Childhood obesity

Specialty of Paediatrics

What is it?       

Obesity can be described as the accumulation of fat in the body. This means a higher body weight in relation to sex, height, and age. Childhood obesity affects a large number of children in developed countries, where cases are increasing alarmingly. Children can go on to have serious medical issues in adulthood and develop heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, or other conditions. As well as physical issues, this can quite often lead to psychological issues such as low self-esteem, depression, or a feeling of inferiority, which can prevent the child from interacting with others and therefore limit their social relationships. Occasionally the issue stems from a condition or hormone imbalance but more often than not it is due to an unhealthy diet. This is why following a balanced diet and exercising regularly is so important.       

Condition prognosis   

Cases of childhood obesity have been increasing in Europe and in the United States of America. Obesity has become known as a modern epidemic and in order to avoid it people should be encouraged to eat healthily and exercise more. It is not a deadly disease if controlled, however if it is not carefully monitored it can lead to more complicated diseases and conditions in the future.       

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of childhood obesity include:

  • Being more prone to develop cardiovascular diseases
  • Psychological issues such as anxiety and depression due to bullying
  • Not taking part in sports
  • Internal organ problems with the liver or stomach.

Medical tests

A paediatric endocrinologist will carry out the relevant tests to confirm whether the child is obese or overweight. These tests include physical exams, questions about their eating habits, and their exercise routine. Blood tests are often done to check if there is a thyroid issue. 

What causes it?    

When children eat more food than they need to and don’t do any exercise, the calories they ingest are stored and they are more likely to become obese. There are many things that could lead to children eating more and doing less exercise. Adverts on TV and the internet can encourage this unhealthy lifestyle. The ads are normally for products that are high in sugar and this lifestyle choice encourages children to spend hours in front of a screen and not exercise.  

Other influencing factors include family, friends, school, and the general environment that the child is being brought up around and developing their eating habits from. Genetic factors, medical issues, and emotional issues could also lead to an increase in ingesting more calories than the body needs, which can lead to obesity. 

How can it be prevented?

Childhood obesity can be prevented by developing healthy eating habits and leading by example. It is important to follow a healthy and balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables and with less sugary drinks. Having structured meal plans, including a filling breakfast, not eating junk food, and not using food as a reward, can help.  

Exercise is crucial, it is recommended that children exercise for at least 60 minutes a day. This can be split into shorter periods of time.   

What is the treatment?

Treatment includes following a balanced diet. Some guidelines to follow include:

  • Monitor portion sizes
  • Buy healthy food and make it accessible to children
  • Have a varied diet with healthy snacks and drinks
  • Reduce the amount of junk food eaten such as; chips, cakes, cookies, and other similar food items
  • Avoid sugary drinks.

What specialist should I see? 

The specialist who treats childhood obesity is a paediatric endocrinologist.      

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