Your child is obese (overweight) when they are too heavy for their age and height. Being obese is unhealthy and can set your child on path towards chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. Obesity may also lead to mental problems such as low self-esteem and depression.
Obesity is usually caused by a combination of a poor diet (e.g. too much fatty foods and sugary drinks) and too little physical activity. In some children obesity may be caused by a medical condition or by certain medications.
Not all children who are heavy are obese. Children have different amounts of body fat during various stages of their development. Common symptoms of childhood obesity to look out for include:
- Excess body fat in the breast area, armpits, belly and thighs.
- Shortness of breath.
- Becoming tired easily.
- Sudden gasping for breath while sleeping.
- Having frequent heart burns.
The main cause of obesity is a combination consuming too many calories (e.g. fatty and sugary foods and drinks) and getting too little exercise. Other causes include:
- Having overweight or obese family members.
- Not getting enough sleep can cause a hormone imbalance in children.
- Stress, anxiety and depression may cause your child to seek comfort in food.
There are many factors that can put your child at risk of being obese:
- Regularly eating fatty and sugary foods or eating too much food generally.
- Not doing enough physical activities or exercise.
- Having family members who are overweight or obese.
- Using certain medications like steroids.
- Using food as a means of coping with low self esteem or depression.
Your doctor will calculate if your child is overweight or obese using their weight, height and age. You need to see your healthcare provider if your child is heavy and:
- Has breathing problems while awake (like asthma) or when sleeping (like sleep apnoea).
- Has joint pains or difficulty moving around.
- Sweats more than usual.
- Is unable to perform simple physical tasks without being tired or out of breath.
Childhood obesity can be prevented by:
- Practicing exclusive breastfeeding your baby.
- Including healthy foods in your child's diet, such as plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Putting healthy snacks in your child’s lunch packs.
- Encouraging your children to do moderate exercises for about 30 minutes every day.
- Eating family meals to set a good example and to ensure that your child eats a healthy diet.
Childhood obesity is mainly managed by increasing your child’s physical activity and making them eat healthy foods. Things you can do at home are:
- Including more healthy foods in you family meals like fruits, vegetables, milk, lean meats and whole grains. Eat your meals together sitting at a dining table. You need to set a good example for your child.
- Reducing portion sizes of your meals.
- Giving your child healthy snacks (e.g. fruits) from home rather than allowing them to buy unhealthy snacks in school.
- Encouraging and joining your child in physical activities such as walks, bike rides and games.
- Ensuring that your child gets enough sleep. Lack of sleep increases the levels of certain hormones responsible for appetite.
- Using positive words that encourage your child's healthy habits rather than focusing on body weight.
There are no medications for the treatment of obesity in children. Surgery may be considered for weight loss in excessively obese children (usually older children).
An unhealthy weight can cause various complications for your child in later life, such as diabetes and heart disease. In addition, it can cause serious mental problems such as low self-esteem and depression. The good news is that childhood obesity can be prevented by a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. Your own behavior is also important: set an example by eating family meals and exercising together with your child.