Obesity In Children

Obesity means having too much body fat. It is not the same as overweight, which means weighing too much. A person may be overweight from extra muscle, bone, or water, as well as too much fat.



Both terms mean your weight is higher than what is thought to be healthy for your height.



When children eat more than they need, their bodies store the extra calories in fat cells to use for energy later. If this pattern continues over time, and their bodies do not need this stored energy, they develop more fat cells and may develop obesity.



Infants and young children are very good at listening to their bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness. They will stop eating as soon as their bodies tell them they have had enough. Sometimes a well-meaning parent tells them they have to finish everything on their plate. This forces them to ignore their fullness and eat everything that is served to them.  



Some people may use food to reward good behaviour or seek comfort when sad.  These learned habits lead to eating no matter if we are hungry or full.  

Watching television, gaming and playing on the computer are activities that require very little energy. They can take up a lot of time and replace physical activity which can lead to obesity.



Child health experts recommend that children be screened for obesity at age 6. Your child's body mass index (BMI) is calculated using height and weight.  A health care provider can use BMI to estimate how much body fat your child has.



The first step in helping your child get to a healthy weight is to consult with their doctor. The doctor can help to set healthy goals for weight-loss and help with monitoring and support.


Try to get the whole family to join a weight-loss plan, even if weight loss is not the goal for everyone. Weight-loss plans for children focus on healthy lifestyle habits. A healthy lifestyle is good for everyone.



A child who is overweight or obese is more likely to be overweight or obese as an adult. Obese children are now developing health problems that used to be seen only in adults. When these problems begin in childhood, they often become more severe when the child becomes an adult.


Children with obesity are at risk for developing these health problems:

  • High blood glucose (sugar) or diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • High blood cholesterol and triglycerides

  • Heart attacks due to coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and stroke later in life

  • Bone and joint problems -- more weight puts pressure on the bones and joints. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.

  • Stopping breathing during sleep (sleep apnea). This can cause daytime fatigue or sleepiness, poor attention, and problems at work.

  • Obese girls are more likely not to have regular menstrual periods.

  • Obese children often have low self-esteem. They are more likely to be teased or bullied, and they may have a hard time making friends.

In February 2018, the Minister of Health, John Boyce,  warned parents that obesity continues to be a major cause of the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

He was speaking at a meeting convened by Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and CARICOM, to discuss the issue of childhood obesity in the Caribbean.

 

Minister John Boyce said that while obese children are at higher risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, they might also experience social and psychological problems such as discrimination, bullying, low self-esteem and social isolation.

 

Boyce noted that in 2015, CARPHA revealed that the region was in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic.
 

According to PAHO, the number of overweight children in the Caribbean has doubled in the last 10 years, and the World Health Organization estimates that of the 42 million overweight children under the age of five globally, close to 31 million are from middle and low-income countries.  It was also stated that many countries in the region reported prevalence rates in excess of 30 per cent in the pre-teen and teenage population.

 

Boyce blamed a move from the consumption of locally grown, homemade food, to imported foods, high in salt, added sugars and trans fat as a matter of concern along with the fast-paced lifestyle of modern families, which resulted in more purchasing of unhealthy fast food.

According to the Global School Health Survey, 18.5 per cent of Barbadian school children, aged 13 to 15, ate fast food three or more days a week and 70 per cent drank carbonated sweet drinks once a day.

Eating a balanced diet means that your child should consume the right types and amounts of foods and drinks to keep their body healthy.

 

Stock up with healthy foods from each of the food groups and eat foods from each group at every meal.  Fruits and vegetables are good choices for healthy snacks. They are full of vitamins and low in calories and fat.  



Avoid junk-food snacks such as chips, candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream,  Also avoid sodas, sport drinks, and flavoured waters as well as some sweetened fruit juices.  These drinks are full of calories and can lead to weight gain, even in active children. 



Encourage your child to drink more water.  Experts recommend that children need about 60 minutes of moderate activity every day. Moderate activity means you breathe and your heart beats faster than normal.