Obesity in Children: Statistics, Causes, Effects, Prevention

Obesity in Children

Obesity in children is a rising problem and children who suffer from obesity are at an increased risk of several problems in future. Though the use of word ‘overweight‘ is more common than the word ‘obese‘ or ‘obesity’ as it has a lot of stigma associated to it, the fact remains the same. It is important to identify the factors that cause obesity in children and learn the measures that can help in preventing childhood obesity.

Obesity in Children

Statistics on Obesity in Children

The surprising statistics on obesity in children reveals that around one third of the children in the United States are overweight and suffering from obesity and the number is constantly rising.

According to American Heart Association, the prevalence of obesity in children

  • Ages 2-5 increased from 4.8 percent in 1971-74 to 12.1 percent by 2010.
  • Ages 6–11 from 4.0 percent in 1971–74 to 18.0 percent by 2010.
  • Ages 12–19 from 6.1 percent to 18.4 percent by 2010.

Report from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2009-2010) reveals detailed statistics on obesity in children in the United States.

Younger kids aged 2-5 years have lower prevalence than the older children. Around 26.7 percent were overweight or obese and 12.1 percent had obesity.

Children Aged – 2-19 years

  • 31.8 percent are overweight or obese and 16.9 percent are obese.
  • Among overweight or obese children, almost one-third (33 percent) are boys and 30.4 percent are girls.
  • Among obese children, 18.6 percent are boys and 15 percent are girls.

Children Aged- 6 to 19 years

  • Around one-third (33.2 percent) are overweight or obese and 18.2 percent are obese.

Statistics on obesity in children from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. in 2011 – 2014 is about 17%, with nearly12.7 million children and adolescents affected.

These trends show that the problem of obesity in children still is a matter of concern and must be addressed at once. Obesity in children increases their risk of turning into overweight adolescents and adults who later suffer from disorders like low self-esteem, stress and depression besides other medical problems like:

Causes of Obesity in Children

Causes of Obesity in Children

There are several causes of obesity in children, most popular being genetic factors and an unhealthy lifestyle. Besides these, lack of physical activities, improper diet or a combination of all of these can be the cause of growing obesity in children. In very rare cases, medical disorder like hormonal imbalance can be the reason behind obesity in children.

Here are some of the common causes of obesity in children.

  1. Genetics

    Various genes that control appetite and metabolism of an individual can be attributed to obesity in an individual. According to a study in 80% of the cases, the children of both obese parents suffer from obesity too. There are over 200 genes that affect the weight of an individual based on other factors like their levels of activity, food preferences, metabolism and body type.

  2. Diet and Lifestyle

    In the recent times, family practices have changed and fast life has resulted in increase in unhealthy food choices. This has greatly impacted health and also contributed to obesity in children. As there are fewer mothers who breast feed, kids brought up on infant formula are at greater risk of obesity in children. Physical activity in children has reduced with the rise in use of technology and media. Children have an easy access to unhealthy packaged foods, aerated drinks and candies, which adds to the problem of obesity in children.

  3. Social Policies and Advertisements

    Different social policies and practices followed by nations and communities also affect health and contributes to obesity in children. Some of these factors are the quality of snacks and lunch provided in schools, emphasis on sports and physical activity, easy availability of unhealthy foods, presence of restaurants, etc. Advertisements of unhealthy foods also plays a major role in causing obesity in children. There are several nations that have banned or limited the advertisements of unhealthy food, candies and aerated drinks on children’s channels.

  4. Socioeconomic Status

    Young children from lower socioeconomic status or from ethnic minority suffer from unhealthy behaviors and sedentary lifestyle and are more prone to obesity.

Effects of Obesity in Children

Obesity in children can greatly affect the health, psychology and overall performance of children. Here are some of the effects of obesity in children.

  • Psychological Effects – Obesity in children can cause more psychological problems than physical. They have to suffer discrimination, harassment and teasing by their friends and family too. This leads to problems like low self-esteem, lack of confidence, stress and even worse-depression.
  • Physical Effects – Besides suffering emotionally, obesity in children increases the risk of life threatening diseases like cancer, stroke and heart diseases. Increased risk of lifestyle disorders like type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, liver disease and early puberty too is attributed to obesity in children. The other disorders include skin infections, breathing troubles including asthma. Obesity in children not only affects all their organs but also have all probability of growing into overweight adults. Statistics on obesity in children suggest that obesity during adolescence leads to increased mortality rates in future.

Preventing Childhood Obesity – Factors That Can Prevent Obesity in Children

Schools and parents can play a major role in preventing childhood obesity. Schools must practice rules and policies that support a safe and healthy environment for kids. Parents need to lead by example when it comes to following a healthy lifestyle at home. A right diet with proper exercises and outdoor play is what they need to advocate to their kids.

Following are some factors that are sure to bring about a desired change in preventing childhood obesity:

Regulate Dietary Factors to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Increase in the availability of junk food, calorie rich foods, sugary soft drinks and their easy accessibility to the young kids is a matter of concern. Checking on the availability of junk food and snack vending machines in the school can have a significant effect on childhood obesity. Keeping a check on the fast food industry and its involvement in schools is important. Local policies and guidelines regarding the food supplied in schools and ensuring healthy supplies can help in preventing obesity in children.

Promote Physical Activity for Preventing Childhood Obesity

Lack of physical activity not only at home but also in the schools is a serious matter of concern. The schools need to have physical activity as a part of curriculum and motivate kids to exercise often at home as well. Family too needs to encourage a healthy routine with regular exercises, play and outdoor activities like cycling, swimming or treks on weekends. Planning an active day for children can help in preventing childhood obesity.

Support Healthy Regulations to Fight Obesity in Children

There needs to be strict laws in regards to health and food that motivate children in making healthier choices. For instance, banning of sale of cold drinks in schools, calorie count laws and limiting or complete banning of advertisements of unhealthy food products on children’s TV channels can make a lot of difference in the prevention of childhood obesity.

Uphold Healthy Home Environment and Prevent Obesity in Children

The environment at home is one of the prime factors likely to affect obesity in children. The food habits, time devoted to exercise is all directly responsible for a child’s health. Children who have more family meals, daily consumption of fruits, vegetables and dairy products at home will definitely be healthier than those who regularly skip meals at home, dine out and not consume fruits and vegetables regularly at home. Similarly promoting breastfeed and home baby food for infants and babies can help in preventing childhood obesity. Stress and emotional factors in children is also an important factor affecting childhood obesity. Family can help in maintaining a stress free environment at home, training children to share their emotions and learn coping strategies and counseling them, when required can help to prevent obesity in children.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 12, 2023

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