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Childhood Obesity: Causes and Preventive Measures

Obesity affects children and adolescents, too. Chubby children that receive tons of cute compliments can be at a higher risk of obesity as well.

Obesity in children has become a rising health concern with numbers of children living with obesity significantly rising. Overweight children can struggle with reaching healthy weight till adulthood and can be at risk of obesity-related complications. It is thus crucial to understand the different causes of obesity and overweight and what we can do to prevent obesity.

Keep reading to learn more about obesity in children.

Obesity is a complex disease that can affect both adults and children. Some of the common causes of obesity in adults are similar to those of obesity in children. As lifestyle choices have become more sedentary, children may prefer junk food and indoor activities over healthy food and outdoor games.

Consumption of excess calories combined with decreased physical activity is the major influencing factor behind childhood obesity. To combat obesity in children, we need to understand its causes and possible preventive measures. To begin with, let’s understand what childhood obesity is.

Children with excess body fat are more likely to have childhood obesity. There is no fixed cut-off for what constitutes obesity or a method that calculates this obesity. Experts use techniques such as BMI, skin-fold thickness, and waist circumference to calculate body fat. While some of these factors can give accurate results, others can vary in numbers.

If your child is gaining weight, you should consult an expert immediately. An expert will clarify if it’s obesity and help your child with an obesity treatment.

To understand childhood obesity in-depth, let’s delve into its causes.

Common Causes of Childhood Obesity

Obesity mainly occurs after an energy imbalance in the body. There are some genetic as well as non-genetic factors that result in pediatric obesity. Some of these factors are:

  1. Genetics: It is one of the major factors influencing obesity. Different studies suggest that if both parents are obese, the child has a higher chance of becoming overweight. Various gene mutations induce obesity like leptin characteristics, db genes, the fat gene, tub gene, and agouti gene.Some obesity syndromes such as Alstrom Syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Bardet-Biedl syndrome, and WAGR syndrome also lead to obesity.
  2. Diet: Increased portion sizes of fast food consumption have been linked to obesity in recent years. Modern food choices that include sugary beverages and high-fat foods are the main contributors of weight gain in children. Such food items are high in calories and low in nutritional content.Many studies suggest that a diet high in calories combined with zero physical activity has been linked to significant weight gain. However, there still is no causal relationship found between both of them.
  3. Energy Expenditure: If you look around, you will notice that children are fond of smartphones and gadgets these days. Outdoor activities and games have been replaced by online games and classes. All this decreases children’s energy expenditure drastically.Inactivity with other sedentary behaviours not only promotes hunger but also reduces energy expenditure.The body has to keep moving to burn calories throughout the day. In its absence or when energy expenditure is low, the body accumulates fat and this leads to obesity.
  4. Sleep Hours: In one of our recent blogs, we talked about the secret connection between one’s sleep routine and weight. Several studies have shown a direct link between inadequate sleep hours and weight gain. When children don’t get enough sleep, appetite hormonal imbalance can cause weight gain.In short, when your body doesn’t get enough sleep, your appetite hormones production, ghrelin (hunger hormone) and leptin (a hormone that makes you feel full), get disturbed. Sleep deprivation increases levels of ghrelin and decreases levels of leptin. As a result, children can feel excess hunger.

Apart from the above-mentioned factors, there are other possible causes of childhood obesity. These factors are rare contributors to obesity, and it’s better to consult a specialist to understand them in detail.

To combat childhood obesity, it’s crucial to know about preventive measures and treatment options. Let’s understand how you can keep your child away from obesity.

Childhood Obesity: Treatment or Prevention?

Obesity is a complex disease, and if not treated or managed on time, it can lead to severe complications. Children with obesity are at higher risk of hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.

Moreover, Pharmacotherapy (obesity treatment with medication) is limited, and only the management of obesity can help.

You need to consult a specialist who will work closely with you or your child to focus on appropriate nutrition, behaviour modification and exercise. Such lifestyle management tips can help start obesity treatment at home itself.

A little awareness among parents with proper medical knowledge will help both the child and his weight. Parents need to pay attention to their child’s weight gain.Try to talk to your children at home and change environmental factors as much as you can.

If your child lives with obesity, consult a weight loss specialist. Obesity is a stubborn disease, and if not managed on time, it can cause complications throughout life.

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Reference Links:

  1. Kumar S et al, Review of Childhood Obesity: From Epidemiology, Etiology, and Comorbidities to Clinical Assessment and Treatment. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017 Feb;92(2):251-265.
  2. Lee EY et al, Epidemic obesity in children and adolescents: risk factors and prevention. Front Med. 2018 Dec;12(6):658-666.
  3. Sahoo, Krushnapriya et al. Childhood obesity: causes and consequences. Journal of family medicine and primary care vol. 4,2 (2015): 187-92.
  4. Kinlen D et al, Complications of obesity. QJM. 2018 Jul 1;111(7):437-443.
  5. Alessandra Chesi et al, The Genetics of Pediatric Obesity. Trends in endocrinology and metabolism: TEM vol. 26,12 (2015): 711-721.
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