Breaking The Vicious Cycle Of Childhood Obesity Through Early Detection

by | Nov 14, 2022

On World Obesity Day (2022), Dr Tedros, Director-General of WHO, emphasized that alongside Covid, obesity has become another global health crisis that is continuing to grow and kill millions of children and adults each year.

He further mentioned that the global obesity rate has tripled since 1975, and the economic cost of this health crisis is estimated to be 3% of the global GDP. WHO estimates that by 2025, at least 167 million people – both adults and children – are likely to be less healthy because they are overweight or obese.

According to projections by the World Obesity Federation using data from the "NCD Risk Factor Collaboration", the proportion of obese children and adolescents (aged 5-19 years) can rise to 254 million by 2030. The most recent statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also revealed childhood obesity is on the rise showing the following patterns:

  • 13.4% of children 2 to 5 years have obesity.

  • 20.3% of children 6 to 11 years have obesity.

  • 21.2% of children 12 to 19 years have obesity.

WHO urges countries to take more initiatives to reverse this preventable health crisis and recommends early detection of childhood obesity as a great start to breaking this vicious cycle.

Defining Childhood Obesity

The medical definition of childhood obesity is when a child has a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) specific growth charts. It is a condition when a child is above a healthy weight for their age and height to that of other children.

Childhood obesity is usually determined by comparing a child’s body mass index (BMI) to other children of their age and sex. This differs from how obesity is identified in adults, which primarily relies only on the person’s BMI results.

Body mass index (BMI) measures body fat based on height and weight. It is obtained by the formula BMI = kg/m2 (kilograms divided by the square of height in meters). BMI is age- and sex-specific for children because their body compositions vary as they age. Healthcare providers use BMI-for-age growth charts to measure size and growth patterns in children accurately.

Causes

Childhood obesity has many contributing factors. At the most basic level, children develop obesity when they eat more calories than their bodies use, causing "energy imbalance". Energy balance is a state achieved when energy intake equals energy expenditure.

Children need a certain amount of calories for growth and development. However, when they consume more calories than they use or burn, the body stores these extra calories as fat – causing obesity.

The causes of childhood obesity are the same as for adults. Some of the primary causes of childhood obesity include,

  • Personal or shared family behaviours such as eating and exercise habits

  • Genetics (parents and siblings with a history of obesity)

  • Socioeconomics And Community (The foods and drinks consumed by schools and daycare, the high cost of healthy food or limited accessibility to these foods, and limited options to stay active)

  • Cultural factors like eating and diet patterns in a given country and the influence of advertising and food industries

  • Hormone disorders

  • The use of certain medications

  • Rarely are diseases a cause of childhood obesity.

Effects

Childhood obesity can lead to immediate health problems and put children at greater risk of developing medical issues, including physical and psychological complications, as they grow into adults. Most importantly, children who are obese reflect an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese as adults if early interventions are not made.

Physical complications

  • Asthma

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • High cholesterol

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Gallstones, fatty liver disease, or kidney disease

  • Arthritis

  • Reproductive problems like irregular menstruation and hormonal imbalances

  • Heartburn, reflux, and other digestive problems

  • Sleep disorders like sleep apnea

Psychological Complications

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Low self-esteem

  • Being bullied or socially isolated from peers

  • Prejudice from adults in their lives like relatives, teachers, and health care provider

Weight stigma continues to be one of the most prevalent forms of bullying faced by kids and adolescents. Some children internalize weight stigma and often feel like they’re at fault for their weight.

Normally childhood is the stage in life where children learn to be social and begin to master things like being with people, playing sports, and getting involved in extracurriculars. However, carrying excess weight can make these things difficult due to physical limitations, lack of self-esteem, and fear of judgment. This is why experts believe childhood obesity can interfere with social and personal growth, which is an important part of childhood development.

Early Detection & Intervention

A study of almost 1,000 Danish children established that routine dental check-ups are a good opportunity to measure BMI and provide a critical window for the early detection and management of child obesity.

This, in turn, allows weight loss interventions to start early, reducing the risk of an obese child growing into an overweight adult or even an adolescent and preventing other weight-related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

In addition to weight gain, some other signs and symptoms can also facilitate the early detection and prevention of childhood obesity.

  • Shortness of breath, fatigue

  • Increased sweating

  • Sleep apnea and snoring

  • Joint pain

  • Dislocated hips

  • Flat feet and knocked knees

  • Skin rashes and irritation

  • Stretch marks on hips, abdomen, and back (though these can occur in non-obese children as well)

  • Acanthosis nigricans, which is dark, velvety skin around the neck and in other areas

  • Fat tissue in the breast area (which can be particularly challenging for boys)

  • Constipation

  • Gastroesophageal reflux (also called acid reflux)

  • Early puberty in girls

  • Delayed puberty in boys

While childhood obesity can be diagnosed when a child’s BMI is at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts, it can sometimes be misleading as children grow at different rates.

A healthcare provider or a pediatric endocrinologist can make an accurate diagnosis by taking into account factors such as any weight-related symptoms or health conditions the child is experiencing, family history of obesity, activity level, dietary habits, sleep patterns, mental health or psychological conditions, physical exam results, including vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure, and results of lab tests for cholesterol, blood sugar, hormone levels, and thyroid function.

The best treatment for childhood obesity is always personalized according to a child’s age, medical conditions, and other factors. Generally, childhood obesity management plans almost always include changes in diet and activity level. It also includes practising new coping mechanisms for boredom, anxiety, disappointment, and sadness.

At Glucare, we have a wide range of clinical experience & expertise in providing comprehensive diagnosis, treatment & management of complex pediatric diseases, disorders, and other health complexities like child obesity.

We take a special, comprehensive, and personalized approach to understanding the unique profile of each child and developing the most apt treatment plan. With the integration of near-real-time technology, our first class care team helps parents work with their children in monitoring and guiding them to adopt sustainable lifestyle changes for positive health outcomes.

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