22 Dec Childhood Obesity. It’s happening. It’s Real.
What is overweight, obesity and how are these measured?
Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health (The World Health Organisation).
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple way of determining whether you are overweight or obese. Its defined as the person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his/her height in meters.
WHO defines overweight and obesity as follows:
Overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25.
Obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30.
HOWEVER, to calculate childhood obesity, BMI is age and sex specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age.
Click here to calculate your child’s BMI for a clearer indication regarding childhood obesity.
How bad is childhood obesity?
- In 2014–15, 1 in 4 (26%) Australian children aged 2–17 were overweight or obese.
- Approximately 1.2 million children are overweight or obese in Australia.
- About 1 in 6 (18%) children and adolescents aged 2–17 were overweight.
- About 1 in 13 (8%) children and adolescents aged 2–17 were obese.
- Childhood obesity is a risk factor for chronic disease in adulthood.
- If current trends continue the proportion of overweight or obese children and young adults (aged between 5 and 24) is expected to increase by 14% in 2020.
Risk factors for children being overweight or obese
There are several factors which increase the incidence of childhood obesity. Fortunately, most of these risks are modifiable, that is, we have the power to control them.
These factors include:
Lack of physical activity – This is a great opportunity for a child to utilise their excess energy stores and help maintain a healthy weight. A lack of exercise will do the exact opposite, lead to an increase in weight and put them at risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Overweight parents – Eating habits are highly influenced by parents. Therefore, if we have parents with poor eating and lifestyle habits, these behavioural choices will have a flow on affect to the child where eating unhealthy foods and not participating in physical activity may seem normal.
Community environments – Childcare centres, schools and after school care organisations play a very important role in your child’s life. It is important that you ensure your child is either taking healthy food to these places of care or you consult with these centres to understand the food options they have available to your children. Other factors such as affordability of healthy food options, social supports and marketing towards children also play an important role in how the community encourages our children to eat.
Poor diet choices – Consuming foods that are very energy dense, high in fat and lack nutrient value will increase the chance of your child being overweight.
Poor behavioural habits – Spending significant time indoors, playing video games, swiping their iPads, watching T.V, not being physically active and excess sleep are all examples of poor behavioural habits. If your children are having problems eating a healthy diet there are plently of songs for children that can help them to understand the right types of foods to eat.
Genetics – Genetic mutations and genes also play a role in the susceptibility of your child being overweight. Even though these conditions are quite rare, genes do play a part. It’s important to be aware of your family medical history and be proactive in managing not only obesity but all medical conditions.
Exercise guidelines for children
Exercise for children is not only vital to maintain a healthy weight but a great opportunity to create positive behaviours for later in life. Regular physical activity will help reduce the risk of childhood obesity, chronic disease and has been linked to positive outcomes in mental health. Below are the recommendations for both physical activity and sedentary behaviours through all stages of childhood.
Click here for more information regarding exercise guidelines for the varying childhood ages.
Nutritional guidelines for children
If a child is overweight then it may be challenging to get them back to a healthy weight because they don’t understand why they need to lose weight. For adults, they understand why they should lose weight and can actively make changes.
Healthy eating for children, as with exercise is fundamental to promote good health and positive habits early in life. Once these habits are created the child will be able to make healthy food choices at school, home, care centres and social outings. The healthy eating guidelines for children are as follows;
Guideline 1– Choose amounts of nutritious foods and drinks to meet your energy needs.
Guideline 2 – Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods i.e Vegetables, fruit, grains, lean meats and poultry and dairy.
Guideline 3 – Limit intake of foods containing saturated fats, added salts, added sugars and alcohol.
Guideline 4 – Encourage and support breastfeeding.
Guideline 5 – Care for your food, prepare and store it safely.
In addition to these healthy eating guidelines the following strategies can also be implemented to maintain good dietary habits;
- Drink plenty of water in substitute of sugary drinks.
- Don’t skip breakfast.
- Control portion size of foods.
- Teach your children not to overeat and eat slowly.
- Limit the amount of treats they consume.
- Educate your children on what foods are healthy and why they should limit them.
Click here for the Healthy eating for children flyer, department of health and ageing.
Obesity is the root of all evil. This completely manageable disease can lead to several health risks which can begin the vicious cycle of chronic disease. Obesity can lead to;
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol are two risk factors which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
- Impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes.
- Asthma and sleep apnoea.
- Joint problems.
- Liver disease.
- Psychological issues (anxiety, depression and low self-esteem).
- Social problems such as bullying.
- Adulthood obesity.
Society’s contribution to obesity:
Times are changing…but for the good or bad? Advances In technology, the cost of living and societal influences have also had a negative effect on obesity. Some of these factors include;
- The cost of healthy food is more expensive in most cases.
- The use of cars has increased, and people don’t walk or ride to destinations.
- It is easier to eat ‘out’ then prepare food at home.
- Portion sizes have increased.
- The time spent in paid employment has increased.
- The role of physical education in the school curriculum has reduced.
- Marketing of energy-dense foods and drinks has increased.
As a parent what can I do to help my children?
Mum and dad are the most influential individuals in a child’s life. It is vital that healthy habits and lifestyles are being encouraged at a very early age.
- Pack healthy lunch boxes
- Educate your children on selecting healthy food options from their canteens.
- Encourage your children to participate in sporting activities at school and during lunch and recess periods.
- Conduct physical activity with your child.
- Encourage physical activity with other children and sporting participation.
- Engage with your children through activities such as reading, singing, puzzles and storytelling.
Ask the professionals!
There are a range of health professionals who can help you and your child to better understand how to exercise and eat.
Accredited Exercise Physiologist’s (AEPs)- Are specialists in all things exercise! An Exercise physiologist will help you understand how to exercise within your limits to achieve your goals. They will also tailor exercise to suit specific medical conditions and prevent further onset of disease.
Dieticians – Are specialists in all things food! They understand how what goes into your mouth will affect your health and energy levels. Dieticians will help educate you and your children on how to eat for good health and prevent chronic disease.
Doctors – Consult with your GP if you feel your child has an eating disorder or suffers from the above-mentioned risk factors of childhood obesity. They will also act as a mediator to help you find the appropriate health professional to manage your well-being.
Early Childhood Teacher – Great individuals to help form healthy and long-standing habits for your children. Discuss your child’s health and behavioural patterns when you aren’t around and most importantly choose the right teacher for your children! one that will encourage healthy eating, social interaction and exercise.
A child’s life forms our future, the next generation and ultimately the society which we will live in. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a doctor or an exercise physiologist your influence on a child’s life will dictate tomorrow.
Knowledge is power… so give your child the power in early in life.