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Growing Health Risks Associated with Childhood Obesity (Infographic)

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As summer approaches, encouraging children and adolescents to make healthy eating and lifestyle choices while under less supervision is essential in their long-term physical and mental health. With roughly one in three children falling into the overweight and obese category, teaching and embodying a healthy lifestyle is crucial in fighting this epidemic.

Childhood Obesity Infographic

To be considered obese, a child’s body mass index (BMI) generally must fall into the 95th percentile for children of the same sex and age. Poor diet is a major contributor to this serious health issue, but a lifestyle shift is also to blame. With so many screens, including computer, television, video games and smart phones, children are less physically active at both school and at home. This sedentary lifestyle means they aren’t getting the exercise essential for healthy development.

Health Risks Associated with Childhood Obesity

One immediate health issue linked to childhood obesity is an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. In fact, 70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Obesity in children also increases their risk for sleep apnea, bone and joint problems and prediabetes, a serious health condition that puts one at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

A Healthier Today Means a Healthier Tomorrow

If not addressed, the consequences of childhood obesity can carry on far beyond the adolescent years.  Childhood obesity increases their risk of being obese as adults, therefore increasing the likelihood they will suffer from adult health problems. These problems include, but are not limited to, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and osteoarthritis. Obese youth are also more at risk for numerous types of cancer, including colon, esophagus, pancreas, breast, endometrium, thyroid, gall bladder, cervix, kidney and prostate cancers, as well as multiple types of myeloma.

Curbing obesity now can have a major impact on the long-term health of your children, and the sooner the better. Studies indicate when obesity is attacked prior to the teenage years, the risk for adulthood obesity drastically decreases.  

Beyond the Scale – Psychological Impacts of Obesity

In addition to the serious health risks associated with obesity, children can also suffer from damaging psychological issues. The social isolation and bullying linked to obesity in kids can severely affect a child’s self-esteem, which can carry throughout adulthood. Detecting psychological issues can be important in preventing and overcoming obesity as overindulging to cope with troubles or to deal with emotions, such as stress, may be contributing to the problem.

Preventing and Treating Childhood Obesity

Preventing childhood obesity varies depending on the child’s age and existing medical conditions. A few simple ways to decrease risk include:

  • Having healthy food readily available for snacking, such as precut fruits and vegetables.
  • Eating meals as a family as often as possible and having children assist in shopping and meal preparation.
  • Increasing physical activity and limiting “screen time.” Get active with your kids and show exercising can be fun!
  • Focusing on good health instead of a weight goal. Teach and embody a healthy, positive attitude toward food and physical activity without stressing weight.
  • Focusing on the whole family’s health instead of setting overweight children apart. Involve the entire family and work to progressively change the family's eating habits and physical activity levels.

Treatment for child and adolescent obesity depends on the child's existing health conditions, but may include a multidisciplinary team including your family doctor, counselor or physical therapist and dietitian. If you feel your child is obese or at risk for falling into this category, set up a time to talk with his or her family doctor, who will perform a comprehensive checkup and assist in creating a program to help your child maintain a healthier weight.

Don’t have a family doctor yet? Use our Find a Doctor tool to locate a family medicine doctor or pediatrician in your area, and schedule your child’s physical exam today.