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Obesity is a widespread public health concern that affects adults and children alike.
Childhood obesity has been linked to increased risk for diseases such as:
In the past thirty years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents.
Among children aged 6-11 years, rates of obesity climbed from 7% in 1980 to 18% in 2010. This same trend is seen among 12-19 year olds where obesity rates rose from 5% to 18% during the same time period.
Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. This can be determined by the use of BMI percentile categories using growth charts.
Growth charts can be used to monitor growth over time. These charts are divided by percentile curves to demonstrate the distribution of body measurements. Growth charts are provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and can be found here.
There are many factors that contribute to childhood obesity. These can be divided into genetic, behavioral and environmental factors.
Genetic characteristics may increase an individual's likelihood of being overweight. However, it is likely that this works in conjunction with environmental and behavioral factors.
Many factors contribute to increased energy intake among children.
The home, child care, school and community environments all play an important role in a child's development and maintenance of healthy diet and physical activity habits. A majority of young children are enrolled in schools providing an optimum environment to reinforce health eating and physical activity behaviors. When not in school, experiences in a child care or home setting continue to shape dietary and physical activity behaviors. The communities that children live in play an important role in providing physical activity opportunities and access to affordable and healthful food.
Obese children are more likely to be obese in adulthood than healthy-weight children. This places them at increased risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, multiple types of cancer and osteoarthritis.
In addition to the long-term health effects, obese children are more likely to have cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Obese children are also more likely to have prediabetes, placing them at an increased risk for development of diabetes.
Maintaining a healthy diet and physical activity levels are important for preventing obesity and consequent diseases.
Many aspects influence the dietary and physical activity of children and adolescents. Communities, schools, child care settings, faith-based institutions, government agencies, families and the media all impact these behaviors of children. In addition, the food and beverage industries play an increasingly important role in the dietary and physical activity behaviors of children.
Recognizing the influential role the food and beverage industry has on dietary habits of children, the United States Better Business Bureau established the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. This initiative is a voluntary self-regulated program that includes many of the largest food and beverage companies in the United States. The goal of this imitative is to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyle among children by shifting the types of food and beverages advertised to children under the age of 12.
Schools also play an important role in establishing an environment that supports healthful lifestyle habits. Policies within schools can be established to encourage health eating and regular physical activity. Schools have the opportunity to both educate students about these behaviors and provide opportunities for them to be practiced. In effort to increase the number of fruits and vegetables served in schools, programs such as Let's Move! Salad Bars 2 Schools and the National Farm to School Network.
Treatment for childhood obesity depends on the child's age and existing medical conditions. For most, treatment includes changes to the child's diet and physical activity.
The goal for obesity treatment is most over for weight maintenance rather than weight loss. As a child grows, they add inches in height but not in pounds, causing BMI-for-age to drop over time into a healthier range.
Depending on a child's existing health complications, treatment may include a multidisciplinary team including the family physician, dietitian, counselor or physical therapist. Specific plans for diet and physical activity may be developed if general guidance is ineffective. In extreme cases, drugs or very-low-calorie diets may be used.