Childhood obesity

Childhood obesity

By Hema Nirmal, MD, FAAP
Pediatrician, Snoqualmie Primary Care

Eating healthy and being physically active are important things to keep in mind during and especially after the holidays when an abundance of food is present.

Parents often have questions about their child’s weight such as: Is my child’s weight appropriate? Is there a difference between being overweight and being obese? When should we be worried about his or her weight? If I am overweight, what is the risk that my child may become overweight?

Physicians often use the term BMI (body mass index) to define the terms overweight and obese, and this provides physicians and parents with a guide to monitor weight in children. BMI can be calculated using the weight and height (weight in kilo divided by square of height in meters; this can also be calculated using the BMI calculator. A child is considered overweight if the BMI is greater than the 85th percentile and obese if greater than 95th percentile. Once a child is obese, they are at risk of developing complications like hypertension, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, etc.

Physical activity should be a significant part of everyday life of your child. Each child should aim to be active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day. They can be enrolled in an organized sports activity program like football, soccer, baseball, or swimming, or they can remain active by riding a bike, jogging and so on. Parents need to be aware if their child is playing video games for hours at a time and restrict the amount of screen time if necessary. Reduced television watching and computer use may reduce BMI and sedentary behavior.

Eating healthy plays an essential role in the well-being of every child. Studies have shown a lower prevalence of obesity in children who eat a healthy breakfast every day. Parents need to provide children with healthy food options at home so that they can develop a habit of eating healthy. It is important for children to try to eat all food groups, including grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meat or fish. Fats, oils and sweets must be consumed in limited amounts. Lifestyle modification involving the whole family is a key factor in maintaining healthy weight in children.

What if my child is obese or overweight?

Your child’s physician can determine specific weight goals that are healthy and attainable. Diet restriction may achieve good short term results, but dieting alone in the long term does not provide consistent results. Lifestyle modification with diet changes and physical activity has proven to deliver long term results. Behavioral interventions, medications and surgery are some other options that are available for children with morbid obesity.

We need to focus on prevention rather than treatment of obesity. Parents and caregivers should set a good example for children by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

You can visit the "Choose My Plate" website which gives more information about healthy foods, servings, physical activity and much more.

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About the Author

Hema Nirmal, MD, FAAP

Hema Nirmal, MD, FAAP
Pediatrician, Snoqualmie Primary Care

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