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What Is Obesity?

Childhood obesity means that a child’s weight is above the healthy weight range of other children of the same age.

Overweight means that the child’s weight is in the upper 15% of that range, and obese means only 5% of children weigh more. This excess weight may cause serious health problems, such as diabetes, orthopedic issues, and emotional problems.

Being overweight as a child often leads to being overweight as an adult. Adults who weigh too much can have serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, joint problems, and some cancers.

About 18% to 20% of children in the United States are obese, and an additional 34% to 36% are overweight.

What Causes Obesity?

Eating more than the amount of food needed will cause weight gain. Why certain children gain too much weight isn’t known. Genetics (parents passing on a tendency to gain weight), eating too much junk food or fast food, being inactive, and living in a society that promotes watching TV and playing video games more than sports and other physical activities contribute to obesity.

What Are the Symptoms of Obesity?

There may not be any symptoms. Some children may have a sleep disorder, such as snoring or irregular breathing; feeling tired; being unable to exercise enough; having trouble making friends; and feeling depressed.

How Is Obesity Diagnosed?

The health care provider will do a physical examination and will measure height and weigh the child. These results will be compared with those for other children of the same age. The health care provider will also take a family medical history and may use other tests (such as of blood and urine) to find out about other health problems such as diabetes that may be associated with obesity and to rule out other causes for weight gain such as an underactive thyroid gland.

How Is Obesity Treated?

The health care provider will set a weight-loss goal and suggest a weight-loss diet and an exercise plan. The health care provider may suggest counseling to control impulse eating from stress and depression and help the child reach and maintain the goals. Children need help meeting these goals by having their families eat healthy foods, exercise as a family, and encourage sports activities. Family exercise could be walking and bike riding. It’s best to lose weight slowly to keep it off. The earlier a child is treated for obesity, the better the chance for success.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Obesity:

  • DO encourage your child to follow the recommended weight-loss diet.
  • DO encourage sports or other physical activities.
  • DO serve healthy foods and snacks, in correct portion sizes.
  • DO eat dinner together, with the TV set off.
  • DO serve lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • DO follow your health care provider’s suggestions about counseling.
  • DO call your health care provider if your child complains of shortness of breath or daytime fatigue.
  • DO call your health care provider if your child is following the diet and exercise plans and hasn’t lost weight.
  • DON’T let your child spend too much time watching TV.
  • DON’T let your child eat after dinner.
  • DON’T let your child drink soda or eat fast food.
  • DON’T drive your child everywhere. Walking or bike riding is good.

Contact the following sources:

  • The Endocrine Society
    Tel: (301) 941-0200, (888) 363-6274
  • The National Institutes of Health
    Tel: (301) 496-4000
  • The Obesity Society
    Tel: (301) 563-6526
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics
    Tel: (847) 434-4000

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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