eating extra which was not even their body requirement. Excess fat deposition is only experienced when overeating is accompanied by insufficient physical movement. In this case, the protein to energy mechanism which is the rule of food digestion is badly disturbed. Also, bad food choices which as carbohydrates, fats etc can be a factor too.

Weight Gain Factors for Children

The weight gain only gets irregular in presence of some non-natural factors. There are a number of things which relate to the overweight condition. Some of these include family genetic history, psychological factors, lifestyle and food habits etc. If the parents or other family members are obese, the children are more likely to be obese too. However, it is only a few number which is affected by genetic obesity.

The main and foremost reason of childhood obesity is irregular eating and less mobility. Sometimes the parents are just too busy with their professional work and lives that the time for their kids is minimum.

To cover up they try to give incentives to the terms of fun to the children. Sadly, these incentives are usually unhealthy. For example, too many chocolates, candies or sweets, taking us or delivering fast food every day, soda and other carbonated drinks and much more.

The poor diet choices with a high level of sugar, carbohydrates, and fats can cause children to quickly gain weight. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) presented that 32% of adolescent girls and 52% of adolescent boys in United State alone drink 24 ounces or more quantity of soda and other carbonated drinks daily.

This number is alarming which depicts bad food choices and neglected role of parents.  These foods can be convenient and easy to make such as frozen food items but they contribute most to gain weight. the role of parents is major in these situations. Sometimes parents are busy in the profession, or they are away.

Broken families, single parents or parents who just don’t know what is healthy to feed their kids are some insane parental mistakes. The economic factor is also important where parents can’t just afford to buy fresh foods, essential dietary elopements i.e. milk for the children.

The less trend of physical mobility is also a reason. people from all age can gain weight when their mobility and physical movement is limited. The body does not burn all the calories which are taken through the food and the result is increased weight.

A minor cause is a psychological instability. Children who are under stress or anxiety can develop excessive eating disorders just to overcome the stress in their mind. These habits are unhealthy and it makes them obese in no time.

Health Risks Associated With Childhood Obesity (Comorbidity)

Children who are a lot more than their ideal body weight are at a verge of developing many health risks. “Comorbidity” means a condition in which two interlinked problems are suffered by one patient. One of these is obesity and other can be any of the following.

  • Diabetes

Type-2 diabetes is the most common even from early ages. In this disease, the food is not metabolized properly. It can lead to eye problems, nerve damage, and kidney problem. However, if diagnose on time it can be treated and reversed with time. So when the child hits adolescence, it can be completely treated.

  • Heart Problem

It is less likely to see a child with a heart condition but it does happen. High cholesterol and blood pressure can increase the pressure on the heart. In the result, the child suffers from multiple heart problems.

  • Asthma

Asthma is a respiratory disease in which efficiency of lungs is disturbed. Researchers do not support that how do these two issues are interlinked but obese children do have asthma.

  • Sleeping Disorders

Children may get affected by sleeping disorders including intense snoring and sleep apnea. The obesity blocks the air passage in the certain sleeping position which leads to such problems.

  • Joint Problems

The child may also experience joint stiffness, pain, disability or painful movement due to obesity.

Etiology and Pathophysiology of Childhood Obesity

Genetic Syndromes Linked with Obesity

the genetic syndromes which are associated with obesity are as following.

  • Down syndrome
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Cohen syndrome
  • Pseudohypoparathyroidism
  • Turner syndrome
  • Laurence-Moon-Biedl (Bardet-Biedl) syndrome

Hormonal Syndromes Linked with Obesity

The hormonally linked problems with childhood obesity are written below.

  • GH (Growth hormone) deficiency
  • GH (Growth hormone) resistance
  • Glucocorticoid excess
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Leptin deficiency/resistance
  • Precocious puberty

Medicines linked with Obesity

Medications that may cause weight gain in children and adolescents include the following:

  • Cortisol
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
  • Megace
  • Sulfonylureas
  • phenelzine
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • Risperidone

Epidemiology of Obesity In Children

  • Obesity Trends in the United States

By the use of BMI parameter, the national surveys in the USA determine that one-fourth of the total childhood population is suffering from obesity. It approximately takes 21-24% of them to be more than their ideal weight as per their age. Out of these 16% were clinically obese. research studies have shown these rates to be increased from the past research results.

A significant increase in the rate indicates that the obesity trends are increasing rapidly. These trends have been doubled then last decade which is threatening to health. Another prominent fact is that these obesity trends in children are more in American Indians, Hawaiians, Hispanics, and blacks by 10-40% more than in native whites.

  • International Spread

On an international scale, the childhood obesity trends are varied. Generally, it is considered that among overweight children in developing countries, at least 10% of the total children population is at or on the verge of obesity. Highest trends can be seen in Malta, USA. Lowest rates were observed in Lithuania, Latvia. The exact data has been under study for exact and precise calculations.

The Complications for Future

Future complications of childhood obesity are acute. They can either be long lasting or short timed. These complications include Type-2 diabetes, hypertension, ovarian hyperandrogenism, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, and pseudotumor cerebri. In early ages, children are more likely to adapt renal, respiratory and sleeping disorders which continue to increase with age.

Often times, obesity is paired with neurocognitive dysfunction which hinders the way of a child’s growth. It might lead him to lay behind all the children of his age. It might initiate some psychological disorder too. The long-term complications can be following.

  • Orthopedic Disorders

Orthopedic disorders include all the issues related to bone growth, maturation and development. As the body is unable to support the excessive weight, the pressure on bones is more than doubled. The second highlighting factor is poor diet choice which makes it less likely for the bones to reach their maximum growth.

The result of these two factors combined is increased orthopedic disorders. These issues include genu valgum, slipped capital femoral epiphysis, and tibia vara. These problems are not only harmful in only growing ages but also, if not treated they may cause a physical disability in future.

  • Liver And Gallbladder Dysfunction

Obesity is linked with abnormal and irregular eating. It often times makes the function of liver disturbed. When the liver doesn’t work well, the whole body suffers. Plasma concentration of transaminases is increased which is common in obese kids. It can also cause hepatic steatosis.

Vitamin E when drops in the body it makes the health status even worse. Cholelithiasis is a condition which if usually liked with adults which had an obese childhood. This is not common in childhood but only in later ages, they appear as a problem. It is such a stubborn disease that even if you lose drastic weight, it never goes away on its own.

  • Psychological Disorders

All these physical problems lead towards discomfort, annoyance, and stress. If a child is subjected to a chronic medical condition due to his obese body, the chances are to develop an emotional breakdown. Evidence suggest that eating disorders are commonly linked with psychological instability. It can also lead to social isolation, peer problems, low self-esteem, no confidence and related issues.

  • Cardiovascular and hormonal Problems

Various cardiovascular and hormonal abnormalities are associated with childhood obesity. They include hyperinsulinism and insulin resistance, hypercholesterolemia, hypertriglyceridemia, reduced levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and hypertension.

In obese girl child, it is highly risky to develop a hyperandrogenic profile, consisting of elevated serum concentrations of androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S), and reduced levels of sex hormone–binding globulin. It is closely resembling polycystic ovarian syndrome.

How To Prevent Obesity In Childhood?

The prevention of childhood obesity can be made with many changes. Mainly, it is a responsibility of the parents and guardians to watch for these changes. Some of the prevention methods are enlisted below.

  • Healthy Eating

Changing the eating habits is necessary. The idea of healthy diet means to add all the vital food items in diet i.e. proteins, carbohydrates, fatty acids, minerals, vitamins etc. Limiting the fast food and soda can prevent the obesity risk by 50%. Avoid using frozen food and add fresh vegetables, fruits, and dairy products in the diet.

  • Lifestyle Changes

Many lifestyle changes such as physical activity, routine workout, family walk routine, pet walking, playground, swimming, sports and other similar activities can help to attain a healthy body. Family time should be increased with a focus on children health. The whole family can plan a swimming or jogging routine. Or they can go on a hiking trip. Make the physical activities fun for the kids and they will no more be unhealthy and obese.

  • Less TV/Video Game Time

TV and video games including play station, Xbox is very attractive for the children. Spending too much time in front of the screen will limit the physical activity and also cause eyesight damage. Also, there should be a controlled eat and watch plan. Parents should never leave kids in front of TV with snacks.

  • Awareness On Obesity

Children must not always be considered immature. Talking to them, explaining what is obesity and why would it hit them with such habits is also important. Once they are convinced, they will put effort to control it which is helpful to control obesity.

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