As a parent, you might find your full-cheeked baby cute, but later on, this baby fat might become a health concern for your child. Almost 25% of kids and teenagers in developed countries are overweight or obese and hence childhood obesity is becoming a rising concern for parents. Let’s discuss what can cause obesity in kids
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What is childhood obesity?
Childhood obesity is a medical condition affecting children and adolescents and it means abnormal or excessive fat accumulation in the body. Overweight and obesity indicates a weight that is greater than what is healthy. Childhood obesity is determined by measuring the Body Mass Index (BMI) of a child. A person’s weight and height is used to calculate his or her BMI. For children, BMI is calculated as a percentile, which plots the child’s BMI as compared to other children of the same age and sex.
Body mass index (BMI)
If your child’s BMI falls between 5th percentile to 84th percentile, then he/she comes under the healthy weight category. BMI between 85th to 94th percentile comes in overweight category and beyond 95th percentile is considered as obese category. Your child’s doctor will usually calculate his or her BMI at each routine appointment in order to track his or her growth. Though BMI is a good indicator of obesity, it may be misleading in a few cases when children are experiencing periods of rapid growth.
Keeping a close check over this problem is a must. The risks associated with childhood obesity may affect your child later in life, which includes, diabetes, asthma and heart diseases. In some cases, it may also take an emotional toll on the child leading to poor self-esteem and depression.
What can cause obesity?
Maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the basic steps towards a longer and healthier life. You can maintain your current body weight, if you burn the same amount of calories (by physical activities) that you have consumed (through food) in a day. If you burn more calories than you consume, then you will lose weight and if you burn less calories than what you consume, then you tend to gain weight. This is the basic principle behind weight science. below are some general habits that may cause obesity.
Poor eating habits:
Regularly consuming high calorie processed foods like fast foods, baked foods, candy, desserts, sugary drinks and vending machine snacks may cause obesity in children.
Lack of physical activity/exercise:
Children who don’t exercise much and are physically less active are more likely to gain weight, as they don’t burn as many calories as they are consuming and this may cause obesity.
If your child belongs to a family of overweight people, he or she is more likely to put on weight as poor food habits and less active lifestyle will be passed on to your child as well.
Personal, parental and social stress puts a child at a greater risk of obesity because to cope with the stress or anxiety, the child tends to overeat and this causes weight gain or obesity.
In some communities, people may have limited resources and limited access to supermarkets. Consequently, they might buy convenience foods that don’t spoil quickly, such as frozen meals, crackers and cookies. Also, people who live in lower income neighborhoods might not have access to a safe place to exercise or workout on a daily basis, which may lead to cause obesity.
In some cases, child obesity might be linked to genetic factors as well. About 200-300 genes have been identified as risk factors for weight gain. Most of them drive our urges to eat more and crave high-energy foods while others cause low or imbalanced metabolism.
Many commonly used medications may cause obesity. The amount of weight gain may vary depending on the patient and type of medication. Weight gain because of medication can be through some mechanism like stimulation of appetite, stimulation of fat storage, slowed metabolism, fluid retention or impaired exercise tolerance.
Hormonal changes or imbalance can also cause obesity in children especially in teens as their body is undergoing a lot of changes. Other Hormonal abnormalities that lead to increased weight gain in children typically are associated with short stature or poor height growth. Examples of such conditions include hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, or growth hormone deficiency.
Also check, Foods to help in fixing hormonal imbalance
Complications or Risks of Childhood obesity later in life:
Type 2 Diabetes:
Type 2 diabetes affects the way your child’s body uses sugar (glucose). Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of type 2 diabetes among children.
High Cholesterol and High blood pressure:
Obesity and poor eating habits can cause your child to develop one or both of these conditions leading to heart attack or stroke later in life.
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Extra weight causes extra stress on hips and knees. Childhood obesity can cause pain and sometimes injuries in the hips, knees and back.
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Asthma is more common in children who are overweight and asthma patients are also more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which a child’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD):
This disorder, which usually causes no symptoms, causes fatty deposits to build up in the liver. NAFLD can lead to scarring and liver damage.
Also check, How to control fatty liver disease?
How to prevent childhood obesity
Engaging your kids in regular physical activities like running, cycling, swimming or any outdoor sports can help them to maintain a healthy weight.
Some studies suggest that too little sleep might cause obesity, as sleep deprivation causes hormonal imbalance which can lead to increased appetite. Ideally, kids need 9 to 11 hours of sleep and teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Early and good sleep is essential for proper growth and metabolism that helps maintain their body weight. Ensure that your child gets enough and sound sleep.
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Spend more of family time together by involving in some games and physical activities like hiking, swimming etc. This will help them to be physically active and also gives an opportunity for both the parent and the kid to bond well. During teen years, it becomes very important to talk to kids and understand them to see if the child is facing any emotional/psychological challenges or problems.
Limit the screen time of your kids. Kids who spend several hours a day watching television, playing computer games, or using their smartphones or other devices are more likely to cause obesity. According to studies reported by the Harvard School of Public Health, the reason for this may be twofold. Firstly, screen time eats into time that could be spent doing physical activities instead. Secondly, more time in front of the TV means more time for snacking and more exposure to ads for the high-sugar, high-fat foods that make up most food marketing.
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Healthy eating habits:
Healthy eating habits need to start with you as most kids eat what their parents buy and eat. Parental influence shapes a child’s eating patterns. Help your children stay healthier for longer by preparing nutritious foods for them and encouraging them to get plenty of exercise. You should pick healthier foods over processed foods and readily available packaged foods. Choose foods having more nutritional value than just empty calories. For example, instead of giving juices and soft drinks to your child, you can give water, buttermilk or low fat milk.
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when to visit a doctor
If you’re worried that your child is putting on too much weight, talk to his or her doctor. The doctor will consider your child’s history of growth and development, your family’s weight-for-height history, and where your child lands on the growth charts. This can help to determine if your child’s weight is in an unhealthy range or not. In case your child is advised to lose weight, it should be done with utmost care and caution. Parents must create a safe and sensitive weight loss plan in consultation with their pediatrician or dietitian or nutritionist. This is because a random weight loss plan can hamper the kid’s nutrition, growth and stress levels.
Food sources that can help to reduce obesity in children:
Eggs are high in protein and fat and are very satiating. Having eggs in breakfast can suppress your child’s appetite later in the day and hence help to lose weight.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale and collards are low in calories and carbohydrates but loaded with fiber which makes them perfect for weight loss.
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are high in fiber and extremely fulfilling. Adding them in your child’s diet not only helps to lose weight but also improves their overall health.
Lean meats like chicken are high in protein and hence it is a weight-loss friendly food. Protein is the most filling nutrient, and eating a high-protein diet can make your child burn up to 80–100 more calories per day.
Tuna and Salmon fish:
Tuna is an excellent, lean source of high-quality protein and replacing other macronutrients, such as carbs or fat, with protein is an effective weight loss strategy on a calorie-restricted diet. Salmon is loaded with high quality protein, healthy fats, iodine, omega 3 fatty acids and other important nutrients. Omega 3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation which plays a major role in obesity. Mackerel, trout, sardines and other types of fatty fish are also good for weight loss.
Beans and legumes:
Beans and legumes are a good addition to the weight loss diet as both are high in protein and fiber, contributing to the feeling of fullness and a lower calorie intake.
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Soups are high in water and nutrients which makes them an effective part of weight loss diet.
Avocados are high in monounsaturated oleic acid and contain a lot of fiber and water, making it a good choice to be added in your child’s weight loss diet.
Nuts are loaded with protein, fiber and healthy fats and studies suggest that eating nuts improves metabolic health thereby promoting weight loss. Introduce your kids to nuts from an early age so that they develop the habit of eating nuts on a daily basis.
Whole grains such as oats, brown rice & quinoa are high in fiber and contain good amounts of proteins as well. Oats are loaded with beta-glucans, soluble fibers that have been found to increase satiety and improve metabolic health.
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Fruits and vegetables:
Fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. It contain natural sugar, have a low energy density and take a while to chew. In addition, fiber in the fruits helps to block sugar from being released too quickly in the bloodstream. Encourage your child to eat fruits for snacks in place of chips/crackers and other packed foods. Vegetables are high in fiber, which help to fill you up. Since fiber takes a while to digest, it prevents child from overeating. Stir fry vegetables and salads are good options to be included in your child’s meal.
Studies show that eating half a grapefruit before meals can lead to weight loss of 3.5 pounds (1.6kg) as it makes you feel satiated and you will consume fewer calories. Grapefruit also has reduced insulin resistance, a metabolic abnormality that is implicated in various chronic diseases.
Chia seeds are full of many nutrients. It contains 12 grams of carbohydrates per ounce (28 grams), which is very high, but 11 of these grams are fiber. This makes chia seeds a low-carb food and also one of the best sources of fiber in the world. Being so high in fiber, chia seeds can absorb up to 11-12 times their weight in water, turning gel-like and expanding in your stomach and thereby reducing your appetite. The best way to include chia seeds in your child’s diet is in the form of lemonade drink. Mix one teaspoon chia seeds in a glass of water. Leave it for 15-20 minutes. Add lemon juice and honey/sugar and mix well. Serve it cold or at room temperature.
All fats aren’t harmful. Totally eliminating fats from your child’s meal can affect their immune system, nervous system and overall health. Healthy fats are required by the body to create cell membranes. Coconut oil is high in fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).These MCTs have been found to boost satiety better than other fats and also increases the number of calories burned. Replace your cooking oil fats with healthier cooking oils like coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil.
Potatoes are rich in potassium and vitamin C. They are great sources of fiber and healthy carbs. Potatoes are even very high on the Satiety Index, which means that after eating white, boiled potatoes, your kid will feel full and eat less of other foods. Sweet potatoes, turnip and other root vegetables are also good options.
Yogurt is an excellent dairy food that contains probiotic bacteria which is very good for your gut health. Healthy gut helps to protect against inflammation and leptin resistance, which is one of the major hormonal causes of obesity.
Cottage cheese is high in protein and low in carbs and fat. It is a very good option for vegetarians to increase their protein intake and makes you feel full with less number of calories. It also contains calcium which may help in burning fat.
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