Causes of childhood obesity
Jason Brown, MD, is an internal medicine and pediatric physician on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. He can be reached at (623) 327-4144.
Question: I see a lot of children in our neighborhood who are overweight. Is childhood obesity a problem in this country and what can we, as parents, do to correct it?
Answer: Pediatric obesity continues to be an increasing national dilemma. About 30 percent of today’s children and adolescents are classified as being obese, or having a Body Mass Index greater than the 85th percentile for their age and sex. The percentage is nearly triple that of 20 years ago.
Studies show that having an obese parent increases a child’s risk of obesity by two to three times.
A child’s lifestyle, such as what foods they eat, how much activity they get, and how stable they are psychosocially are much greater influences on pediatric obesity than genetics. All of these are under parental control since members within the same family tend to adopt the same eating habits and physical activity.
If left untreated, pediatric obesity can lead to a variety of serious medical issues. Diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, fatty liver, hypertension, and high cholesterol have few symptoms early on. Diseases like diabetes can lead to irreversible changes in the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Just as important are the psychosocial consequences of obesity that include anxiety, depression, lack of self esteem, and discrimination by peers, which may persist into adulthood.
Combating pediatric obesity starts with parental involvement. Take your children to the store and help pick foods for the entire family that are healthy. Teach them how to read food labels, such as how many servings are in a package, and that 20 percent Daily Value of fat is bad, and that 5 percent is much better. Help them eat a wider variety of foods and don’t make them clean their plate if they are already full. The amount of time spent in front of the television, video games, and computer should be limited to less than two hours a night.
If parents do not perceive their child as obese, then attempts at correcting their obesity will not be successful.
To determine if intervention is needed, first ask your pediatrician to calculate your child’s Body Mass Index (BMI). If weight loss is needed, work closely with your pediatrician to set reasonable, short term goals for your child.