The number of overweight and obese children is on the rise these days. Whether a child is obese or not depends upon his/her body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by his/her weight (in kgs.) divided by his/her height (in metres) squared. There is no single BMI value that can be used to define overweight or obesity in children. Instead, percentiles are used. Percentile is based on the percentage of children above or below a particular value of BMI. A child is considered to be obese if his/her BMI is over 98 percentile. This means that his/her BMI is higher than that of 98 per cent of children of the same age. A child is considered overweight if his/her BMI is between 91 to 98 percentile.
There are a number of causes responsible for obesity in children, but high-calorie and unhealthy diet plus lack of exercise is the most common reason. Some children get obesity in heredity, however, an unhealthy lifestyle is also responsible for obesity running into families. Rarely, obesity can be a result of a genetic disorder, such as Prader-Willi syndrome that leads to compulsive overeating. Although rarely, some medical conditions like under-activity of the thyroid gland or brain tumour may cause obesity.
Obesity can make a child defenceless against many health problems. When a child is obese, he/she is susceptible to diabetes mellitus – type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. He/she is also not guarded against digestive system disorders, such as abdominal pain, inflammation of the gallbladder, gallstones, inflammation of the pancreas, and liver disease. Fat gathered around the airways cause asthma and other respiratory problems. If the child is obese, the extra weight puts on a lot of pressure on the musculoskeletal system, and as a result, he/she may suffer from bone and joint related problems. In teenage girls, it may also be associated with hormone-related health issues, such as acne, early onset of puberty, menstrual irregularities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and excess body hair. Obesity related complications are not just about physical problems but can also lead to psychological and emotional problems.
If the child is overweight, take him/her to the doctor and get his/her BMI calculated. The doctor will check for any underlying disorder that may be responsible for the condition. If any such disorder is found, a treatment for the same can lead to weight loss. Treatments such as anti-obesity drugs or surgery are recommended only in rare cases for older children when no other treatment has shown positive results, and the child is suffering from some serious obesity-related health problems.
However, in majority of the cases, irregular lifestyle is the root cause responsible for obesity in children. The doctor may refer parents to a dietitian and other specialists, if required. In such a case, it is important for the whole family to adapt a healthy lifestyle, include plenty of green vegetables, fresh fruits, and home-cooked food in the daily diet. The child should be encouraged to participate in outdoor activities at school as well as at home. The parents should allow the child to watch television and play video/computer games for only a limited time period.