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What is Childhood Obesity?

Obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat. Obesity is present when total body weight is more than 25% fat in boys and more than 32% fat in girls.

Studies have shown that between 5%-25% of children and teenagers in the U.S. are obese. As with adults, the prevalence of obesity in the young varies by ethnic group. It is estimated that 5%-7% of White and Black children are obese, while 12% of Hispanic boys and 19% of Hispanic girls are obese.

Not all obese infants become obese children, and not all obese children become obese adults. However, the prevalence of obesity increases with age among both males and females and there is a greater likelihood that obesity beginning in early childhood will persist throughout life.

Obesity presents numerous problems for a child. In addition to increasing the risk of obesity in adulthood, childhood obesity is the leading cause of hypertension, is associated with Type II diabetes, increases the risk of coronary heart disease, increases stress on the weight-bearing joints, lowers self-esteem, and affects relationships with peers. Some professionals feel that social and psychological problems are the most significant consequences of obesity in children.

Causes of Childhood Obesity

Family-the risk of becoming obese is greatest among children who have two obese parents. This may be due to genetic factors or to parent modeling of both eating and exercise behaviors, indirectly affecting the child's energy balance.

Lack of good eating habits-eating well balanced, home-cooked meals has become a thing of the past for many families. Instead, we rely on fast food that is cheap and convenient.

Lack of exercise-today's youth spends far more time in front of a TV or computer screen than we realize. Studies have shown that children watch, on an average, 25 hours of television a week. Another important point is that at some schools, physical education classes have been cut back or eliminated.

Nutrition plays the most important role in determining lifetime health. The amount of food consumed, along with calories burned, determines weight gained or lost. Portion control needs to be taught to children. Poor eating habits for children often are directly linked to how much of any given food is eaten as much as the food that is chosen. Portions are out of control at home and in restaurants. As if offering to “upgrade” regular size meals isn't enough, fast food restaurants have begun offering larger kids meals with desserts included. In turn, we've become so accustomed to larger portions when dining out; we may tend to oversize portions at home.

Another key problem with children's diets is the reliance on the pre-prepared, heavily processed foods. It is too convenient to get by with frozen, microwaveable meals which are often very high in fat, calories and sodium.

Chips, cookies, and most any other junk food is marketed to children on television commercials just as regularly as toys. Many children have never known a time when candy and soda machines weren't on-site at their schools. Some school cafeterias contract with fast food chains.

Steps you can take to improve your family's lifestyle

Obesity is easier to prevent than to treat, and prevention focuses in large measure on parent education. In infancy, parent education should focus on recognition of signals of satiety and delayed introduction of solid foods, with a doctor's guidance. In early childhood, education should include proper nutrition, selection of low-fat snacks, good exercise/activity habits and monitoring of television viewing. In cases where preventive measures cannot totally overcome the influence of hereditary factors, parent education should focus on building self-esteem and address psychological issues.