Childhood obesity – An urgent health problem

Obesity amongst children is taking on epidemic proportions around the world, especially in India. 

preventing childhood obesity

Prevention of childhood obesity is an urgent need

Defining childhood obesity

Obesity is defined as a 20% excess of calculated ideal weight for age, sex and height of a child. A child is said to be obese when there is an excess of accumulated fat in the subcutaneous tissue (below the skin) and other areas of the body.

Today, childhood obesity is on the rise and a major public health problem. Globally, in 2010 there were estimated to be over 42 million overweight children below the age of 5, and 35 million of them are from developing countries; especially in urban areas.

The WHO developed a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health at the request of WHO member countries in May 2004. This is a preventive strategy to tackle non-communicable disease and their harmful effects. The fundamental cause of childhood obesity is a drastic change in food habits – consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and lack of physical activity contributes to an increase in calories as compared to the requirement.

Why is childhood obesity such an urgent problem?

The reason childhood obesity or overweight has so many people worried is because it stays through adulthood, leading to a high risk for developing diabetes and cardio-vascular problems. Studies show that in India, nearly 16% of children are overweight and 31% are in the risk of falling in this category. It is these statistics that rung major alarm bells.

Some of the common fallouts of being an overweight child include:

  • The child is often teased and bullied. This could lead to low self-esteem.
  • The teasing and low self-esteem could further lead to depression and other psychological problems.
  • Being overweight can also cause breathing problems.
  • Finding it difficult to breathe causes the child to shun exercising, thus causing a vicious circle.
  • According to the National Medical Journal of India, obesity during childhood can lead to subsequent morbidity, even if obesity does not progress into adulthood. Children who are overweight are more susceptible to a variety of diseases like diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases, obstructive sleep apnoea and and orthopaedic and psychosocial problems.

Determining obesity:

There are a number of ways of determining whether a child falls in the overweight or obese category:

Weight-to-age chart: Weight categories for children take into account the normal difference in amount of fat between girls and boys and also the difference in amount of fat at various ages. Weight categories are determined by plotting the weight in a weight-to-age chart. There are separate charts for girls and boys from 2-20 years of age.

Triceps skinfold measurement: Skinfold measurement using calipers and tape measures is one of the most accurate methods of measuring childhood obesity. While these tests can be conducted on various parts of the body, they are most commonly conducted by measuring the mid point of the triceps (the muscle at the back of the arm below the shoulder).

The term ‘overweight’ is used when the weight is more than 110% of the standard weight or when the skin-fold thickness is more than 30mm.

The term ‘obesity’ is used when the weight exceeds 120% of the standard weight.

Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician

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About Dr Nisreen Nakhoda

Dr. Nisreen Nakhoda is a general physician with a special interest in Preventive Healthcare and Wellness. She has also been practicing as a corporate trainer for the last 8 years.
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